Isao Takahata's powerful antiwar film has been praised by critics wherever it has been screened around the world. When their mother is killed in the firebombing of Tokyo near the end of World War II, teenage Seita and his ... more »little sister Setsuko are left on their own: their father is away, serving in the Imperial Navy. The two children initially stay with an aunt, but she has little affection for them and resents the time and money they require. The two children set up housekeeping in a cave by a stream, but their meager resources are quickly exhausted, and Seita is reduced to stealing to feed his sister. Despite his efforts, she succumbs to malnutrition. Seita painfully makes his way back to the devastated city where he quietly dies in a crowded railway station. The strength of the film lies in Takahata's evenhanded portrayal of the characters. A sympathetic doctor, the greedy aunt, the disinterested cousins all know there is little they can do for Seita and Setsuko. Their resources, like their country's, are already overtaxed: anything they spare endangers their own survival. As in the Barefoot Gen films, no mention is made of Japan's role in the war as an aggressor; but the depiction of the needless suffering endured by its victims transcends national and ideological boundaries. --Charles Solomon« less
Transcends Anime to be one of the saddest forms of any media
Ian Krupnick | Colorado Springs, Colorado United States | 01/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I generally don't cry at movies. I love any movie that can move me enough to shed a tear or two. Grave Of the Fireflies is not one of those movies. In those movies even though I'm sad the final scenes leave me with a residual hope that while some tragic event has just occured the charecters involved will grow and live better. Grave of the Fireflies doesn't do this. There is no hope or possiabilty of things getting better. This is Life at it's cruelest. Life that will never get better. This movie doesn't move you, it shatters you.Seita And Setsuko (the boy and His little sister) aren't Heros and their abusive aunt isn't the villian. Neither for that matter is either side of the war protrayed as good or bad in these movie. This is just a story of people being people. some kind, some indiffrent and some compleatly harsh. Seita makes mistakes that many children in his position would. Although fifteen years old this film is still very beatiful. The images it portrays are quiet and subdued yet elegent. The final scene is something that shall forever be burned into my brain. It's touching and heartwrenching finality should break most people.Well I love Grave of the Fireflies. I Love it for it's unflinching look at war and life, It's graceful bueaty as it portrays a young girl playing amidst Fireflies, and for what it does to me at the end.Why must fireflies die so young?"
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 02/06/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Grave of the Fireflies" ("Hotaru no haka") is one of the most powerful anti-war films I have ever seen, which means that it has no competition when it comes to emotional impact in terms of animated films. The death of Bambi's mother was a traumatic shock, but nothing like the sense of despair and grief that overwhelms you by the end of this film. The film begins with the spirit of a young boy showing us his death in a train station, after which we follow the fireflies into the past to see his story. At the beginning of the original movie of "Brian's Song" we were told: "All true stories end in death. This is a true story." So is "Grave of the Fireflies" because I have no problem granting the legitimacy of "truth" to fiction.
In the last months of World War II an American fire bomb raid destroys the port city of Kobe, where almost all of the buildings are made of wood. Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi/J. Robert Spencer) is a 14-year old boy who survives along with his 4-year old sister Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi/Rhoda Chrosite). They were separated from their mother during the raid, which spares them from her fate. Their father is a navy officer serving in the Imperial Navy at sea, and the two kids go off to live with an aunt. With both his school and the war factory where we worked gone, Seita does not know what to do. So he tries to take care of his sister. But his aunt constantly berates him and after trading his mother's kimonos for rice that she stingly shares with the children, Seita decides to take Setsuko and live in a couple of caves dug for bomb shelters. For a while their live remains idyllic, but then there is nothing left to trade for food, and no food to be bought for money. Seita has to steal food to survive while Setsuko is getting weaker and weaker from hunger.
This film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel written by Akiyuki Nosaka, which won the Naoli Prize, the Japanese equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Like Seita, he survived the fire bombing with a younger sister, who died in his care. Obviously the story stems from a sense of guilty and I believe telling this story was confessional rather than cathartic for Nosaka. Writer-director Isao Takahata turns this tragedy into what can only be described as a poetic experience, achieving a cinematic lyricism that could never have been accomplished in a live-action film (e.g., the way the fireflies have a counterpoint in the pieces of ash that drift on the wind after the fire bombings). There is a quietness to this film, a sense of contemplation that emphasizes important and small moments alike, and makes scenes linger as the heart-rending story plays out to its fatal conclusion. The voice work by both of the young girls playing Setsuko is extremely effective; I have a slight preference for that done by Ayano Shiriashi simply because it is much more naturalistic than what you usually find in anime depicting children.
"Graves of the Fireflies" is an unforgettable film, one which will reduce most viewers to tears if not outright sobbing. Watching it is a painful experience, but then a film depicting the horrors of war and showing what happens to young children is supposed to have that effect. Viewing it a second time makes the experience even more intense (you probably will not catch what Setsuko's last words are the first time through, but be prepared for what it will do to you when you watch the film again). You will never, ever forget this film and you should be very, very careful about showing it to younger children, because it will change forever what they think about animated films. It will do that for you as well."
Profound look at the other casualties of war
David J. Huber | New York, NY United States | 09/04/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First off, to get this out of the way, you should be watching this movie so you can know how beautiful and incredible animation can be - this is a visually gorgeous and lush movie.Beyond the animation, Grave of the Fireflies is truly in the top of perfectly written scripts. The subject matter of the film is war and death, but specifically how war affects the innocents. This is Japan in the end months of WWII during the firebombings, when food was scarce, and children without parents were left to die.This story is incredibly sad, but so important to hear and see it - not like a mainstream Hollywood sad movie that might make you cry while watching, but otherwise has no power to alter your perceptions of life. This is truly sad - the young kids die, and they die very horribly - sickness and starvation. The whole process is so well-written, you'll feel the hunger and the sickness yourself, and the animation adds to the effect.It is so welcome to have a movie that doesn't turn out all right in the end, but turns out awfully darn depressing, because a lot of times, life just plain sucks and isn't fair, if not for me, then for many other people. It is good to remember that not everything always turns out okay, and nothing is wrong in showing this realistically in a movie. Would I show this to young kids? Hell yes - I think young kids would identify very strongly. And if we can get our young kids to see the ridiculous nature of war at an early age, mayhaps we shall finally have a generation that doesn't feel a need to kill each other over irrelevant philosophic, racial, genetic, geographic, etc., BS.This movie and the story has not left my mind since I saw it - a point of proof that this is an incredible movie. But do be prepared to feel amazingly sad. I saw this movie in the winter. Then about 5 months later, in the summer, when I saw my first fireflies of the year, I was overcome with an incredible sadness. That's how powerful this movie is.I will be using this with my youth groups, probably for many years. It has so much worthy of deconstructing and analyzing - this is truly artwork, for it does all things that art is supposed to do - it has the power to change you, and the power to not let you forget the story. Excellent all the way around! And make sure to get one that is letterboxed, to get the whole movie (why are movies even released without being letterboxed? People are stupid...). And get a copy that is in Japanese with subtitles (unless, of course, you speak Japanese). You really, really have to hear the original Japanese, and the original actors. Amazing movie. A billion stars."
A touching, depressing story of love and endurance.
Mary J. Alderdice | Washington DC Metro Area, US | 05/28/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For those who insist that cartoons of all forms, and particularly anime, are for children, I present you with Grave of the Fireflies. This amazingly well-done anime has some of the most touching, most depressing scenes I've ever seen on a screen, regardless of format. This film is set in Japan near the end of World War 2. Seita and Setsuko live in Kobe with their mother, whom they adore. When the air raid sirens sound, Seita and Setsuko run ahead to the bomb shelter, leaving their mother (who has a heart condition and cannot run) to follow. Seita is obviously not happy with this situation, but the early teen youth cannot carry both his toddler sister and his mother, so he agrees, sure his mother will join them at the shelter. From here begins the long, sad tale of the losses that Seita and Setsuko suffer through together. This is very much the story of a young man forced into the role of provider, protector, and nurturer years ahead of time, and of his little sister who adores him. Seita struggles to provide for himself and for Setsuko, and refuses to surrender himself to despair, regardless of the obstacles he is presented. I feel that this movie is all the more heart-wrenching for the way that the hurt and the pain and the fear are interspersed with the moments of joy and lightheartedness. For much of the movie, it is almost possible to believe that Seita and Setsuko will come out of this together. Of course, since the movie opens with Seita dying, alone, you know that your hope is misplaced, but you want them to survive. The love they share, and the joy they take from one another make you root for them. The characters in Grave of the Fireflies are remarkably well acted. Seita, standing strong, doing whatever is necessary to take care of his little sister. Setsuko is the perfect toddler. Happy one moment, crying the next, unsure of why anything is happening, but sure that Seita can fix everything. The childrens' aunt, a cold, sarcastic, bitter woman, taking every opportunity to ensure the children, especially Seita, is aware of how much they impose upon her and her patriotic family. In addition to the quality of the story and the caliber of the actors, the beauty of the artwork is just incredible. The facial expressions, the landscapes, the atmosphere. It's all wonderful, drawing you into the story. I found myself checking to see if the prone form of Setsuko was breathing as she lie ill, then realizing that wait, this is animation. This provocative, compelling tragedy is based upon a true story. The original author, Nosaka Akiyuki, wrote a novel based upon his real-life experiences at the end of the war in Japan. This story was then turned into a manga (Japanese comic book), and the story became very popular and well-known. Trivia buffs might be interested in knowing exactly how this movie made it to the screen. A director by the name of Hayao Miyazaki was working on a project named "My Neighbor Totoro" but the production company was worried that nobody would be interested in the tale of two little kids and a monster living in rural Japan. Therefore, they decided to make a movie they felt would draw viewers based upon the familiarity of the tale and for the educational value of the story, and make it a double-feature with "My Neighbor Totoro", billing and packaging the two movies together. Those who are familiar with both movies find the concept of packaging or viewing the cheery, light-hearted romp that is Totoro with such somber, depressing fare as "Grave of the Fireflies" mind-boggling, but the tactic seemed to work, though Totoro has become far more popular and well-known of the two movies. I cannot recommend this movie enough. It is a poignant story of the love shared by a pair of siblings in the worst possible conditions. And you'll never look at fruit drops the same way again."
My 2 cents worth: Should be Required Viewing
PokeMac | Cincinnati, OH | 05/05/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With nearly 300 reviews in the queue, I'm not sure anyone will ever read this.... BUT, if you do, then know that this movie can't be recommended enough. If you've read any other comments, then you know that this is a depressing film. Oh yeah. I actually read the script about a year before I ordered the movie. And I broke into tears reading the script!! We're talking powerful stuff. Now, we've all seen war movies and gory movies and we read the newspapers with the horrors of our modern life, so you'd think this would be nothing. I think the brilliance of this movie is that by presenting it in anime form it disarms the mind, and allows us to really become the characters. Since they aren't real, we transpose ourselves into their roles, and their roles are heartbreaking. Alone, and betrayed by adults both familial and strange : adults who ought to know better. But this is real life. We know it. We know that this is how adults turn on others, and how they turn on the weak, and become selfish. The children symbolize the weakness and helplessness of man in a modern and indifferent world. In a sense, we are all children, and we are all abandoned. If you have a heart, if you have intellect and a mind willing to listen and see, then you will not fail to be touched by this movie. Now, I will say that this is not necessarily an anti-war movie. I mean, on the other hand, is anyone really pro-war? This movie tries to merely speak some truth. War is a reality, and in some cases a sad necessity, but in my view the real point of the story is to show how thin, how very thin, is the veneer of civilisation."