Release Date: 16 April 1988
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Let me just start off by saying that I’ve always been a huge fan of Studio Ghibli films, their movies are often deep, moving and full of meaning. Their soundtracks are also amazingly beautiful, it never fails to make me cry.
Grave of the Fireflies recounts the last six months of Seita and his sister, Setsuko, life and their struggle to survive World War II after losing both their parents to it.
Fireflies in the film symbolises the fleetingness and fragility of life as fireflies can only live for a day. This is again shown when Setsuko accidentally kills a firefly by grasping it in her hand too tightly.
The movie was really raw, showing the devastating and brutal reality of war: the mummified bodies from the bombings, wounded, starving and dying men, women and children, the fear and selfishness that drove the desperate. It was each man for himself, war truly makes monsters of us all.
Take Seita’s aunt for example, even though she offered to take them in after they lost their mother, I suspect she had her own selfish reasons. During the war, food was scarce and hence rationed, only people with connections in the Japanese military would have a chance of securing themselves more food. I have this inkling that his aunt probably took him in thinking that his father might help her family through him.
Even if she had good intentions, you can see her growing increasingly bitter, frustrated and desperate as weeks go by and food started getting scarce. As the war drags on, you also notice that the people around both Seita and Setsuko getting increasingly indifferent, the doctor, the janitor and the farmer. That said, there were still people around who cared for them, such as the police officer and his supplier (who advises him to go back to his aunt).
Although the film is a cartoon/anime, it doesn’t mean that it’s any less real. What happened during World War II must have been a thousand times worse and all the more heartbreaking. I would say that Grave of the Fireflies is an anti-war film (but the director Isao Takahata has denied it fervently), however, after rewatching it (cause it’s so good and I was crying too much the first time) I definitely felt like there was more to it than that.
The movie seemed to criticise the blind patriotism the Japanese have, this is personified by Seita who blindly believes that his father and Japan will emerge victorious from the war. Perhaps the criticism was referring to the Japanese education system as their history textbooks about World War II were significantly less critical on themselves, even self-favouring.
Historian Stephen E. Ambrose noted that “The Japanese presentation of the war to its children runs something like this: ‘One day, for no reason we ever understood, the Americans started dropping atomic bombs on us.'”
Also can I just say that Setsuko’s death was plain upsetting, all she wanted was for her brother to stay with her but he has to go find food or they’ll both die. The montage of her playing by herself while he’s away was just heart-breaking.. I really feel like it was Seita’s naivety and pride that ultimately led to his sister’s death.
After doing a little research, I discovered that Grave of the Fireflies is actually based on a semi-autobiographical novel written by Akiyuki Nosaka. In both his novel and film, he dies along with his sister (but he actually survives, duh, hence the book), so the novel was meant to be his personal form of guilt, apology and reconciliation for having led his sister to death, as if saying that he should have died with her.
Verdict: so f@#$^*% sad I kennut