Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Grave of the Fireflies is a Japanese animation film directed by Isao Takahata. I think this is my one of my first Japanese animation films (I do not watch movies haha). I have heard about this movie though, and I had the impression that it is a very sad film (it is).

Basically, it is a story of a pair of Japanese siblings (trying to) survive World War II. This film starts with the scene of a dying Seita: and he dies alone with sores all over his body, homeless. The film then uses kind of  a ‘flashback’ method to tell the story, with Seita’s spirit sometimes appearing in the various scenes.

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The starting of the story telling was beautifully sad… As a janitor cleans the station, he sees Seita’s bodies and checks for any possessions, and I feel this is not because he wanted to find any ID on Seita, but rather he had wanted to steal from whatever Seita had on him – a candy tin filled with ashes. Thinking it was worth nothing, he flung it into the open, and as it fell into the grass, Seita’s sister’s spirit came out of the tin, together with fireflies of the field, lighting up the screen.

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In this film, even though it was said that the US army was the one who was bombing Japan, it did not show active battle scenes, for example from the film We Were Soldiers (2002), where the battle scenes are evident:

In Grave of the Fireflies, war was more of the backstory, to set the context of the film. The film focuses on the effects war has, especially on the pair of siblings. Both siblings were not directly killed by the bombings, but died as a result of the war. It was a heartbreaking movie, as the innocence of Setsuko was shining through the darkness of the film’s theme. Even though her childhood joy was robbed, her innocence just made the story sooooo sad. 😦  For instance she had not understood the emotional ache her brother was experiencing, but Setsuko assumed it was a physical pain that the doctor could heal. Also, the motif of Setsuko’s candy tin was seen throughout the film.

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Likewise, Seita was forced to grow out of his childhood/ teenage phase prematurely has he had to take on the role of a guardian towards his little sister. The emotional weights he felt must have been tremendous.

Something interesting (and sad) to know is that this film was inspired by a true story. Akiyuki Nosaka is the author of the semi-autobiographical short story, Grave of the Fireflies in 1967. He lost his sister to the war, and this story was a “guilt ridden apology to his sisters”. Nosaka shared in an interview that “My(His) sister’s death is an exact match with the novel. It was one week after the end of the war.”

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Personally, I do feel if Seita had not left his aunt’s house (swallowed his pride and apologised), his sister most likely would not have died. When he left his aunt’s house, he was putting his needs above his sister’s, who had depended solely on him for survival. (His aunt was so terrible though!) (Then again he was just a teenager! And an innocent victim of war)

What do you think? 🙂

Wars are certainly terrible, I do hope World War III will not happen.

Peace, and love, everyone! ♥

Nasya

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5 thoughts on “Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

  1. Impressive! I like how you managed to relate the story and support it with the real story that inspired the film. I believe that there are always two sides of the stories. There is always a reason as to why countries get involved in a battle with each other especially on such a huge scale. Some claim that Japanese always play victims in their movies and portray the others as the root cause of evil. However, that is a controversial topic to begin with as the other countries may have their own supporting claim so as to why they began the war with Japan. Nonetheless, I agree with you when you mentioned that wars are terrible and that it breeds nothing but tragedies. Keep up the good work!

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  2. It was interesting that you pointed out that they did not die from the war like what most war films showed, but instead they died from the affects of the war as the films focus on the sufferings of Kobe citizens during the post-war periods. Also you managed to compare the portrayed emotions and innocence of Setsuko to reality of what they each could be facing being young siblings having to survive in the midst of the war without their parents. Well done & enjoyed reading it! ☺

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  3. Grave of the Fireflies is the first Studio Ghibli film I’ve watched! Safe to say, it exceeded all my expectations with regards to the emotions that an animated film an evoke in a spectator. I agree that war serves as a backdrop to the film – it is more about humanizing the conditions of the common man during that time period. The mise-en-scene of the Japanese soldiers saying that the would only regret the bombing if it was their house emphasizes a degree of hypocrisy to Japan’s own Imperial Army – the film was possibly trying to show that the lines between good and evil have largely been blurred. I also felt that Seita – while a caring, loving, attentive brother – was at the end of the day a little stubborn and prideful in his refusal to return to his aunt’s house. However, he was a little too young to be making these decisions in the first place, which is perhaps what the film is attempting to communicate to the spectator.

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  4. Hi Nasya! I must say that you have brought up numerous interesting points throughout this post! I particularly like how you the highlighted the fact that this movie avoided showing battle scenes through the comparison with another film like the 2002’s ‘We were soldiers’. Well, I also agree with how Seita actually had to bear the emotional ache without displaying any signs of it in front of Setsuko. It was indeed a commendable feat, considering how he is of a seemingly young age as well. As to whether the author Nosaka had unknowingly neglected his sister who was waiting for him, we must understand that he was after all an adolescent who could perhaps be much hungrier since he had been constantly scavenging for food meant for two. Nonetheless, I genuinely find your post interesting and easy to read! Awesome review and till then!

    Cheers Nic 

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  5. I like how you mentioned that this was inspired by a true story during the war era! I guess this is the reason why it was filled with so much emotions and definitely make me tear several times!

    Your interpretation on the janitor is right on mark. She doesn’t seems like a thief but the struggles of people caused by the war has probably turn people into desperate ‘monster’ who resort if stealing from corpse. It was a saddening scene that the director has capture.

    Your highlight on how Seita have to put up a strong front for Setsuko indeed impressive. Despite his age, he still manage to take care of Setsuko and protect her from everything. I feel that the neglection can be forgiven. Perhaps, this is something that the director want to convey, his story, his regrets to the audience. Kudos!

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