A beautifully intense anime diary of life in WWII-era Japan.

Based on manga by Fumiyo Kōno and directed by Sunao Katabuchi, In This Corner of the World presents a diary-like narrative of a young Japanese woman’s life in the years leading up to and during World War II. Sporadic entries weave through Suzu’s girlhood in Hiroshima to her wedding to a young man and her move to live with his family in nearby Kure. Suzu is an amateur artist whose drawings and paintings appear throughout; every now and then the animation’s style corresponds to her current works. This scene between adolescent Suzu and a fellow student gives you a taste:

Suzu helps her town dole out rations, makes up recipes for her husband’s family using their limited food options, and takes care of household chores. The arrival of her sister-in-law Keiko and niece Harumi throws the burgeoning family dynamic off, and Suzu questions her own role in the household.

For most of In This Corner of the World, the protagonist goes with the flow, pleasantly following instructions and not making a fuss. A fatal accident after a bombing of their town — illustrated by a crackling sound and a black screen with abstract animation that mirrors Suzu’s confusion and horror — leaves her injured, distraught and in shock. We see her struggle but start growing up as she copes. Her persuasive nature has started to dissolve by the time Keiko tells her, “Choose for yourself.”

Knowing this story will eventually display the heartbreaking devastation of the American attack on Hiroshima adds intensity and a frightening momentum to the action. Even in quiet moments, as the date gets closer in Suzu’s entries, there’s a imminent sense of more trouble on the way. The press notes mention that director Sunao Katabuchi researched for six years, collecting accounts from survivors and culling photographs to closely recreate the cityscapes of pre-war and wartime Kure and Hiroshima. There is exquisite detail to the background art, centering the viewer in this moment of Japan’s history.

Basing the plot off of fictional Suzu’s narration and memories, the filmmakers show the real effects of the war on Japanese civilians. It’s a war drama from a quiet woman’s perspective, a work that can be gutting in one moment and optimistic soon after. Like Their Finest, In This Corner of the World places importance on the roles of women in this traumatic period, as they attempt to continue on with a semblance of normalcy in unusual times.

In This Corner of the World opens in Austin at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar on Fri, August 25.

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