When you think of a great war movie, what comes to your mind? Saving Private Ryan, probably. Maybe Dunkirk if you’re into more recent stuff. Perhaps even The Bridge on the River Kwai, if it’s a genre you’re really into. But if you’re an anime fan, there’s a very good chance Grave of the Fireflies is something you’re familiar with. Credited by even the late and great Roger Ebert as one of the best war movies of all time, Fireflies has been hailed for decades as a beautiful, hard to watch portrayal of the toll of war, but not for the damage to the soldiers fighting it, but instead of the toll taken on the people back home who also have to survive on their own, when their home country can no longer take care of them. For three decades now, Grave of the Fireflies has been hailed as the best anime war movie ever made. But in 2016, In This Corner of the World emerged as a new contender for this “title.” And personally, I think it absolutely deserves it.
Based on the manga of the same name, produced by Studio MAPPA (Terror in Resonance, Yuri on Ice), directed by Sunao Katabuchi (Black Lagoon), and released in late 2016, In This Corner of the World was a bit overshadowed when it was first released (can’t imagine why, I mean, was there anything else released that year...?), and while it did manage to get a limited state-wide release, it’s still a relatively unknown film. When AniTAY tried to record a podcast for the Anime of 2017 year-end episode (which didn’t record correctly, sadly), I was the one person in the group of five people who saw it. And I gushed about it for five minutes straight, because it is a masterpiece of a movie. A slice of life movie that evolves into a quietly devastating depiction of what Japan itself was going through in the last year of World War II, Corner of the World is at all times beautiful, funny, yet progressively gets more and more devastating in leading up to the final days of the war.
In This Corner of the World details the life of Suzu, a woman who moves with her new husband to his home city Kure, a naval port located just 15 miles away from Hiroshima (where her own family lives). The film starts out in the last year of the war, where Japan is already strained by food shortages, but surprisingly the atmosphere is what you’d usually expect for a slice of life film: quiet, full of light moments, and actually rather peaceful in spite of the time and place. Throughout the film Suzu maintains a happy disposition, looking for the best in a normally depressing situation, helping her husband’s family deal with food rationing, making clothing, and helping out in building their home in case of bombs dropping. All seems well, until American forces start to make their presence known, and that’s when the beauty of this film comes in: it is an amazing depiction of a slice of life rom-com, becoming a war movie. As the film progresses, we see in firsthand detail the bombing American forces inflicted on Japanese cities, including firebombs that are amazingly animated in how horrific they are, and bombs with delayed fuses that cause what is easily the most gut wrenching moment in the entire film.
As the film progresses, Suzu herself endures tragedy, and is almost an exact reflection of the film’s direction and tone: she starts out as quietly fun with a bright outlook on life, yet by the end has suffered great losses in losing people and an essential part of herself... but ultimately, she isn’t consumed by the horrors of war. In the end, as Japan rebuilds, so does she in her own way. If it sounds like I’m being purposefully ambiguous, it’s because I really don’t want to spoil anything from this film, from its sublime animation with jaw dropping visuals (including an awe inspiring scene where Suzu sees a dogfight happening in the sky above her), to its funnier moments (which hit immensely well, and are needed as the film becomes more and more somber), to when pivotal moments in the war... happen.
When I saw the movie last year it was for a subbed screening (so I can’t personally vouch the dub version that has been released), and I’m not sure if the version on Netflix will include the dub track or not. But regardless, if you’re an anime fan and/or war movie fan looking for something different, you should absolutely watch In This Corner of the World when you get the chance. In a year that was full of great anime films, this for me personally was the one that surprised and ultimately stuck with me the most.