Based upon real life, the film revolves around Kayoko, who is at the beginning of the film, a first grade girl and the youngest member of her family of 6 in 1940 Japan. Later, her pregnant mother gives birth to a baby brother. For the first portion of the film, the movie is rather loosely plotted following Kayoko's life and developing the characters. While the perspective of a first grader makes the film somewhat alienating to older viewers, the film does not misstep and is refreshingly sincere with the realistic attitudes of the characters which makes the first half of the film continually enjoyable.
As the film moves on, Kayoko moves to the second grade and her life changes as she is expected to mature to set an example for her baby brother. The film gradually darkens and the presence of the military is felt stronger as the film moves along as the viewer experiences the hardships of wartime life through chants, parades, and personal belongings given to the military. The film's tone darkens more as Kayoko is evacuated to live with her aunt in the country. Then time moves forward skipping several years to 1945 when Kayoko is in the fifth grade and leads to a climax that I won't spoil for the sake of readers who have yet to see the movie.
As a whole, I think that Kayoko's Diary is a refreshingly honest animated film which handles its difficult subject well, but is brought down by rather weak animation and rather derivative character designs. The backgrounds are well designed with attention to detail, but are so well made that the foreground elements and characters don't quite fit into the world which they are placed. Ultimately, the movie is an emotionally engaging experience but not an artistic or particularly unique one. I cautiously recommend this film to those who are interested in an interesting animated historical account but not for those who are looking to be artistically engaged.
Here is the link to the movie at Crunchy Roll: