#35 Grave Of The Fireflies

(1988, Isao Takahata)
(火垂るの墓 – Hotaru no Haka)

“Why do fireflies have to die so soon?”

This is the second film about World War II to appear on this blog, which is only scratching the surface of all the World War II movies that feature in the 1001 Movies. However, this one does not take the usual route of many of the other Anglo-American led movies on the list. This, being a Japanese production, takes their perspective.

It’s easy to forget that World War II was a horrific event for everyone involved. As a UK resident, much of the opinion of the war revolves around how tough it was living through the Blitz, how evil the Nazis were towards the Jews (see also: The Pianist), how horrific the attack on Pearl Harbour was, how hard it was for the Allied countries to get by, but how we overcame adversity to beat the enemy and save the world. But let’s not forget, the “enemy” suffered plenty of tragic losses too. Much like we suffered the Blitz, the firebombing of Dresden killed many innocents, including many who likely opposed the Nazi regime in some way. Not to mention the effects of the atomic blasts on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But what about the real innocents caught up in that war? The children. There were children on both sides, but not one of them deserved to be involved, but they were. And this is where Grave Of The Fireflies comes in.

Set during the bombing of Kobe towards the end of the war, the story follows Seita and his little sister Setsuko as they struggle to survive in the harsh environment that followed. After initially moving in with their aunt, they leave when she becomes frustrated by their presence, leaving them to fend for themselves. And as the opening scenes depict, this doesn’t end well.

Grave Of The Fireflies is not a happy film. After all, this is the final days of the war for Japan, as they are fighting an ever-losing battle. Entire neighbourhoods are firebombed into rubble, while people starve and struggle to keep surviving with limited supplies at their disposal. It’s pretty obvious what will happen to Seita and Setsuko when they go out on their own. If the average working person can barely afford the essentials, how can two children do much better?

In true Ghibli fashion, the movie is a great feat of animation, although the level of detail usually reserved for producing Miyazaki’s beautiful fantasy landscapes is here used to great effect to show the harrowing effects of war. It feels wrong to describe the detail as being beautiful, but it oddly is, and is highly effective.

One comment that frequently gets directed at Grave Of The Fireflies is that it’s impossible to avoid crying at its ending, and I’m not going to dispute that. This is a very tear-inducing movie. I would even go as far to say that if this film does not move you, then you are a heartless, soulless individual. It’s incredibly sad, but what’s more, it’s sad in a way that gets under your skin. It’s not trying to push you into being sad, it just has that effect. I even told myself I wasn’t going to cry while watching it for this review, but I did anyway. It’s that powerful.

Grave Of The Fireflies doesn’t really pass judgement on anybody who fought in World War II, or the necessity of the conflict, it merely shines a light on the innocent casualties who got caught up in the whole thing. It’s hard to put into words exactly how moving this film is, but it definitely necessary viewing, even if you’ll probably only watch it once.

Starring the voices of Ayano Siraishi & Tsutomu Tatsumi
Dub voices by Rhoda Chrosite & J. Robert Spencer
Written by Akiyuki Nosaka (novel) & Isao Takahata
Produced by Toru Hara
Music score by Michio Mamiya
Cinematography by Nobuo Koyama
Edited by Takeshi Seyama

Favourite Scene: Seita finds out his aunt has told Setsuko about their mother’s death, and he breaks down. Easily one of the most moving scenes in the movie because it silently expresses everything that must be going through his head at that exact moment.
Scene That Bugged Me: Nothing really, although the ending did make me cry, does that count?

Watch it if: You’d like a good weep
Avoid it if: You can’t quite accept the fact that the Japanese are no longer enemies of the West

Originally posted on Blogspot Thursday 5 January 2012

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Posted on April 11, 2012, in 1980s, Animation, Drama, Japan, War. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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