A well-renowned Studio Ghibli classic about 14 year-old Seita and his little sister struggling to survive after their home is destroyed by carpet bombing, their mother killed, and their father is away fighting with the Navy.
Except they don't really struggle. Not at first, anyways. They have a loving aunt who is more than willing to give them a place to stay, help cook for, and take care of them. Far from being grateful and thankful for this lucky turn of events, though, Seita is angry and resentful. Why?
Well, because occasionally she makes insensitive comments about how Seita plays all day
with his sister and eats her food, instead of going to school or working. And you know what? She's absolutely correct!
A 14 year old in the 1940's was considered a mature adult, especially during in Japan, doubly so during wartime, and more than capable of working for a living.
At that age, my great-grandparents and grandparents (who were born around the same time as the fictional Seita, except in the USSR, where far more people starved to death and died during the war than in Japan) were either in the military or working to support their family. This wasn't considered either tragic or unusual; it was simply the way life was back then for the countries at total war.
However, Seita, despite supposedly caring for his sister, can't take this horrible verbal insult to his pride. He leaves his aunt's house, ignores the advice of a kindly farmer who tells him to go back and apologize, and continues obliviously playing with his younger sister...as they both slowly starve to death.
Thus, Seita is a completely callous, idiotic monster, responsible not only for his own death, but the death of his sister as well. That's my first problem with "Grave of the Fireflies". That the main character is responsible for the entire tragedy that ensues.
Another weakness of the movie is how completely contrived and fake the emotions were. You're telling me that when Seita sees his dead mother, her skin burned off her very flesh, he doesn't cry? He's so tough, that he tries to entertain his younger sister by doing tricks on a metal high bar?
That might make a great scene for a movie, but it's pure bullshit. Especially considering how childish and immature Seita acts throughout the rest of the movie. Him and his sister laughingly frolicking so soon afterwards also struck me as pure movie bullshit.
The aunt's own temperament is equally contrived. You're telling me that she shows no emotion upon hearing that her own sister has died? She's clearly no monster, and treats her nephews quite well, so why the utter lack of emotion? And why her bizarrely antagonistic attitude towards Setsuko, the younger sister? She's four year old.
Seita is the one at fault here, not her. Again, it makes little sense except as a series of emotionally manipulative scenes designed to make the viewer feel empathy.
Yet, the anime has an even greater flaw; it fails to make a statement. There is no point to the story.
Seita and Setsuko suffer tragedy during World War 2. They play and laugh a lot. Seita ignores the responsibilities of an adult. Eventually, they starve.
What's the punchline? What's the meaning? There have been thousands of films before this and hundreds of films afterwards about the cruelty of war. What makes this one special? What's the director's message about life and the human condition? There is none.
Hell, I didn't even feel any particular pity for the two fictional characters. The director even failed to do that.
On the bright side, the animation of "Grave of the Fireflies" is, for its time, absolutely breathtaking, as is its attention to the most minute details of a scene must have taken tremendous dedication and effort on the part of the artists.
The music, while a simple orchestral score, is nevertheless touching, adding just the right emotion to several important scenes. It's not overpowering, but rather a soft background noise that makes one think of nostalgia and regret. In certain scenes, the music isn't used at all, which, if anything, enhances the scene.
Lastly, I should note that the movie is semi-autobiographical. Director and writer Takahata experienced a version of these events with his own little sister.
Only in reality, he stole food from her. She died, and he survived.
Now that would have been an ugly, authentic story worth telling.
Few movies I've seen can bring me to the brink of tears, and only a handful of those can actually haunt me days after seeing them. Grave of the Fireflies is one of those rare movies I've seen that did this to me. Very few films have EVER made me feel as bad as this one did. Try to think of the saddest movie you've ever seen, Schindler's List (Widescreen Edition), Saving Private Ryan (Widescreen Two-Disc Special Edition), anything, and this movie blows it out of the water. This film has the power to devastate you, to move you, to bring you to the brink
of tears and then push you over into a chaotic world. This is Grave of the Fireflies.
Set during the last days of WWII, while the US Air Force was fire bombing Japanese cities, Grave of the Fireflies is a movie about a young boy named Sata and his little four year old sister Setsico. When their mother is killed in the firebombing of Tokyo Sata is forced to care for his little sister in a nation ripped apart by war and famine. With his father far away serving in the Japanese navy, Sata is the only one who can care for his sister. The love shared between these two siblings is something that will forever leave an impression on me. As an older brother myself I could very easily put myself into Sata's situation. His need to give his sister the very best he can while not being able to provide for her is a very real feeling.
There are no heroes in this film, and there are no villains. Sata and Setsico are no heroes; the only heroic things they do throughout the movie are love and take care of one another. And, their aunt, although harsh and unfair, is no villain. At the same time neither side of the war, American or Japanese, is portrayed in a negative light. This is not a war movie and doesn't exist to condemn one side or the other. This is a movie about two orphan children trying to survive while the society they grew up in crumbles to dust around them.
Many critics of this movie complain about how annoying little Setsico is. Yes, I can admit, sometimes Setsico can be annoying, but really, what little girl isn't? She's a child, and children can't understand everything that's going on around them. Setsico doesn't understand that there is a war going on and that she can not have everything that she wants, she doesn't understand that Sata is killing himself trying to provide for her. As an older brother I find it absurd when people complain about how annoying little brothers/sisters can act in movies without even realizing that siblings are annoying in real life. Sata is no different. if you read this review, please leave a comment.
I'm surprised there aren't many reviews of Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies) that question all the praise its received. I'm also equally unsurprised due to the ability of people to gobble up a seemingly sad story, claim it gave them 'feels', and slap a high score on it. If you look at Grave of the Fireflies on a critical level, it's undeniable that you'll find deep themes and issues about morality; however, the way that the themes and messages are presented lack genuine feelings of pity or sorrow. The emotions I felt most were, surprisingly enough, irritation and frustration.
The story is basically
about two siblings attempting to live and survive in a war-stricken Japan during the second World War. The imagery and the way the story is set up is beautiful, but there was so much wasted potential in the way that the plot progressed that it became underwhelming. The biggest issue that Grave of the Fireflies has, regarding story and plot, is that it doesn't progress at a reasonable rate to retain interest. In the historical aspect, Grave of the Fireflies gives superb reiteration of the struggles that Japan's citizens faced in World War II (fire bombing, lack of food, and destruction of homes), and does deserve praise there. In many cases the movie transitions and alternates between deeply depressing to blissful from the perspective an ignorant brother and sister attempting to enjoy leisure activities during war time. I expect that the direction this was supposed to be headed in was showing that despite the cruelties of war, a young man and his sister could still find ways to enjoy life and each others' company. However, it fails to deliver this message this and only left me feeling contempt towards Seita.
Character-wise, Grave of the Fireflies suffers immensely. Throughout their 'struggle' to survive, if you can even call it that, Seita is given a lot of responsibility to shoulder in taking care of his sister, Setsuko. While it is without a doubt an arduous task to raise a child while being a teenager, Seita is depicted as a complete incompetent in his attempts to do so. He literally has one job: take care of his sister. Why couldn't he do this when he had many prospects at his disposal?
Early on in the series I thought Seita was actually quite a responsible young man; he seemed dependable and level-headed in making decisions that benefit both him and his younger sister. He finds a place to live after their hometown is destroyed, keeps himself and his sister fed, and is conscious in being delicate with his younger sister's more fragile psychological well-being. The way he took care of his sister and contemplated thoughts before speaking showed his capability of becoming a refined, mature figure. However, we later see what a useless older brother and guardian he turns out to be. While he's staying with his Aunt, who is nice enough to let them stay despite shortages of food/supplies, he literally does nothing. He doesn't work, attend school, contribute to the war effort/relief, wash his own dishes, or even teach his sister manners. He lazes about and utilizes only what supplies and money that was left as an inheritance from his family. He even has the audacity to infer that his aunt is a mean and annoying person when he was simply an ungrateful child. While there are several instances where he degrades himself in attempts to get food in the second half of the movie, resorting to theft, or begging, he is unable to throw away his pride, ultimately leading to both siblings' demise. It would have been a better movie if Seita was framed as the monster he was, but instead he's portrayed as a sympathetic martyr figure, which is just stupid.
I've heard and read opinions about Setsuko being perceived as an extremely annoying character, which is both warranted and unwarranted. While I can see why they people would think so, her character was ultimately shaped by being spoiled by her family and older brother. I can’t quite say that she was annoying since she was actually characterized very realistically. Children, if not raised correctly, often act spoiled, entitled, and greedy. Hell, some children who were raised correctly still act that way. It touches on the topic of nature versus nurture. I felt a fair amount of pity for her since nobody taught her manners, and as a direct result it's obvious that she wouldn't know any better; this is jointly the fault of both the parents and Seita.
The art/animation were, as usual, fantastic as expected of Studio Ghibli. There's really nothing negative that I can say about it. For a movie from 1988, the film is easily watchable. I think the sound portion of the movie, as a whole, was good. There wasn't anything that particularly caught my attention, but there was nothing that didn't match the atmosphere of the movie.
I would be a liar if I said I enjoyed Grave of the Fireflies. It's such a pointless, depressing, and frustrating watch that I would personally recommend not watching it. In a historical context, it's informative and somewhat mind-opening, but extremely lackluster in terms of being enjoyable as a movie. There are far better historical films that you can watch in order to be enlightened on World War II. It is likely that they will be less politically charged as Grave of the Fireflies as well.
Novel, Anime: Grave of the Fireflies was originally a semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, written as an apology to his younger sister. The novel was written and won the Naoki Prize in 1967.
Grave of the Fireflies was animated by Studio Ghibli (famous for Spirited Away and their recent adaptation of Howl's Moving Castle) and directed by Isao Takahata (famous for his work on Pom Poko). The film was released on April 16th, 1988 in Japanese theatres, and came Stateside courtesy of Central Park Media in 2002 (oddly enough, this movie wasn't picked up by Disney
when they licensed the Ghibli movies).
Story: Grave of the Fireflies is about a dead brother and sister. What this film centers around is the relationship between Seiza and his little sister Setsuko, and the things they go through after they are orphaned, which includes, but is not limited to, cruel in-laws, famine, malnutrition, starvation, firebombing, living in a bunker by the river, and all sorts of other lovely things.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, this movie is depressing. It approaches and matches Saikano-esque levels of depression, but luckily, it doesn't go beyond it. Honestly, you will want to keep anything you can hurt yourself with out of reach when you're watching this. And you will cry. This is the first anime I've cried at in a very long time, let alone a movie. If you don't cry when Setsuko finally dies, you are a heartless bastard and then some.
Why? Because it's so heartbreaking to watch as these children stick with each other through all they go through. It's hard to watch Seiza trying to keep the fact that their mother is dead from Setsuko. It's hard to watch Seiza do everything he can to keep Setsuko alive as she slowly starves to death. And it's even harder when you watch them just being kids, like your little siblings were when they were young, and so realistic, at that, in contrast to all the shit they go through.
Also, there is a lot of symbolism in this movie. At points, the symbolism will be so blunt that you will feel like you are being hit over the head with a hammer. But you won't mind it all that much.
Art: Yeah, it's fairly obvious that the animation for this is a bit dated. But when you look at anime that were released about the same time (Macross, Galaxy Express 999), it looks pretty damn good, for its time.
Music: I didn't really notice the music for this much. It doesn't particularly stand out, but then again, it's not bad, either. So, average.
Seiyuu: I really have to give them props here, because they went and cast a five-year-old as the seiyuu for Setsuko, and she gave a performance that reminded me of my little siblings when they were that age, which just makes the movie that much harder to watch through. All-around excellent performances.
Length: Perfect. Any longer and I would've killed myself, any shorter, and it just wouldn't have had the impact that it did.
Overall: An absolutely heartbreaking film, with perfect seiyuu, and pretty good animation, for the time.
Another one of my top picks. Go watch it. NOW. Just be sure you keep anything you can hurt yourself with out of your immediate grasp.
This is my first review of anything like this, so it's not going to be pretty, but it should get my point across.
This was a down right depressing anime movie, not for the story itself, but due to how bad it is. The music and animation was nice enough, but that cant save a horrible movie from being horrible. There was nothing redeemable in this movie. Seita was the worst main character I have ever seen in anything. Setsuko, wasn't exactly much of a main character to care about, but it was easy enough to feel sorry for what she had to endure at the
hands of her pathetic older brother
The story takes place during World War 2 in Japan. The movie focuses around a young teenager and his young sister, as they try to survive after losing their home to an air raid. That could have been a good story to watch unfold, but it wasn't the case with this movie.
Instead, we're introduced to the main character Seita: a lazy, pathetic, worthless and immature brat. While the movie has no technical villain in it, he is one himself. He tries to do what is best for his sister, and due to that, blindness becomes his biggest fault. That could have been admirable, but not with a character as horrible as Seita.
Any aunt should get angry when her family is helping out with war time work and two others move in and has to support them both. All the brat had to do was find some way to help out with the war effort. His sister would have been in good hands with their aunt. Instead, all he wants to do is laugh and play with Setsuko, all the while hiding the truth about their mother from her. He wouldn't help around the house, besides to eat the food.
In the end, he couldn't handle their aunt telling the truth, albeit in a bitchy way, so he takes his sister and runs away. He only ends up dooming both his sister and himself. If he cant help his aunt's family out how is he going to take care of his sister? The answer, he cant even do that.
If you don't mind horrible characters, a bad story due to bad characters and you're a masochist, go ahead and watch this. If not and you like a good story, good characters and enjoyment, then don't watch this.
I like the story. It’s an “us against the world” archetype. I felt like the children in the movie had no luck at all. They experienced everything victims of the war could’ve experience – losing their home, their relatives, and their will to live. You have to feel sorry for them.
Although it’s not as good as I thought it would be (meaning I didn’t think it was that sad), it really touched me. While I was born WAY after WWII, I was able to witness how people lived in those days. Knowing the historical basis behind this movie is simply not enough, and I think
that’s one of the main reasons why this story was made. The movie was able to capture the essence of what was it like in those days, and that’s what makes the movie so touching and even relatable.
One of the good points of this story is that you only get to focus on two fascinating characters, namely Seita and Setsuko. They clearly made this movie. You cheer them on, and you get frustrated because they keep losing and losing. I’m a bit iffy about Setsuko. She’s adorable, but she can be a bit of a brat. I do have to remind myself sometimes that she is a kid, probably not more than 5 years old. On the other hand, I find Seita a bit weird, since he’s not acting the way I want him to. Their mother just died, and he didn’t show that much emotion for it. I guess that’s just him trying to keep himself together and focus on what’s going on at the present. Also, he’s probably thinking that what’s done is done, and crying about it will not accomplish anything. If I look at him that way, he’s actually quite admirable. The closeness between Seita and Setsuko is something you don’t see in siblings too often these days, and it is a bit enviable.
I got the chance to check both English and Japanese dubs, and picking the Japanese dub over the English was a good decision. The Japanese dub had more feeling, and the English dub felt somewhat robotic. The Japanese dub fit the characters much, much better.
Animation-wise, I have to say I’m impressed. Considering the year the movie was made, you’d think the animation would be of low quality, compared to present anime. It’s actually beautifully made, with wonderful watercolor backgrounds and relatively detailed drawings. I can’t help but think that this movie might have been enhanced or something like that in all these years, but I still think it’s impressive nonetheless.
The music is also beautiful. It can be a bit melancholic though, but it is a sad movie, so expecting a lot of upbeat songs in its soundtrack would be a bit weird. I noticed that most of the music was made by using woodwind instruments, but I’m not sure. I think I detect flute sounds or something like that. The music gave off a serene and peaceful mood.
The good thing about it was that the creators didn’t hesitate to tell the truth. They didn’t want to show a repackaged, cleaner version of the truth – I felt like that’s how it really was back then. If it was otherwise, I don’t think Grave of the Fireflies would make such an impact to everyone who has watched it.
"21st September, 1945… That was the night I died."
Grave of the Fireflies begins as a young man stands in uniform unfazed, looking back on the moment he died. Slouched against a pole in tattered clothes, starving in silence while dozens of people pass by. One person in an act of pity places food beside him, but it’s too late. Lacking the will to even eat, his frail body collapses among other starved corpses nearby. An empty tin can found on his person is tossed by a field outside as if it were trash. Yet from the second it lands, fireflies materialize from the ground and
cast a blazing glow that brightens the field. A young girl rises to her feet, confused at the sight of her brother lying prone on the floor. She’s startled, until suddenly a hand rests on her shoulder. Standing beside her, he greets his sister with a smile before handing her a tin can now full of treats, and together they walk aboard an empty train. Free from hunger and pain as they saunter off to the next life.
'The fireflies rose, burned ever so brightly, before slowly returning to darkness.'
This scene sets the soul-crushing tone for what to expect over the course of the film. Grim and unflinching in its portrayal of the privations of war and their effect on the most innocent of victims: children. Grave of the Fireflies follows the struggles that siblings Seita and Setsuko face through this hellish time as their former livelihoods are wiped out in an air raid. As a result, both are forced to endure and continue living in a nation crumbling from warfare and famine. Their journey is intertwined with the lives of many different people, all directly impacted by the war and all trying to cope with the struggle. A welcoming aunt at first turns resentful guardian. A farmer who shows compassion to the two but can only feed himself. A doctor concerned with diagnosing problems, yet never tries to cure them. There are no heroes present here, just a story about survival. Except here the outcome was given from the start – they don’t.
From the minute the firebombing starts, viewers already have a clear enough sense of how this story plays out. With their home left in ruins and ripped away from their mother, what’s left is a tale of two kids still clinging onto one another alone in an uncharitable world, fending for themselves as best they can. But without a hopeful ending, it’s more akin to watching a slow death play out than otherwise. Director Isao Takahata makes these opening scenes count. In such a short span of time, he places the audience in a position where emotional attachment with the main characters feel genuinely crafted. We’re instantly drawn to Setsuko’s abundant wonder and childlike innocence, and likewise support Seita as he must transform into the parental figure his sister will need. We realise how food scarcity and a general lack of resources impacts them both above all others. And naturally, we can only feel sorry for the two. Their circumstance and untimely demise lie out of their control as both are reduced to mere numbers tallied to the body count their country holds.
For a film that illustrates a tragedy not suitable for most children, Grave of the Fireflies’ greatest strength lies in the fact that it exists as an animated feature. There are several instances where gratuitous images are lingered on, never shying away from the bleakness of these scenes. So brutal, that had the film been made as a live-action, could easily have crossed the line from harrowing to simply unbearable for most. In this, Grave of the Fireflies showcases the power of animation, where the most grotesque scenes are offset with accompanied visuals that are beautiful, evocative and aesthetically pleasing. Graphic displays of burned bodies and malnourished children never come off sadistic, but certainly leave their mark on the viewer. It’s a movie that whilst easily stands out from the typical Ghibli picture, arguably could not have been produced by any other studio. Breath-taking landscapes, delightful character designs and a keen attention to detail are lucid across its runtime, constantly emphasizing the smaller moments just as much as the larger ones. It takes a special group on staff to pour so much effort into each scene, having managed to hold up over 30 years since its release. They did a remarkable job, especially when realizing this was being produced alongside Ghibli’s other feature film at the time, My Neighbor Totoro. Both impressive in their production, but ironically have conflicting views on innocence; where Totoro celebrates the blossoming times of childhood, here those wonders are short-lived; slowly crushed under the weight our leads are burdened with.
A brief overview of the synopsis would give the impression that Grave of the Fireflies is first and foremost an anti-war film, depicting the harsh nature and consequences of conflict for the audience to bear witness to. Takahata actively denied this notion, saying he intended the film as a glimpse into lives affected from society failing to protect its own people. Originally published in 1967 as a semi-autobiographical work, author Akiyuki Nosaka wrote Grave of the Fireflies as an apology. Having lived in Japan during World War II, he lost his home and father to the firebombing of Kobe, losing his sister Keiko to starvation soon afterward. The guilt and remorse Nosaka felt compelled him to write this story as a double-suicide, using Seita’s death as a way of atonement for his actions. Understanding the source material better puts the film’s overall message into context. Despite key events clearly coinciding with WWII, the film never places blame to either side of the war, nor is the enemy ever recognized as American.
War is not the focus, only the backdrop here; simply serving the characters a situation to create conflict. Instead the story is concerned exploring the war at hand on a more personal level, and as a result uncovers pride as a reoccurring pattern within the plot. Pride fuels the war that took away their mother, drives the children to live on their own away from their unpleasant guardian, steers Setsuko to a premature death before leaving Seita to his own downfall, suffering alone on the brink of death. The film pays close attention to these moments, viewing them from the perspective of Seita’s ghost. It detaches viewers from the story momentarily, so that we may capture a glimpse of how he reflects on those actions. Sometimes even recoiling in fear, knowing the consequences about to unfold from his doing. In this, Grave of the Fireflies laments how someone’s pride can lead to the destruction of others and themselves.
The film strives to tug at each of our heartstrings, numerous times for what both children must go through, while also lending some commentary on Japan’s fervent sense of nationalism during those times; critical of one’s pride and dignity to dangerous extents. Crafted by a master hand, it’s a movie that knows what it wishes to be and sets out to achieve that. However, in reality this does not always come true. It’s obvious to see why fans enjoy Grave of the Fireflies to the extent they do: it succeeded in eliciting strong emotions that few others probably ever had. But to talk about a film aspiring for such a personal experience, I feel the need to explain mine.
- - - - - - -
Grave of the Fireflies was a sad, depressing film, even on the sheer surface. Witnessing the two leads placed in a terrible predicament alone put me in a sad, state of mind. The pair are extremely easy to feel sorry for, especially knowing how their story ends from the start. I cried. Tears welled up watching the final sequence, Setsuko and her belongings being cremated out in the open. Feeling the pain her brother must’ve gone through. Those feelings were real and knowing that events like this happen in the world today didn’t help me. It was the first time I could remember crying from a movie, leaving me devastated as the credits rolled. The fireflies had risen, burned the brightest they possibly could have, before returning to darkness, leaving me there as well. That was the first time I watched Grave of the Fireflies.
The second time I watched Grave of the Fireflies, it had once again surprised me, but for reasons that were perplexing. It was still very sad and depressing, but ultimately left me feeling unsatisfied with the experience. Nothing in the film had changed, in fact I still remembered most of the key events that happened along with when they would take place. However this time the film lacked my investment and the sentiments I once had for each of those moments was no longer there. Rewatching the film even years later highlighted certain aspects that I had initially glossed over, not having already been acquainted with the story and characters. The hand that once tugged my heartstring no longer caught me by surprise, and the beats this film played to was a tune I had become familiar with. This was Grave of the Fireflies’ biggest weakness. For a film that enlightens more on a second viewing, loses what made it so special in the first place.
Looking at the film with a critical eye will surely find themes of morality at play but will also find them presented in ways visibly forced and heavy-handed. In a world where two children are just trying to survive in a country torn by war, there are so many instances shown in the film that could have saved both from their terrible ends. But the story will always take the worst option every single time to reach its miserable end, to the point where it’s no longer natural watching this play out. The film continuously tries to milk tears from the audience with a tragedy that constantly makes the worst decisions for its characters. It’s akin to piling tragic event on top of tragic event until we’re left with a mountain of depression, while my reaction moves from genuine sympathy to frustration and disappointment. We as viewers look at this film from the same perspective as Seita’s ghost, and while this does emphasize the meaning behind these moments, it essentially removes part of the deep emotion gained from the experience, causing the repetitive nature of these events to feel counterproductive. We see the storyline in full, from establishing its grieving tone to forcing Seita and Setsuko into the film’s personal martyrs. Their deaths, for our pity.
Regardless of how closely the narrative revolves around these two characters, neither of the pair hold much intrigue outside of being victims. Child characters don’t need a tale of heroism for audiences to get invested in them, but the only attributes Seita and Setsuko have to garner one’s investment is that they’re children who exist as casualties. Seita does possess a few qualities worth mentioning; he holds a strong impression of idealism for his father and while he’s away fighting in the war, Seita bears the responsibility for caring over his younger sister. Except that arduous task is put on a brother that appears as immature as his younger sibling. To Seita, taking care of Setsuko means to play with her all the time and keep her happy, no matter how cruel the world around her can be. His actions are foolish and the film does punish him over them, however I still find his mindset somewhat contrived given the circumstances. Despite how much Seita wants to take care of her sister, he refuses to find work and has no interest helping anyone besides himself and Setsuko. He is stubborn to the bone: even when their health deteriorates and is told to swallow his pride, he refuses to help himself or her sister in a meaningful way. The main reason why most fans overlook this is because of how both feel like authentic children, unaware of the dangers in the world. The animation also helps with this, capturing the nuances and mannerisms one would expect from children. But remember that Seita is supposed to be a 14-year-old boy in the 1940’s, a time where he would be considered an adult capable of working for a living. He’s relatable to us because of how we would view someone of that age but comes across incompetent for someone from his time.
These issues stuck out like a sore thumb on second viewing, partly due to how simplistic the film feels in its presentation. Grave of the Fireflies is often seen as the Ghibli feature to break away from the conventional family-friendly films the studio has produced, and while it does deliver on an unflinching war film not suitable for all ages, it also just so happens to lack the whimsical spirit that gave those other films such striking personality. Takahata has his strengths, from his interest in realistic imagery to his sense of social responsibility as a director, yet here his style feels neutered to a point where little personality can be found in the directing. He’s not Miyazaki, but the film appears contempt in what it wants to achieve, never aiming for more than the core emotional attachment felt though the script. Each scene is carefully calculated, but never ambitious in their purpose. Even the cheerful moments only balance out the hell Seita and Setsuko are in, never acting as driving components for either character. The music also does little to help the experience move along, rarely ever effective in smoothing out transitions or amplifying sentiment in an authentic way. It unironically makes the most emotional moments come off more canned than real. At the end of the day, the presentation may look very pretty, especially when it comes to the animation, but otherwise is rather insignificant when building on the emotional side of the film.
I feel conflicted when trying to summarise my thoughts on Grave of the Fireflies. It has some very noticeable problems that I take issue with, but it’s far from a bad film in my eyes. On the contrary, I would call it a fairly good movie that I unfortunately feel numb towards now, no longer jaded by the emotional appeal that obfuscates the maladroit aspects of the movie. The fact that it tried so hard to appeal through emotions and failed only disappoints me that much more. It’s an odd contrast for me to ponder over: a film I loved at first no long holds any fondness from me. It tugged at my heartstrings, but no longer has any effect. My experience with Grave of the Fireflies at first was special; depressing yet executed with such elegance that made the journey worth the heartbreak. But that feeling could not be rekindled here. Part of me is sad coming to this conclusion, but there is a silver lining. Instead of searching for that exact feeling again, I’ve coming to respect and appreciate what I got to experience the first time. I’m happy to have at least experienced this film once, than never at all.
'The fireflies rose, burned ever so brightly, before slowly returning to darkness.'
Looking at the poster of this film, a boy with an officer`s hat caring for his sister in the midst of an American bombing, I feared this would be a piece of Japanese conservatism meant to incite nationalistic indignation towards America, or perhaps the rest of the world, for committing such atrocities. I imagined the boy-scout equivalent kid symbolizing the innocence of Japan or some such nonsense. Thankfully, it doesn`t wave a finger of blame around. American bombs certainly sparked the series of events in this film, but it is just as much the aunt`s fault for speaking insensitively to the children. Equally at fault
is Seita, the brother himself, for not being able to swallow his pride and underestimating the harshness of reality. Seita`s fervent faith in the Japanese empire is an ironic shot at the government of the time; they too had a part in these events for bringing the American military to their own doorstep and putting off the unconditional surrender. The film never picks out one party to villainize. It doesn`t give us the respite of anger or hatred, or any other respite at all, from the depression that this film positively bleeds. Because the viewer knows the inevitable outcome early on, every bit of childish sweetness, every instance of love between the siblings is all the more heartbreaking. There is no escaping the sadness, and for this it is unique as a film that is engrossing, but also tremendously difficult to sit through.
Grave of the Fireflies is neither a history lesson, nor is it entertainment. It is a chronicle of events that never comes to a climactic point. There is no definitive explosion of melodrama that marks the film`s peak. It feels pointless, much the way such events would feel in real life.
The passivity with which the children express their emotions takes our pity for them to another level. When they lament their misfortune, they weep, or stare blankly, as if they no longer have the strength to give themselves release through bawling loudly, or screaming bitterly at the sky. That battered demeanor communicates a stifling sense of resignation and depression that is more powerful than any melodramatic outcry.
The animation is a little stiff and unspectacular for a Ghibli feature, but the film rarely relies on motion to convey anything so this is not a big hinderance, easily made up for by the spectacular detail and variety in way the characters` facial expressions illustrate the different nuances of pain in different situations. The most striking element by far is the gruesome and uninhibited way it shows how war can destroy humanity. People insensitively handle the very graphically drawn dead bodies. There is an instance when the poverty stricken Setsuko visits a doctor. As she lifts up her shirt, the lines of her ribs are clearly visible, and with the depression in her abdomen and festering infections all over, it`s clear that she is in imminent danger, yet the doctor barely bats an eyelash. As striking as the depictions of death and disease are to us, it is even more alarming that the characters in this film look at it so nonchalantly. The music is largely slow and tragic, but a couple of pieces have a gentler, melancholic feel that fit well with Setsuko`s oblivious innocence. The discordant sounding strings can be a bit heavy handed, and there are times when some of the sweeter scenes are obtusely paired with heartbreaking pieces, but for the most part the music is elegantly used.
Fictional tragedies are usually bittersweet. In Romeo and Juliet, an unfortunate circumstance created a misunderstanding, but the final acts themselves were in the name of the most beautiful emotion in the world. The audience can then take comfort in the fact that the misfortune was in the end, an expression of love. You`ll find none of that in Grave of the Fireflies. I groped around desperately for some reprieve, a character to hate, a moral to the story, a silver lining, something that could make sense of the senseless tragedy. I found no such thing, and perhaps this is more in tune with reality, but I`d prefer fiction to indulge in a poetic flourish of some sort, just for the sake of balance; a bit of sweet to all the bitterness. Grave of the Fireflies is commendable for not selling out the unforgiving nature of reality, but as a result, it is the one of the most suffocating animated films ever created.
This isn't a story of heroism, meaning, or anything remotely related. Its about survival.
When two Japanese children lose their mother during an air-raid, they are forced to fend for themselves. Their father is off at war (and hasn't responded to any letters, go figure) so the two children venture to survive on their own. With only the clothes on their backs and the savings left over from their parents, they are truly all alone. The two have only each other to care for them.
Saito (teenage boy) and his younger sister Setsuko encounter various characters throughout the movie. Their aunt, who resents having to take care
of two orphans during wartime. A farmer, who wants to help but only has enough to feed his family. A military man who sees two children in need but instead of helping accepts their fate. A doctor who notices a dying patient, but leaves her for dead.
In this world, the real world, fireflies die young.
There isn't a villain in this story. Each character unknowingly contributes their portion to Saito and Setsuko's death.
Unluckily for me, I misunderstood the first scene of the movie. The movie begins with Saito's death, and works backwards from there. This fact went completely over my head, and I watched this film with a naive hope that the two would survive this ordeal.
They don't survive.
Its more accurate to say this movie portrays the downfall of a family. Its less of a survival film than it is a slow death. An entire family laid to waste by society and left for dead by the supposed community around them.
I see other reviews commenting on the "contributions" of each character to the movie's eventual end. But in reality, its actually a lack of contribution. If only Setsuko had realized her situation and didn't make herself a burden on her older brother. If only Saito sucked up his pride and begged his aunt to take the two back in. If only their aunt recognized that she was responsible to take care of her own FAMILY. If only the farmer was willing to spare a few vegetables. If only the military man used his connections to save them. If only Saito stole more food.
The truth is, each character's actions are a direct reflection on human nature. Nobody is willing to compromise and break their ideals in order to save themselves or someone else. Side characters clearly see the issue at hand, but all assume the pair will make it without their help somehow. When people don't meet Saito's demands, Saito walks. He don't stop to think that maybe their demands won't ever be met, and the fact that if they aren't, there aren't any alternatives.
In the end these are two kids who were forgotten. There was nobody there to fight for them or consider their needs. Despite their ability to stay strong and positive, they couldn't continue fighting an uphill battle forever.
The movie begins at the only place it could possibly end, with Saito dead of starvation, curled up on a train station platform. He grips his sister's ashes, his last attachment to this world.
Currently, Grave of the Fireflies has reached "Akira status" in that it's a huge black mark on your credibility as an anime reviewer if you didn't watch it due to the influence it had in the 90's til today. Like Akira, by today's standards of storytelling in cinema/TV/anime, this 1988 film is a classic, but cannot in good conscience be considered perfect. But it left an impression in me, especially in the realism of the tragedy depicted.
In GOTF, Takahata explains WHY wars are problematic and WHY death of children matters in his perspective in a way that extends beyond the obvious.
The story is simple:
it's about two kids adjusting their lives during WWII. Takahata reveals the conclusion of the film in the first scene; the key then is to pay attention because he throws copious symbolism and metaphors throughout the film.
-concise: fairly short film; focuses on the 2 mc's well and does not attempt to bite more than it could chew with preachy anti-war chants or vilification of one or the other
-symbolisms are compelling yet easy enough for WWII non-experts to pick up on first viewing. this is the strongest aspect of the film imo
-fleshed out relationship between the two MCs
-brings out "comprehensiveness" of anime with detailed scenes of their lifestyle (you'll appreciate it WAY more if you're familiar with older Asian cinema and culture, especially the last "3 candy")
-real depiction of people: there are no angel/demon characters here--just humans. The MC's are questionable as well in many ways besides the obvious "poor people will do X to survive"
-my FAVORITE part about kid protagonist animes: "kids actually stay kids"--they don't suddenly spew out mind-blowing, Plato dialogues when climax asks for it; they don't suddenly become adults after a hardship; they don't preach us with moral opinions
-by today's standards, multiple instances where I thought the film could've added more dialogue and development to the character, especially Seita
-relative to studio ghibli standards, music wasn't amazing nor memorable, and thought it was even misused at some parts
-basically had problems due to its relative age but I do hold their shortcomings accountable because other older films like Ghost in the Shell imo still stand on par with today's anime no problem in terms of story and animation quality
Ultimately, this film is not one of the "best" anime that I've seen as someone who often seeks for creative and compelling story. BUT I do feel the absolute necessity to state: Perhaps Isao Takahata wanted this film to cater to a different demographic in 1988. The Wind Rises is considered by some as one of the lesser films due to lack of wild imagination prevalent in Howls Moving Castle or Spirited Away. Yet Miyazaki stated that Wind Rises was his ONLY film that brought tears to his eyes. He clearly did not make that film to cater to our demands; it was more a personal film for himself, his youthful desire to serve the Imperial Army, and his contemporary Japanese citizens. What I'm saying is: Takahata, Miyazaki, and Studio Ghbli does NOT "owe" us anything. Regardless of how much you choose to think about this film, you'll hate it if you watch it with an inflated ego.
I debated between an 8 or a 9, but I decided that, objectively, the film's impact and cultural significance should NOT be considered when reviewing it. Feel free to read my analysis that discuss the particular symbolism and overarching messages behind the tragedy after the viewing.
In the end, I see no reason other than for credibility why one should watch this film if WWII is not a topic he/she's interested in. My reason: highschool lit professor told me that, to learn about a group of people, rather than reading their history books, it's more vividly realized when you engage in their films, music, language, and stories--GOTF is an excellent example of that.
END OF REVIEW
WARNING: ANALYSIS SPOILS THIS FILM & THE END OF THE WIND RISES
Points to address in detail about GOTF in conjunction with another relevant film, the Wind Rises
-The danger of interconnecting nationalism/pride with human lives:
As hard as it is to admit, Seita and Setsuko signed their death warrant when they ignored the farmer's advice to "swallow their pride and ask for their aunt's forgiveness." To me, the parallel was clear: the Japanese army and their "brave" kamikazes represent resolve and pride. Yet that same tenacity resulted in atomic bombings that crushed lives and hopes of many with unhealed scars still engraved in history. At the end, Takahata asks: is this worth it?
Another danger of nationalism is that it rationalizes merciless killings. Air raids and bombings were a motif that engages in indiscriminate killings of innocent lives (children or women or men) but with discrimination of an entire group of population and human beings as "evil" enemies just because of their skin color. Notice this is NOT solely a critique on Americans. Seita curses US for bringing war and death to his father, yet he's not mature enough to ask: But what about Pearl Harbor? What about THEIR friends? What bout THEIR family? (shout out to Pain) Wars breed anger so blinding that it conceals what may be truly important.
Notice the biggest irony in the end: Seita and Setsuku's prideful independence from his aunt ends with her starving alone to death and him starving as a beggar disgusted by his OWN PEOPLE. Once again, he asks: Pride. Is it worth it?
-Seita and Setsuko aren't angels--they're kids:
I loved how Takahata was careful to not let their sudden poverty make them automatically humble and with complete humility. Seita smirks at having outsmarted familes screaming/running from bombings and stealing their belongings even though he might've robbed their chance of acquiring sustenance. Setsuko does not yet understand her situation and causes unreasonable demands and troubles for his brother. They didn't ration foods very well. I think if Takahata wanted to, Seita would've had a truthful, momentary rant on his sister being a burden. One of the saddest parts for me was how well he presented the unawarenss of children. This brings me back to when people criticized Jiro in TWR (the wind rises) for being aloof and seemingly not affected by the things that were occurring around him--I disagree. I think it's more that he HAD to live on so that he didn't have time to mourn or be introspective. Similar case here imo: To the eyes of these children, life moved on at a pace so fast that they didn't have the luxury to be aware to even mourn about their situation or their family most of the time.
-In defense of the aunt (symbol of selling kimono):
Many younger viewers see the aunt as a cold-hearted person who abandoned the kids. I on the other hand totally understand. Emotionally and even biologically, the difference in the affection that your mother has towards you vs any other relative is usually night/day big. If you didn't give birth to them, why should you feel responsible? Especially at a time like this? This is not cruel, but just the way it works. When Seito sold his mother's kimono: it was a foreshadowing that the affection that they used to have has faded, and that they are in fact, alone in this world.
Seito went out of his way to avoid showing Setsuku dead people, but it only took her looking at a dead pile of fireflies to question the very premise of war: DEATH. "Why are their lives so short?" she asks. At the same time, Seito parallels their grave with the grave of the dead people piled on like fireflies. "Why did their lives have to be shortened?" I think he asks. This is compelling because this scene was followed after Seito's chant of the nationalist navy song the night before thinking about his father and the imperial army. Despite such pride in his father and country, after seeing dead fireflies, and by extension, people's deaths, while wars seemingly are inevitable, Seito begins to think that there is something off and inhuman about the nature of wars. What part of war exactly justifies that pile of death? Takahata never answers the question.
-All death≠tragedy. so WHY is this a tragedy?:
Personally, two aspects of GOTF make this a compelling tragedy.
First, the last scene: The ghosts of Seito and Setsuku seem like they are FINALLY at peace. Takahata thinks that these kids are better off in their after life than here. This contrasts specially with the ending of TWR as the climactic message said by Jiro's wife is for him to LIVE. No matter what happens, no matter the "wind that rises" that may distort the course of your passion into military/war/death, one must LIVE. Takahata is saying the opposite--that some times, under certain circumstances, it's better to let go. I think we can all think of moments in our lives worth living for despite the negativity and the work that we must dedicate in this world. However, these two kids were so pressured and bullied by survival and war that they died never having felt that imo.
Second, Takahata shows that childrens' death is a tragedy--not because they are simply "children." Seito truly tried his best to live in this world. Yet children need support before they become independent. In this film, that hope that one could cling on to, his parents, his sister, the community...everything was destroyed, literally and emotionally by war. Killing children is wrong because they, in a very real way, represent the future--the hope of a better tomorrow. But they can't do it by themselves.
Grave of the Fireflies is a Studio Ghibli film directed and written by Takahata Isao. Its based on the semi-autobiographical account of Nosaka Akiyuki. So, it's a semi-autobiographical story written by a Japanese man and set in the mid 1940s. This is going to be incredibly sad, isn't it? Let's take a look.
Our story opens near the end of 1945 with our protagonist, Seita, dying of starvation in a railway station and that pretty much sets the film's tone. It goes back to show the events that led up to his demise. Beginning with an air raid in which his mother dies... This film
is really depressing, and it continues from there. To the film's credit, it handles emotion excellently and not just the really depressing and sad moments. It also has some really joyous and happy moments mixed in. Which could have easily created a tonal clash, but they're done so well that it serves to create a good contrast and to strengthen the emotional impact of the sad moments, even though you know they're coming, instead. This film has spectacular tone, it's simultaneously one of the saddest and one of the most bittersweet movies I've ever seen. I do have a gripe with it, however. The biggest is that they give away every tragic moment before it happens. They're still sad, in fact I'd hate to meet the person who could watch this without crying at least once, but it does lessen the impact somewhat. Who knows, maybe they thought it would be way too emotionally crushing if they didn't give the viewer forewarning. Which may be a valid concern, actually.
What really makes this film work are the characters. The way they respond to things, their faults and so on all have verisimilitude. Unlike a lot of films about children experiencing tragedy, these kids aren't put on a pedestal as great innocents nor do they have no survival skills whatsoever, they act like real children. Which really adds impact to the tragedy. Let's be honest, it's hard to feel sorry for a character who's too perfect to actually exist or to emphasise with someone's tragedy when they suffer for their own idiocy. It's much more poignant when the character has the strengths and faults of an actual person.
The art is what you always get from Studio Ghibli, magnificent. The colours are surprisingly bright and vibrant for a film that spends a good chunk of its time in the middle of a bloody war. The backgrounds are beautifully drawn and the disturbing scenes are really disturbing. If you've seen it you know which ones I'm referencing. If you haven't... you'll know when you see them.
The cast in this is good. Studio Ghibli maintains its tradition of getting people who are inexperienced, the right ages and who do really well when it comes down to it. The music is absolutely perfect. It's atmospheric and enhances the tone.
There's no ho-yay in this one either, or romance at all. The film doesn't need it.
This movie is powerful, tragic in the best sense of the word and just a masterpiece in general. I suggest watching it with something furry you can hug, because you'll need the comfort. Final rating: 10/10. Next week I'll finish Studio Ghibli month with a look at a very recent film, and one of their only movies I haven't personally seen, From Up on Poppy Hill.
Truly one of Studio Ghibli's greatest crowning achievements, Grave of the Fireflies is a brilliant masterpiece fully deserving of a place in any of the best movies ever made. Not just an astonishingly great (and, at the risk of coming off as cliché, perfect) work of art, this is a moving, thought-provoking, and ultimately heartbreaking tale about the loss of innocence and the tragedies of war.
Based on an autobiography by Akiyuki Nosaka, the film, set during the bombing of Japan in --of all times-- World War II, centers on Seita, a loving, headstrong Navy soldier's son and his innocent little sister, Setsuko. Their fatal struggle
for survival begins right at the start, when both are bombed out of house and home by American B-29s. Mom is seriously wounded and found wrapped in bandages at a hospital, where she dies shortly after. The children move to Nishinomiya to stay with their aunt. Auntie, a cold, bitter, self-serving woman, has no patience with Seita or Setsuko, especially when they would rather chase after fireflies at moonlight, play by the beach, or lounge around the house instead of helping out. After butting heads with Auntie long enough, the children decide to run away, setting up home in an abandoned cave by the lake. Both try by all means to live off of vegetables or whatever food they can afford to trade and/or steal, to no avail....
The outcome of the story is actually showcased at the opening of the movie, where we see a ghostly specter of Seita watching a more malnourished version of himself die a painful, lonely death at a train station. Indeed, as we see how these events came to pass, we find ourselves rooting for Seita and Setsuko to find a way to stay alive, but alas, it is not to be, given Seita's stubborn pride. The overall tone of the movie is of a very tragic nature--even such lighthearted moments as the aforementioned sequences involving Seita and Setsuko playing around the house or gathering fireflies as lights for their cave are all tainted with a touch of sadness, for we know that these brief scenes of happiness will not last.
Who is to blame for the plight of these children? The movie never addresses this question to the audience, nor does it really care to. It would be easy for director Isao Takahata to make this an anti-American movie, but he does better than that. Instead, he aptly conveys that war can spell serious--and deadly--consequences for victims. He also eschews casting any character as a hero or villain, and instead makes this a very human story, with no clear-cut "good" or "bad" characters. The aunt, for example, is not evil; she is merely an angry, desperate woman who is only struggling to survive just as much as Seita and Setsuko are. Atrocious as her treatment of the children is, we somehow never see her as a true baddie, but a very flawed, multi-faceted human being.
Normally one would think of this kind of story as suitable for live-action, but Grave of the Firefliesproves that it can be told through the art of animation as well. This is no mindless showcase of gorgeous visuals--although the artistic merits of the movie are, as with Ghibli productions, sumptuous and at times breathtaking--but a display of real characters struggling with very tangible emotions. And the most amazing accomplishment about this movie is how much we grow to care for Seita and Setsuko--their inseparable bond of love and companionship is the heart and soul behind the movie.
There are long stretches of silence on the soundtrack, with music used very sparingly, yet the movie is all the more powerful for it. The most effective moment is where we hear a scratchy rendition of "Home, Sweet Home" over a montage of Setsuko playing by the shelter. It's a simplistic, sweet, yet very saddening moment that not only works in the context of the movie, but on its own as well.
I don't normally say this in my reviews, but I would definitely recommend watching this movie in its native language of Japanese for a truly powerful and memorable experience. That's not to imply, however, that the English dub, produced by New York-based Central Park Media, is inferior; on the contrary. It is, in fact, surprisingly good, with an effective lead in J. Robert Spencer and noteworthy cameo appearances by Anime voice-over actors Veronica Taylor, Crispin Freeman, and Dan Green. Rhoda Chrosite's Setsuko is the one voice that doesn't fare so well; she sounds more like an adult pretending to be a young girl, and comes across as strained during most scenes (save for when she is sick from diarrhea). Still, for those who can't read subtitles, the dub is more than adequate (although not as high-profile as others that I've heard).
Even in a genre as multi-faceted as Japanese Anime, there are few films that literally everyone really must see. Grave of the Fireflies is one such movie.
Set in World War II, Grave of the Fireflies follows the story of Seita and his little sister Setsuko as they attempt to survive in the aftermath of a bombing which has destroyed their home and killed their mother. With their father a naval officer away at war, they must travel the country looking for food and shelter.
Grave of the Fireflies serves primarily as an anti-war piece, illustrating the effects of war on an entire family. By focusing the narrative on two orphaned siblings, the film is able to uniquely touch on the issue of the lack of charity and concern for others during times
of war and hardship. Seita and Setsuko suffer from this first hand, forced as mere children to find a way to survive while others often look upon their misfortune, unmoved and uninterested.
The film also focuses on the effects of the loss of family: frequently we see little Setsuko alone, looking at mothers and daughters and realizing her own loss. Seita too is shown in the film's opening scene, starving on the floor as he dies, alone in the world after Setsuko has passed away. The film's story is truly touching and perhaps one of the most powerful anti-war pieces ever produced. In animation and audio too, Studio Ghibil delivers a superb product. Though done in the late 80s, characters and settings are beautifully realistic and detailed, rivaling even many recent productions.
The soundtrack is wonderfully done: cute, but always a bit eery and unnerving, it captures the mood of the film perfectly. Voices (both Japanese and English) are well chosen for their parts and memorable. Little can be said against the film. It was disheartening to see Seita's pride play a role in bringing about such tragedy, and so if you're like me you may have been watching, saddened yet realistic to the degree of control each person has in determining his fortune. Overall, however, Grave of the Fireflies accomplishes its goal: viewers will be heartbroken by this tragic tale, questioning the merits of war and hopefully more concerned with its awful effects on those involved.
Overall Score: A
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"Grave of the fireflies" is by far the most depressing anime I've ever watched, and I mean it in a good way.
It's sad not because I feel moved by some kindness or strength as usually the case. It's sad because it shows you a naked truth about how a war slowly destroys the hopes of two kids bit by bit and until finally, when the war is over, it already takes away everything in an irrevocable way, including their lives.
The story is from the perspective of Seita, the boy. The film begins with his death, and narrates from the end. Some scenes are
a recollection of his last memories about what he and his sister have been through. This perceptive skillfully adds to the heaviness of the downward spiral plot.
The movie is mainly about how the life of Seita and his sister Setsuko seriously went down to hell beginning from loss of their home and mother in a bombing raid, or maybe I should say they've been living in the hell since then. Studio Ghibli has an excellent touch with the characters. It seems everyone's response to everyone is so very natural, like it is how it should be. That's why the tragedy it led to is a true tragedy of the war and of our world.
The story doesn't appear to be a monotone deteriorating series of losses, although it in fact really is. I think if you asked Seita and Setsuko, they would still say they had some good time. They left the aunt who didn't treat them very well, lived together, played together and cared from each other. Living with family who love each other probably is one of the happiest things in life. Well, for them, at least in spirit, it surely is. But it's only part of the truth. There's a scene where some brats come by and laugh at how horrible Seita and Setsuko's living standard was, "Their meals are even worse than ours!" one kid said, laughed out loud and run away with other kids. It's as if someone has uttered the truth about emperor's new clothes. Setsuko's malnutrition and death that followed was just the natural result of this cruel reality.
Seita and Setsuko have two things that are somewhat used as motifs for their happiness. One is a candy box of Sakuma Drops and the other is fireflies. The candy box is the only thing kept until the end from their original home before the war hit upon their lives. Fireflies are what they played with when living together. "Graves of the fireflies" is really the best title for the movie. Setsuko once asked, "Why do fireflies die so soon?" Why does their happiness die so soon? It ends up being a short-lived dream. And "They need a grave. I'm making them a grave.", said Setsuko.
The movie itself, in some sense, is a grave for Seita and Setsuko, their hopes, their dreams, their suffering, and it's also a grave for all the people that they represent. It's a grave, as well as a masterpiece, for viewers to pay their respect.
How could I rate such an acclaimed masterpiece a mere 5/10? Do I not have a shred of decency or humanity?! Before you downvote, allow me to explain.
The story is that 2 orphans are caught up in a war they know nothing about and are simply helpless victims of foreign atrocities being committed against them and their countrymen. This is meant to show the horrors of war and be a strong anti-war film that will move the audience to tears by hitting them with the emotional equivalent of a sledgehammer over and over again. The problem is that when Grave of the Fireflies came
out in 1988, it was not the first film of this nature. A few years earlier in 1985, a far superior film was released by the USSR called Come and See. The story chronicled 2 young children caught up in the massacre of 25% of Belarus's entire population by SS and Einsatzgruppen. The movie was well received in most countries, but very poorly received here in the US. The reason is that Americans refused to see Soviet civilians as victims, were furious that it glazed over Soviet crimes, were unaware that more Slavs were killed in the Holocaust than Jews and saw the film as mere propaganda, and finally that it portrayed the Germans as unsympathetic. A few years later, Grave of the Fireflies was met with gushing praise by guilt ridden Americans and Japanese patriots that wanted to portray Japanese as the real victims of WW2. This film shares all of the "flaws" that Come and See did. It completely glosses over all Japanese wrong doing, and portrays the Americans just as bad as Come and See did the Einsatzgruppen. Why is this a problem? Firstly, Japan killed FAR more foreigners (not including own population through famine) than the USSR did and were much worse aggressors. Secondly, Belarus was not very well represented in the Soviet Poliburo and bares little blame for the crimes of the Russians, Ukrainians, and mostly Georgians. They are MUCH more deserving of an entirely innocent portrayal. Thirdly, American atrocities killed less than 1 percent of Japan's civilian population and there was never an American plan to wipe out all Japanese and settle the islands with Americans. To portray the Americans in the same fashion as Come and See portrayed the Einsatzgruppen is historically dishonest and absurd! In Grave of the Fireflies an American bomber is chasing our hero down a country road wasting valuable bombs and fuel to kill a single Japanese child. It seems highly unlikely that this ever happened. On the other hand, not only did all of the events in Come and See actually happen, many atrocities actually had to be omitted by censors because they were too gruesome! Lastly, Japan has a HUGE problem with history denial and films like this simply fuel that fire! Audiences in the USSR weren't being brainwashed into believing their country has never done any wrong and that they were minding their own business when the foreign devils showed up. The Soviet government committed the vast majority of its crimes against its own people, so ex-Soviets are more aware than anyone of Soviet historical crimes. Although Americans saw Come and See as propaganda and Grave of Fireflies as a masterpiece, in reality the opposite is FAR closer to the truth.
The 2 children are much like the 2 in Come and See. They are brave, innocent, and above all were created for the audience to project on to and empathize with. They are meant to represent the essence and soul of Japanese empire. They are brave heroes that were unjustly attacked by the evil foreign imperialists, humiliated, and killed like a mean child ripping the wings off a beautiful firefly. What Come and See does better is actually having one survive and have to live with the psychological damage of the war. We see him contemplate revenge by shooting repeatedly a picture of Hitler, before stopping and considering if revenge will solve anything. This is much more profound and less heavy handed than killing off your innocent heroes and saying, "there, look what those bastards did to your beloved heroes!"
The art is absolutely spectacular as one would only expect from Studio Ghibli. I fully praise the art and give it the credit that it has due to it.
The music is beautiful, tragic, and meant to increase the strength of our emotions at all times. It does its job very well.
This isn't a film meant to be enjoyed. What is does produce are different emotions in different people. For Japanese it produces sorrow and righteous anger. For Americans it produces sorrow and deep guilt. For Chinese, Koreans, and other victims of the Japanese Empire it produces a foot going straight through the TV screen.
Imagine a film made in Germany detailing the brutal and cruel bombing of Dresden. Imagine the film writer specifically omitted any and all mentions of German wrong doing and portrayed Germans entirely as victims of evil British and Americans. Now pretend that this was a cartoon shown to German children and told them that this was what REALLY happened in WW2. That German film maker would not win awards like Grave of the Fireflies' director. Instead, he would go to fucking jail for up to 2 years for Nazi indoctrination of the youth. How fair is it that 2 countries with roughly equally bad history have such great contrast in how they are allowed to present that history? Germany takes responsibility for past wrongs and wishes to avoid committing such actions again, while Japan refuses to see themselves as anything but victims and produce propaganda that stirs anger and nationalism that actually increase the chances that they will do the same things again! In the category of anti-war movies showing orphans in a country being brutalized by a foreign power, Come and See is the rightful heir to the throne. Grave of the Firelflies is beautifully crafted and well made, but poisonous propaganda that teaches children the version of WW2 that Japanese nationalists want them to learn. It is similar to my feelings on Triumph of the Will, which has spectacular cinematography, editing, and soundtrack, but has a moral I simply can't approve of. It is very well made, but leaves too foul a taste in my mouth to possibly give above a 5.
PS: if you want to skip Grave of the Fireflies, here is a clip from the original Grave of the Fireflies, back when it was called Come and See. Just replace the Belorussian villagers with Japanese, replace the Dirlewanger Brigade with Americans, and pretend its animated by studio Ghibli! For the REALLY impatient, just skip to 5:00. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5saBttrJ64U
I finally decided to watch Grave of the Fireflies. Admittedly, this is a film that I should have viewed a long time ago, given its influence and importance to the medium. Studio Ghibli has long been known to create works that carry subtle but profound messages while employing the use of gorgeous visuals, and “Hotaru no Haka” is certainly no exception. Although I am sure that by now the conversation surrounding its themes and delivery has been well exhausted, I wanted to contribute my own opinions; if only to express how compelling it was to me. This review contains discussions of key plot points.
director Isao Takahata claimed that this is not an anti-war film, and rather it is a story more focused on the bond between brother and sister, as well as the difficulties they must face while attempting to live outside of society. Despite this, I still can’t help but feel that this film does offer an anti-war message, as the images of death and destruction are a constant force throughout. Seita and Setsuko would not have to endure such hardship if it were not for the catastrophe of war. I can still certainly see why Takahata would believe this, however, as the war ultimately serves as a backdrop for a complex meditation on relationships between people, as well as Japanese attitudes and culture.
I do not claim to be particularly knowledgeable on such subjects, but the tensions around these concepts become more apparent as the narrative carefully unravels. It is clear that Seita holds a deep admiration for his his father, as well as the strength of the Japanese empire, denoted by his devastation at the news of Japan’s unconditional surrender. As such, Seita has high expectations for himself, even before shouldering the responsibility of caring for Setsuko. As the two flee their home during the film’s initial air raid, Seita stops to grab one item – a photo of his father in military attire. The influence for his behavior is unmistakable, demonstrated through his attempts to maintain an enduring strength for Setsuko’s sake. This contextualizes his stone cold reaction to the image of his mother’s destroyed body. He associates courage with the serious and sober image of his father.
It is unlikely that Seita understands the wider implications of war. Regardless, he takes it upon himself to be a source of strength and hope for his sister, in a vain attempt to shield her from the horrors that follow in its wake. For this purpose, he wishes to withhold the truth of their mother’s fate from her as long as possible. Despite his efforts, Setsuko bears witness to the atrocities herself, with even less understanding – most clearly demonstrated when she finds a corpse on the beach and asks if the man is sleeping. Further, Setsuko’s admission that she is aware of their mother’s death affects Seita to the point of tears, as he feels he has failed in his mission.
Seita’s decision to abandon the shelter of his aunt’s home is the most hotly contested act of the film; the reason being that many people are frustrated by his stubbornness. It is understandable that people would find this unwillingness to admit his own weakness to be a frustrating aspect of Seita’s character – but I find that it is the most crucial part of this film. Whether or not he wants to admit it himself, Seita is a child. Given that he has had to endure the loss of his mother, the continued absence of correspondence from his father, as well as the care of his sister, Seita is overwhelmed beyond his capabilities. Their aunt, callously indifferent towards the two children, seeks to exploit their situation as a means to secure her own immediate needs. Though it is subtle, her demand that Seita contribute to society further inflates his perception of his own responsibilities.
There is no doubt that it was a bad decision for the two to leave their aunt’s home to try to live on their own, and even worse judgment on Seita’s part for refusing to return. But this is precisely the crux of this film. Seita’s stubbornness is perpetuated by a multitude of factors, particularly the alienation from his aunt and his perception of his responsibilities. Maybe there was some truth to what she said. Perhaps there is no time to pacify children during such bleak times. I do not believe that this film seeks to blame a single agent for its tragedy, but rather present a complex web of cultural beliefs, relationships, and actions. We are aware from the very beginning what tragedy will occur; it is never a mystery. As the narrative unfolds, we simply become more aware of the circumstances that allowed such a tragedy. Seita is at least partially culpable, but I think it is incorrect to have him shoulder the absolute blame for their deaths.
This is a film I could easily rate a “10” if I was not so picky with how I distribute such ratings, as if it matters at all. It is complicated and beautiful, but also easy to appreciate in many regards. Naturally, Ghibli delivers on the animation, which I have neglected to discuss in length. Although it is tragic in nature, there is a solemn beauty to its execution. The relationship between the two siblings is unfettered and whole throughout. There is an absolute love and trust between the two of them that serves as a faint but powerful light amongst the images of destruction and despair. It is reasonable to find blame in Seita and to be frustrated with his actions, but after my viewing, I believe there is more to be considered than just the blundering of a child.
Towards the end of World War II, American bombers dropped napalm canisters on Japanese cities, creating catastrophic fire storms. These terrifying bombs fell to earth promptly. Then as soon as the bombs hit the ground, there is a moment of complete silence, and then the explosion occurs, encompassing the surroundings with flames showing no mercy towards anything. Back during WWII, Japanese villages were made of flimsy wood and paper houses; Everything was burned down, nothing could withstand the destruction of nuclear weapons. WW2, truly one of, if not the most tragic era of mankind. R.I.P to the 60 million+ people that died in WW2. This
is what Hotaru no Haka is about.
"Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime. There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people."
Grave of the Fireflies (1988) is a tragic animated film about a young boy and his little sister's struggle to survive in Japan during World War II (this anime shows how truly devastating World War II was). Our main character, Seita is a young teenager, and his sister Setsuko is about 5 years old. Their father is serving in the Japanese navy, and their mother is a bomb victim. Seita and Setsuko's home, neighbor, school, friends have all been burned into ashes. Setsuko and Seita find a temporary home with their Aunt, but later having quarreled with their Aunt (cruel person who refused to give Seita and Setsuko food) they leave the city and make their home in an abandoned shelter. Having absolutely nothing but each other, the two siblings must depend on each other to somehow keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. When everything is in short supply, they gradually succumb to hunger and their only entertainment is the light of the fireflies. The focus of Grave of the Fireflies, however, is not primarily on the terrors of war, but mostly on the daily lives of the unfortunate 2 kids, Seita and Setsuko. This is where the movie really shines; In showing a teenager who genuinely loves and cares for his little sister and is willing to do everything to spare her the terrors of war even though he cannot possibly hope to succeed. Each minor detail that went meticulously into the plot was absolutely ingenious, and from Seita's (Japanese civilian) we see the war in a different perspective.
Grave of the Fireflies doesn't hold back when it comes to showing the impact of World War 2 on the lives of Seita and Setsuko. The movie spares neither terror nor hunger nor sickness nor how disgusting humans can be. And it doesn't come as a surprise that the plot starts off tragically, then the main part of the plot continues to be tragic, and finally the movie ends in tragedy. In fact, the first shot of the film shows Seita dead in a subway station, and so we can guess Setsuko’s fate; the entire plot is through flashbacks by the Seita's spirit. Although some people may think that's stupid, it's really quite the opposite.
The setting/backgrounds are drawn in an art style something to the 18th century Japanese artist Hiroshige, who is a legendary artist. There is great beauty in them, not cartoon beauty, but evocative landscape drawing, put through the filter of animated style. The characters were animated quite realistically despite the movie being over 25 years; we can see the characters nostrils when they cry, I mean you don't see that in an anime very often, if not ever. This detailed art in this film puts most modern day era anime's art to shame. This film proves, if it needs proving, that animation produces emotional effects not by reproducing reality, but by heightening and simplifying it, so that many of the sequences are about ideas, not experiences. Simply spectacular. As expected from a Studio Ghibli production, the plot is delivered with absolutely stunning visuals. It’s the little things that matter – people giving small sighs, children moving clumsily, a small frown on the face of an older woman. One cannot help but admire such attention to detail. Furthermore the nature, the light of the fireflies... One word to describe it: Beautiful. There wasn't a lot of music in the film, but whenever there was, it fit in perfectly with the scene and I had no choice but to cry multiple times. As for the voicing of each character, the voices fit in perfectly. Seita and Setsuko's voices fit perfectly, I couldn't have asked for anything better.
My favorite part of The Grave of the Fireflies was the symbolism and the powerful imagery it evokes, since that's my thing.
- The train in the sunset symbolizes the passage from life to death
- Quickly emptying box of fruit candies stands for disappearing hope (& happiness).
- The gleaming little fireflies that die all too quickly are a symbol for the people all over the world during WW2, who die without being able to live their lives to it's fullest. In the end, the only thing that awaits people during this era was a collective grave. The "fire" in fireflies represents the fire storms caused by nuclear weapons. Setsuko once mentions that a passing kamikaze looks like fireflies from afar, symbolizing once again "fire" but also short lives, as fireflies have very short lives. The fireflies even symbolize children themselves.
- Seita and Setsuko catching fireflies and use them to illuminate the dark cave they sought shelter in.
- Setsuko burying the dead firefly, imagining the deceased firefly to be her deceased mother.
- The light at the end of the woods that the kids try to reach, but are never able to.
Grave of the Fireflies is, without a doubt, one of the best anime productions ever, and it’s my favorite animated movie up to date. I've never cried so much over a Japanese film, than I did in Grave of the Fireflies. A "must-watch" film that I recommend to anyone, this film appeals to both kids, teens, adults, and seniors. 10/10 rating without a doubt.
The film does provide an insight into Japanese culture by focusing its attention almost entirely on the personal tragedies that wars give rise to, rather than seeking to glamorize it as a heroic struggle between competing ideologies. Sure history says that the Japanese were the villains during World War II, not the victims like this film somewhat portrays. But that was the ruling government at that time; little kids, innocent civilians were brutally killed, erased from the surface of the earth without having anyone to remember them, since all their friends and family died as well. During a war, there is nothing that happens besides tragedy. Americans, Germans, English, French, Italians, Russians, and all the other people that died during World War II are all victims of the war. This film does not make the Japanese look like the heroes and everyone else as the bad guys. It simply shows the destruction of war, and how it deeply it affects the innocent, and how tragic war is. What's truly evil is the weapons used in a war. War truly is scary and tragic, imagine what would happen is WW3 broke out today... Nobody in the entire world would be safe, everyone would live in fear of dying. That's exactly what this film portrays. World War II is now in the past, and although it's good to remember what happened and reflect/mourn upon it, it's equally if not more important to move on into the future, and live in peace and harmony and finally end the cycle of human nature: fight, then regret, then fight again, then regret again etc... If there’s a single anime film out there I consider an absolute must-see, it’s this one. I cried some manly tears. Thanks for reading.
I know there are plenty of reviews for this iconic title. I just feel as if I must contribute as well, because this anime is worth it. More than any other I have ever seen.
Our tale centers around two Japanese children, Seita and Setsuko, during World War II. They are just ordinary kids at the start of things. Young, happy, carefree, as much as they could be in times of hardship, anyhow. Not much different from you or me, with nothing terribly remarkable about them. They could be anyone. They could be your little brother or sister. They could be your best friends, your neighbors.
Anyone. That, to me, really drives the point home even more.
To me, this is the mother of all war movies. This is the pinnacle of tragedy at its very darkest. I have never before seen something so emotionally devastating, and I'm not just saying that. Nothing measures up to this anymore. Nothing. Not to me. And, you know something? I don't think anything ever will.
As we watch, we see nothing but how hard they struggle to survive. Hardship, loneliness, loss, fear, pain...everything we all might feel in our darkest hours. Seita being forced to grow up so he could take care of his sister, and not quite making it due to his own pride and immaturity. Little Setsuko stumbling along after her brother, desperate to understand the things that were going on around her. Things don't get better. They get worse, and worse, and worse, until finally, they have nothing left. Not even each other.
This is not a fairy tale. This is no fluffy, feel good shojo manga, nor does it try to cover up the horrors of the world at its worst. In the end of this tale, there is no silver lining. No hope. No nothing. They're just dead, and there is nothing you can do about it. Absolutely nothing. That, more than anything else, broke my heart. I cried for longer than I can remember after it was over.
I look at Seita and Setsuko, and I see every child who has ever had to die under such horrible circumstances. This movie needed that, because you know what? That's what war is. That's what hardship is. There is no hope. There is no fairy tale ending, or last minute rescue. That's the way things are, and it hurts, but that is why I regard this movie as one of the greatest of all time, anime and beyond. It lays the naked truth out for all of us to see, and it isn't afraid to do so. This is a must see. If your eyes are not yet open to the heart breaking loss that war brings, you will be after you see Grave of the Fireflies.
Well, I wanted to get that out before I started doing this review. First of all, I think this is one of the finest movies done by studio Ghibli. I've watched almost all of their work and everything is awesome. But there was something about this movie that made it feel really different. At first, I wasn't really sure about watching it, because I didn't think it would be good, but after finishing the movie, I knew it was not just one of the best animated movies i've ever seen, it was one of the BEST MOVIES of all time.
The story is
so touching, you get to feel the pain and sadness of the characters in you. You feel sorry for them and you just want them to survive, no matter how. Seita, the older brother, is a boy who just wants to protect his sister Setsuko and help her in everything he cans. At first, he keeps her safe and during the movie he's always there for her. The relationship between the two characters is outstanding.
The two main protagonists struggle to survive in a world destroyed by war, making their own choices withing what they can do. I loved this movie for the reason that it shows war trough the eyes of two innocent children that have no idea what to do. It has amazing story telling and beautiful animation, which makes it simply unique and special. The character Setsuko and Seita are developed in a genius way, making you truly care for them.
The art is simply perfect. I could watch frames of this movie and recognize it immediately. It has this beautiful moments where you see the landscape and hear some birds singing, along with the sound of the water. The movie's atmosphere makes you think you are actually living World War II.
To wrap things up, I would like to say that this movie is as close to perfections as a movie can get. The characters are perfectely developed and the story is one of the best i've ever seen. The music is beautiful and the art is a genius masterwork.
Would I say that this movie is a masterpiece? FUCKING YES!!
I almost never cry with movies or TV series. I can watch something really sad and not even drop one tear. Of course I feel sad sometimes with touching scenes, but not to the point of tearing up. "Grave of the Fireflies" or "Hotaru no Haka" made me cry like an agonizing bitch. I felt a knot in my throat and suddenly tons of tears began to fall from my eyes. I couldn't breath and it was awful. I gotta tell you, this is the saddest movie i've ever seen. Seriously, if you are going to watch it, bring a THOUSAND tissue boxes with you.
THIS MOVIE IS THE BEST ANIMATED FILM I'VE EVER SEEN.
At first I was sceptical about watching this movie but it definitely was worth the time! It's one of the best movies I've seen and I recommend it to anyone who can stand a sad, cruel and realistic depiction of a harsh truth thay is not that far away from the reality we live in.
This story is about two siblings, the relationship that exists between them and how that relationship helps them deal with the cruel reality that is war. It has its happy and its sad moments and it had me laughing and crying almost simultaneously. You can see how outstanding can be
the care of an older brother for his little sister and how innocent a little kid is even in the hardest situation possible.
A reason I loved this movie is because it's not sad all the time but it also shows in the most realistic way how things can be for two kids during the war. It made think that although it's just a story it's not really far from what was actually happening to many other kids those years and is still happening in some countries even today! Hotaru no Haka shows you that nothing is ever granted. And to be totally honest there's nothing I don't like about it. Even the art is really beautiful and it dosn't seem like it's that old of a movie.
In coclusion I was impressed by the story, the art, the emotion and the soundtrack. Also, I should mention that the voice acting is incredible and a wonderful job was done!
All in all this movie is a must-see by everyone so that maybe we finally realise how stupid it is that to this day wars are still going on in this world.