There’s an elephant in the room throughout Sunao Katabuchi’s latest animated film, In This Corner of the World. That elephant is the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima—an action that changed war forever and turned the world into the kind of place where a hundred thousand lives could be extinguished in an instant. So from the moment we meet Suzu, a dreamy girl who loves to draw stories, we watch her grow up in the seaside of Hiroshima, and we know where In This Corner of the World is headed.
But it’s easy to forget. Even as the people around Suzu become more involved in the military—her brother, her young husband, and all her male classmates are conscripted—and even as she works to stretch the meager food rations that are slowly starving her family, there’s still something optimistic about Katabuchi’s film. There’s that feeling every human carries: “Oh, but bad things won’t happen to me or the people I love.” Meanwhile, the animation’s delicate, sketch-work style mirrors Suzu’s drawings. During one daytime firebombing, Suzu sees the explosions in the sky as flashes of paint. Yes, this is her way of coping with the constant danger all around her, but it’s also some sugar on the pill that Katabuchi is asking the audience to swallow—some artistry and beauty to keep us watching a film about a hard part of history that we shouldn’t ever forget.
But again: It’s easy to forget, and it’s easy to tell yourself that bad things won’t happen to you or the people you love. Though In This Corner of the World was released in Japan last year, it arrives here at an especially timely and terrifying moment for American audiences, with our president (who lost the popular vote by 2,864,974 votes) actively threatening North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”