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Grave of the Fireflies

January 11, 2010

It’s very rare to watch a film and have it literally take your breath away. For me a powerful story, beautifully imagery, and complete emergence in a films story can cause me to gasp and hold my breath for a few seconds when the credits begin to roll. The Apartment, City of God, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Harold and Maude are the few that I can think of to have done that to me. A new addition on that list is 1988’s Grave of the Fireflies. My competitor Roger Ebert called it one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever made and I couldn’t agree more. That’s a statement I never thought I’d make about an animated film. Grave of the Fireflies power comes from its attention to detail, pacing, and overall heartening story.

Seita is introduced at the beginning of the film as a young teen dying. His voice over narration tells the audience the date September 21, 1945 and the circumstances that he’s in. It’s WWII and Seita and his family are being affected by constant air raids and bombing. Seita’s mother is killed in an air raid when attempting to flee to safety and Seita is left to take care of himself and his young 4-year-old sister Setsuko while his father is in naval duty. As time goes by, living becomes more difficult as the area begins to suffer from famine and an attitude of nonchalance from neighbors. Seita is forced to take any means necessary to fend for himself and Setsuko.

While Grave of the Fireflies shows WWII from a non-American point-of-view, it’s a film that neither damns America nor praises Japan. Instead by following Seita and Setsuko the film shows how war overall affects people socially and economically. The most impressive aspect of Grave of the Fireflies is how quick and genuinely smart it is. It’s a complex film in its production; the edits are quick, the narrative switches sometimes unnoticeably from present to flashbacks into other flashbacks, and scenes that appear to be minor are essential in understanding the story. It’s probably the only film I know of where absolutely every scene, shot and cinematic choice is a necessity in understanding situations and consequences.

Based on an autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, the compassion of the story develops from watching older brother Seita do everything in his power to keep life comfortable for the innocent Setsuko as she longs for the same for her brother. In one scene after being beaten for stealing food, Seita is found by Setsuko who notices that he is in tears. Although starving for food and confused she innocently looks up and unselfishly asks Seita where does it hurt and does she need to get a doctor. He tries to hold back his tears of sadness, regret and determination but can’t.

Sadly the genre of anime has gotten a bad rap since the media bastardization of Pokémon in the late 90s and the Pokémon Disaster of 1997. The popularization of shows like Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, and the kids that speak in robot voices who regularly watched these shows, resulted in a backlash against the genre and now anime is swept under the rug and not taken seriously as a whole. Yet it’s not the sharply drawn over-exaggerated explosions or angry-lined faces that make anime intriguing, it’s the story and style of animation detailed best by Grave of the Fireflies. Human emotion comes out in the overall cinematic process and not from a false sense of realism. After also watching the majestically beautiful and powerful Princess Mononoke (review may follow soon), I have a new found respect for anime films and intend to watch as many as I can get my fat fingers on.

SEE IT. With tissue.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2010 9:08 AM

    >Did you cry when watching this? I couldn't stop and neither could the rest of my family. The fact that it is so grief inducing says something about how even animation can reach deep into our hearts. It is a film that says something about war that unfortunately too few people will ever watch.


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