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I feel someone ought to warn people about Grave of the Fireflies. Perhaps that someone is me. I'm an avid fan of Studio Ghibli movies, I love their quirkiness, the strong female characters, obsession with magical realism (and sometimes just plain magic) and excellent animation. So in eager anticipation my son and I sat down to watch Grave of the Fireflies oh poor unsuspecting fools as we were.
Grave of the Fireflies follows a brother and sister, Seita and Setsuko, during World War II. Their father is in the navy and hasn't been heard from in some time, though they seem sure he's coming home, and at the beginning of the movie their mother is killed in a bombing of their town. Seita and Setsuko are sent to live with their Aunt, but it becomes increasingly obvious that their Aunt does not want them, is only using them (taking their rice ration and selling their mother's things) and she treats them badly. Eventually Seita, the older of the two, decides that they would be better off on their own. He finds an old abandoned shelter near a pond, takes his sister and moves in. On the first night they release fireflies into the shelter for light, but in the morning all the fireflies have died. Little Sestuko finds it hard to understand why the fireflies had to die (cry cry cry).
The movie then follows their struggle to survive, and the bond that is between the brother and sister strengthens as the children weaken. Seita resorts to stealing to keep them in food, but it soon becomes apparent that his little sister's health is failing. He takes her to a doctor who diagnoses malnutrition. In order to try and save Setsuko, Seita withdraws all their money from the bank and in the process discovers that Japan has surrendered. The war is over.
He returns to the shelter, thoroughly disillusioned but with arm fulls of food, to find his sister delirious and dying. Unable to eat the food Seita has brought for her, Setsuko passes away (cry cry cry). Seita manages to cremate Setsuko's body, and later we find that Seita himself also dies from malnutrition, alone and missing his sister, in a Tokyo railway station (cry cry cry).
I am not a person who is easily upset by movies. It's a rare event that something touches me to the point that it actually moves me to tears. This movie moved me to an abundance of tears. The bond, the care and love between Seita and Setsuko is so pure and so moving, and their attempts to care for each other so heartfelt and fruitless. I think both my son and I cried for a good 10 minutes after the movie had finished and we're both so emotionally scarred we haven't watched it since.
In all seriousness, this is an excellent movie. The animation, as always, is beautiful and the lovely way that Seita and Setsuko are presented is so moving and emotional. It is a worthwhile watch, but not for the faint hearted and I woudn't recommend watching it wthout a box of tissues on hand and a bottle of vodka to get you through the subsequent emotional trauma. Not all all the usual Ghibli fayre, but amazing all the same.
Plot: Grave of the fireflies the classic anime that present story about cruelty and losses incurred as a result of world war II. The main character in this movie are Seita and his younger sister Setsuko, who their mother is die because exposed allied air raid and their father go to war (probably Kill in Action ). After their mother die, Seita and Setsuko must "fight" to live to find food to be eaten, until they finally die of starvation.
This movie is released in 1988, written and directed by Isao Takahata. The movie is adapted from semi autobiographical novel with the same title written by Akiyuki Nosaka. In 2005 get the live action tv drama version, but this live action has different story telling.
My Review: Grave of the fireflies is not just give the audience about how useless is the World War but also how world war change people become do not care for others, to defend himself or their families.
All the people who watch this film would cry at least in their heart.
It's easy to write off anime as something apart from "serious" filmmaking, or see it as a way of dumbing down and jollying up the realities of its subjects - Studio Ghibli have spent the last quarter-century, though, proving wrong this supposition, and Grave of the Fireflies is perhaps its most intensely "real", harrowing release.
The film (directed by Isao Takahata) was released in 1988, an adaptation of the novel of the same name, yet is ageless in appearance and appeal. The story, conceived by its author as a way of apologising to his sister, revolves around the 1945 firebombing of Kobe, a Japanese port city, in which nearly 9,000 people died and over half a million lost their homes. The film opens some time later, though, with the death of the protagonist Seita, by now a raggedy drifter sleeping at a train station, with the story told by means of a long flashback. When the American planes bomb Kobe, Seita and his younger sister Setsuko survive but lose their mother. With their father fighting a losing battle in the navy, the pair are sent to the country to live with a distant aunt who initially cares for them.
Seita and Setsuko soon learn, however that they only really have each other, and without home or family face a struggle to survive in the dying days of World War II.
There's little getting away from the nature of Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka); it's an extremely depressing film that tells of the very small-scale, personal cost of conflict and narrates an intensely human story, full of simmering emotion and tiny symbolism. To say it's enjoyable is perhaps misplaced - we are essentially watching the drawn-out tragic fates of two children - but it manages to evoke a host of feelings with some pitch-perfect storytelling, and speaks of the toll that such sudden responsibility can take on any person - even more so on a child.
As anti-war films go, few strike as deeply or make themselves felt quite as clearly. It's the way that, aside from the brief firebombing sequences, the story manages to set to one side the big and the bombastic, the combat and the glory, and focuses on the smaller details that makes this such a success - and such a quietly devastating film. It's hard not to be moved by the relationship between brother and sister as they take to living alone in an abandoned bomb shelter by the river, and there are moments when the film threatens to become quite uplifting - their early days of self-sufficiency have a evocative feel of carefree romanticism to them, for instance - but the hard, unsentimental slap of reality is never far away, and jars powerfully with these happier images.
Studio Ghibli have always produced animations of dazzling visual quality, and although the twenty-two years that have passed since the release of this film mean it isn't quite the aesthetic powerhouse that Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle are, it's still an impressive piece of anime that combines carefully-rendered environments and backdrops with detailed, believable characters. A live-action version of this story exists, but I think there's something about the slight distance from reality that animation gives you that makes this the most powerful medium through which to tell the story; as if the essential, universal aspects of the narrative somehow shine more truly and intensely through.
Likewise, Ghibli also do a fine line in characterising children, from Satsuki and Mei in the joyous My Neighbour Totoro to Chihiro of Spirited Away. These animes manage to tap into what it is to be a child perfectly, and create characters that walk out of the confines of their stories in a way few other films can. Here too the children are impeccably drawn inside and out; full of the quirks and curiosities, strengths and fallibilities of their ages. The siblings are of course enormously sympathetic characters, but Seika is not rendered without fault - the author of the original book felt that he should have been able to save his younger sister, and this guilt is reflected here. From the hopeless, softly-spoken opening, when a station porter finds a dying boy clutching an old metal sweet box to him, through to the resolution, this is just a perfect piece of storytelling and filmmaking that swims in a medley of a hundred tones - despair, agony, denial, anger and a hint of hope to pin down only a few.
This film was originally released alongside My Neighbour Totoro, another film about childhood, yet with an incomparably more innocent, uplifting storyline. The two were, I imagine, supposed to complement each other, or balance out the prevailing tones of their respective narratives. This film - unlike Totoro - was anything but a financial success originally, although has since earnt enormous critical acclaim. This version of the film includes the original Japanese version and the English dub; as ever, the original version feels a much more genuine experience, and the cast employed for the English-language dubbing are nothing special.
There are plenty of war films out there, and plenty of excellent ones that have their own tales and messages to impart - even in this company, though, Grave of the Fireflies stands out as something quite exceptional. It's not always enjoyable viewing, but it needs to be seen.
Grave of The Fireflies is one of the greatest anti-war movies ever created, and even if you are pro-war, this isn't preachy - far from it - it's profoundly human.
It follows the struggles of a young boy Seita and his young sister Setsuko who's mother dies in the fire bombings of Kobe and a father lost at sea while serving for the Japanese navy. This forces them out from their home into the indifference of the people including their own extended families. Due to their age they cannot truly get work or properly fend for themselves. They end up staying by a lake in cave where Seita goes out foraging for food whilst his little sister guards their home in the most beautiful portrayal of a child ever committed to screen. Her little explorations around the lake's surroundings, envelope you with child simplicities and an exploratory nature that takes you right back to hunting round your grandparents garden, looking for insects and the like.
As would come with such a homeless lifestyle both are susceptible to the elements and illness consumes. This film is one of the saddest I've seen. Far more powerful than the girl in the red dress of Schindler's List, another masterful work of the humanity lost in war.
This isn't for the light hearted, many laugh when you say you became unbelievably emotionally attached to characters in a 'cartoon' but this take you to another plethora of anime. Beautiful, harrowing, dark without leaving a dry eye in the room.
One of the most emotional films I have ever seen.
I'm not one to get emotional over films, yes I feel sad but this tale of siblings trying to survive the aftermath of WW2 is one of the most heart-wrenching tales i've ever heard.
Grave of the Fireflies or Hotaru no Haka is the Japanese animated film based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. It follows siblings who had lost their parents due to the war and had only each other to deal with it. A tale that uses symbolism to it's highest extent, this film is considered the most powerful aniamted war film of all time and rightly so. You really have to see it to believe it. I guarantee once you have watched this film, no matter what your views are on the second world war, it will give you a completely different insight into the lives of the Japanese people and how this war affected them.
As an animation student I must also mention that the animation is impeccable, comboning hand painted landscapes and hand drawn characters in the distinct anime style of Ghibli's work.
One of the greatest war-related animated movies of all time and definitely worth a watch but with the combination of characters that are so easy to sympathise with and a score that only magnifies this, you'll be close to tears by the end of it .
note: also appears in part on Flixster and The Student Room
Studio Ghibli are known for their quirky and visually stunning works, particularly those directed by animation legend Hayao Miyazaki (who made such greats as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Ponyo). However, they're not so famous for films such as Grave of the Fireflies, an almost unrelentingly downbeat animated film that's among the most powerful and driven films that the form has ever seen.
The film takes place at the end of World War II, and is a pungent anti-war story that's surely among the most wrenching and achingly humanistic ever animated. The premise revolves around Seita and his young sister Setsuko as they try to survive in abject poverty. Their mother died in the firebombing of Kobe City, meaning they're pretty much on their own with little food, and even their own people look down on them, trying to survive themselves. This is a dark and depressing tale that offers no easy solutions and really is dark and dreary right until its heartbreaking climax.
Still, whilst it's not an easy film to watch by any means, this is proof that animated films don't just have to be about fluffy and fuzzy anthropomorphic animals, and in fact they can have far more intellectual and powerful uses, such as the pungent anti-War message here. It shows, as most of us know, that the ultimate tragedy of war is that nobody wins - people die, lives are destroyed, and innocence is very much lost. It's utterly wrenching but rewarding for those with the stomach to sit through it - this will change the way you look at animation.
A great, highly downbeat and affecting tale of surviving in a truly terrifying world. The ending is as harrowing as you can get.
Synopsis: A teenage boy and his young sister try to survive out World War II alone dealing with hunger, weather and illness.
The best animation to date? i would say so, and though i haven't seen them all this has certainly been one that has touched me very closely. I am a huge fan of Studio Ghibli to begin with, others like My Neighbour Totoro, Only Yesterday, Whisper of the Heart and Princess Mononoke could of all poked their way onto the list in any position because i feel that both directors, Takahata and Miyazaki, are both in a league of their own when it comes to animation - i have seen things like Fantastic Planet but nothing seems to touch me so effortlessly and continuously like Ghiblis can. There is something about all of their work that just seems to tick right, maybe it's the level of detail put into each piece, or the passion that flows through everything they do, or maybe it's just the warm of all of their pictures. Whatever it is i will always love Stuido Ghibli, praying that they continue making films for a long long time, and Grave of the Fireflies is my favourite.
Grave of the Fireflies isn't there most magical, it definitely isn't there most uplifting or fun and in all honesty it has to one of the saddest films i have ever watched. It probably would of been a lot nicer to say that Spirited Away was my favourite because then i would have to get sad just thinking about the film while writing this. Though when it comes down to it, Grave of the Fireflies is still a marvelous film, and a very important one at that. It is one of the only available looks at how the Japanese coped with the horrors of war whereas we have seen hundreds of movies depicting the scene the other way round. Here we get the see that despite our differences, the real people of Japanese, the peasants and people with jobs and bills to pay weren't really much different to us - Yeah they have patriotic pride but doesn't everyone? Because Grave of the Fireflies is an animation i think it can find more freedom in what it wants to say, it is not help back by acting or settings, but rather allows for a more emotionally honest journey. The film never sets about trying to name blame or point the finger at military failure or brutality and rather prefers to study the silent victims of the war, the people that lost their lives everyday during the war and never got a headstone, the children that had to fend for themselves while hell broke out all around them - those that, like the poignant final scene, just seemed to drift away with the fireflies.
By no means is this an easy watch, in fact on first viewing it brought tears to my eyes, but it never loses its power and always stays as important and necessary as it was when it was released. The deeper question of the seemingly inevitable need for human conflict is one that is chilling and saddening for all, and one that certainly is too overwhelming for children to contemplate. It might not to their most brilliant work out there but it certainly holds something much deeper, and something that should never be forgotten. Funny that this film was released in a back to back showing with one of their most uplifting and gentle films - My Neighbour Totoro - i can't imagine the conflicting emotions you would have inside you when that double bill had finished. Robert Eltman said that Grave of the Fireflies was one of the greatest war films of all time, and i agree with him.
This is one of the most depressing films I have ever seen but simultaneously, one of the best films I have ever seen. As a fan of Studio Gibli, I bought this thinking it will be like Spirited Away only to find that the first scene shows a young boy dying, slumped against a pillar. The film then back tracks to where his problems first started with background information on his family life and his relationship with his little sister. The film is beautiful in its animation and also beautifully told. I read somewhere that the inspiration for the story came from the director's own family background - he also had a sister (without giving too much away) who lived a very hard life. The film explores the human suffering and responses to a war that the ordinarily people had no choice over. The most shocking of all is how adults treat the children but during the war where food is scarce and everyone is looking out for themselves, isn't it the only way forward? Gripping and be prepared to have this film haunt you for the rest of your life. So watch this once, have it in your dvd cabinet and let it remind you of its message every time you see the name on the spine.
Grave of the Fireflies is now about 20 years old and is set close to the end of the second World War, in Japan (where the film was made). It is an anime film and tells the story of a brother and sister who lose both of their parents to the war. It is quite a hard hitting film with many moments that you could find disturbing. I know that sometimes Japanese Anime films do have serious shock value in it but this film is a PG and, although it has its moments, it isn't shocking in the way so many others are - you won't get demons lopping bits off people. Instead we have a powerful tale, with beautiful animation that is harrowing in some places but incredibly watchable. If I tell you any more about the film, even from the beginning, I fear I would be giving spoilers away, as the story is given in the form of a narrative from the two main characters... in a surprising way that you will see from the beginning. It is well worth a watch and it shows you that Japanese animation has been so far ahead of the rest of us for so long now... Twenty years? Still can't believe that
Review- I apologise if there's certain information that you feel are pivotal to the entire plot but I have tried to include information that are not relevant to plot and which you would find out in the beginning anyway.
When watching this film, I did not prepare myself at all, I had such low expectations of this film due to its name (judging by its cover, I know!) that I was not prepared for the emotional journey that this film took me on. It was traumatic, but worth the watch. I am a complete novice when it comes to anime films, I only can name up to perhaps 6 or 7 anime films. But none other which had this much impact on me as this film did.
This film is based on the semi-autobiography of a man called Akiyuki Nosaka who lost his sister in WW2. He has been quoted saying that his book was his way of saying 'sorry' to his sister, whom he could not save from the horrors and reality of war. If I had known this film was based on true events prior to watching this movie, it would have had even more of an impact on me emotionally.
This film opens up with a memorable line of ' This is the night I died.' This didn't quite touch me as it might have touched some people as I stupidly missed the connection between the well-dressed ghost and the dead man, because they looked so different! So, we know at the beginning that the film is going back to the beginning of the story before he died. The ghost seems to be smiling, perhaps a sign of relief that he's finally died and is reunited with his sister. This is a sign that shows how much trauma, pain, and suffering he'd been through. From at the end of the film, it began to click about the significance of the candy can in which had 'dust' inside in which the guard threw into the field.
Short explanation of the film:
Firebombing attack by the American planes occurs in Kobe, Japan during near the end of World War Two. This event leaves the two children orphans and they're forced to fend for themselves in a country that's in a severe famine and the indifference of other people seemed to have to other peoples' suffering. Seita has to suddenly grow up from being a teenager with a part-time job to being a father/mother to Setsuko, having to fend for food for themselves and basically trying to survive. This was the harsh reality for many children who had been left orphans in Wartime Japan.
They turn to a distant relative, a sister of their father, their aunt who provides them a room. The aunt, to me represents the worst individual that seems to be the norm in wartime Japan, exploiting the two children with rice. She sells their mother's kimono for rice. Finally, they both decide to live out in an abandoned bomb shelter, which was a lovely place to live in, until they run out of rice.
What I love about a lot of Asian films that I have viewed, is that the small details that's in the beginning in the film has no significance to the plot to the viewer, but by the end of the film, the viewer begins to associate the said detail with such meaning; such as the fruit drops tin.
Typical clips from wartime Japan does not really show the pain and suffering people went through at the time, but this film really brings it home. It is really that honest as a film, it shows you the horrors occuring to two children struck by very unfortunate circumstances. This film despicts their lives as a bleak outcome that only meets death, which is revealed at the beginning. The most important part of the film is told right at the beginning, you may think that has ruined the film as you read this. But this isn't so. You may know that they perished but you have yet to find out the painful journey that led to their deaths which makes the film.
The animation itself is of a good quality from 1988, it is not over-done but it captures their emotions and shows their struggle to survive so well on the screen. It is quite realistic-looking, compared to recent anime films by the same studio, which is one of the most striking things about this film is how real everything looks. The fields, the fires, the planes, etc. It is much more than a mere cartoon, it shows real-life struggle more realistically than 'real-life' films in my opinion which is why it touched me.
I was rather suprised at how they showed the American planes bombing Kobe, they did not try to show the americans in a bad way, or even mentioned the word American. It was as if they were trying not to blame anyone for the event, but either way, it was handled very well, I thought.
This has got to be one of the best films I have ever come across in years, this is not one to be missed.
Please, this is not meant to a fantastic review. For a fantastic review, do see berlioz II's review which I could not possibly compete with. :)
A review of the original Japanese language version of Grave of the Fireflies with English subtitles.
When Grave of the Fireflies first appeared in the theaters, such was the miserable nature of this animation that it turned away it's intended children audience. Perhaps with symmetry when I first watched it on VHS - as a child - it did not appeal to me to watch it again with haste. I would regret that this original VHS is no longer in our possession but I was given another chance to watch it when Film Four ran their Studio Ghibli season.
Set during the close of World War II in Japan, Grave of the Fireflies - based on Akiyuki Nosaka's semi-autobiographical novel of the same name - follows the tragic tale of Seita and younger sister Setsuko whom are left to survive by themselves when their mother gets caught in the fire-bombing. With their father out of contact in the Japanese navy the two children go to stay with a distance relative, but Seita's relationship with this aunt does not go well and they leave to live on their own.
Grave of the Fireflies is different from other Studio Ghibli productions as it is not a fantasy film. What happens in this film is believeable and this is brought about by the attention to detail in the animation which not only makes the characters life-like, but also their suffering uncomfortable. Though the book was not intended to be anti-war, it's not hard to see this in the film given the lack of positive consequences. Right from the beginning: "September 21, 1945. That was the night I died," - clearly there are no hero stories here. Even when Seita and Setsuko find the time to relax and play at the beach, it is marred when they encounter the body of a dead man.
The juxtaposition of a young child in Setsuko - innocent, carefree, full of life - getting caught up in a war lends itself to emotional weight. The close relationship with her brother makes it difficult and awkward for him. In one particular scene Seita, alone in the playground with Setsuko - who casts a frustrated and sad figure at not being able to see her mother - begins weeping. Knowing of the situation he is unable to bear it any longer, he jumps onto a pull-up bar and begins to roll over it. When given the choice of facing reality Seita would then decide their fate.
Use of music is sparse but effective, in particular when what sounds like a hopeful tune turns to that of a false hope; we are then made to reflect upon in sadness with the initial outcome in mind. The dialogue and voices for the characters are all well done, in particular the voice of Setsuko is spot-on, the decision to use appropriate aged children worth it.
When I watched the film I found it was difficult to deny my emotions. Because I had seen it before I anticipated how I could react, and even then I could not stop the tears running down my face. While it does not make for successive multiple viewings, provided you put yourself together that is, the nature of the film forces you to reflect on it all. This is a depressing film which would be awkward to watch with anyone, and not for children either, not that there is inappropriate material, but I would definitely recommend seeing this film.
"September 21, 1945
that was the night I died."
With that single sentence begins Grave of the Fireflies, quite possibly the most beautiful film I have ever seen. Movies about human suffering during wars and poor circumstances of life have been made many times in the history of film, but animation is remarkably free of movies dealing head on with the hard-hitting realities of life without descending into a sense that it is just an animation or becoming a highly stylized fantasy. When Grave of the Fireflies was made in 1988, the world-famous Studio Ghibli was still in its infancy with only a few movies produced by the founding couple of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. In the 1980's anime was to many still representing either the comedy of Urusei Yatsura or the giant mechas of Macross and Robotech, while the productions of Ghibli were often bordering mostly on the sub-genre of fantasy or fantasy-like stories that flowed out of the characters' interactions rather than simply out of comedy and action. But still these films were mostly beautifully evocative fairytales that were heartwarming, but hardly something to take ultra-seriously. In that respect Grave of the Fireflies stands in a unique position in Studio Ghibli's output in being the only film to present war in such a mature and true-to-life way.
Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Nobuo Nosaka, Grave of the Fireflies details the survival story of a brother and sister, Seita and Setsuko, after their mother dies in an American firebombing raid on the town of Kobe in 1945, near the concluding days of World War II. Thrust into a cold and uncaring world, Seita and Setsuko must survive the best they can with a life that offers little of the basics that people take for granted these days, like money and food (or the gumdrops seen throughout the movie). Fireflies is one of those movies that grabs you by the throat and just presents you with a story that is touchingly sad and realistically harrowing, something that belies its origins of being just an "animation." The film opens in the most effective way possible: from the end, with the death of Seita.
This opening scene is like poetry itself. As Seita quietly dies in a railway station among many other forlorn people, a janitor finds a rusted tin can from his body, goes to an open door and throws the can into the medow beyond. The cork on the can pops open as it lands, spilling some dust and small bones out, causing a swarm of fireflies to take into the air from the surrounding shrubbery. Amid the swarming lights, a little girl rises up from the bushes and notices the dead boy inside the building. She tries to rush to him, but is stopped by Seita's hand, who just appeared behind her. He picks up the can of gumdrops, which restores back to its former glory and the two walk away happily together as the beautiful music-box like tune plays in the background. Ah, it is so beautiful and strangely touching. From here on end the story unfolds as a kind of flashback as to how this outcome was reached.
This whole opening is so hugely affecting in its understated simplicity which is an aspect that will never let go. By giving out how the story ends, the viewer is instantly robbed of the false expectations of a happy outcome, and this greatly helps in adjusting one to simply follow how the story unravels to its heartbreaking conclusion. In very essence, I could tell you all that happens in the film, and it wouldn't make much of a difference to you when you saw it yourself. This is a film whose plot is not important. What is important is the interaction of Seita and Setsuko, and how they cope with their life: Seita trying to take care of his sister the best he can while trying to keep the clouds of sorrow and everyday difficulties unknown to her.
One of the most fascinating scenes is the initial firebombing sequence on Kobe in its grass-root depiction of what such an attack must have felt like. The director, Isao Takahata, tells in his interview that when he was a child, he actually experienced one of these bombings and thus inserted much of his own knowledge into the scene to make it authentic. Instead of the usual explosives and bombs, the firebombings were much more terrifying in their silent destruction. With Japanese towns mostly consisting of paper and wood houses, the firebombings were much more devastating than any explosives could ever have been. Consisting solely of hundreds of burning metal tubes, they initially seem quite harmless when they hit the ground, but soon the fires spread to an uncontrollable degree, literally burning entire towns out of existence. It is in this raid that Seita's mother is seriously injured as she is making her way to a bomb shelter and dies shortly afterwards in front of him. However, Seita does not want his sister to know this and therefore doesn't tell her, all the while trying to protect her from the harmful truth.
After this the two move to the residence of an aunt of theirs in a nearby town, but as it turns out, Seita's lazy attitude doesn't win any favours with his aunt. She begins to ration her food in giving more to those who go to work, and is basically just nasty towards Seita for his inactivity, which results in them trying to cope by their own means. This proves to be the biggest downfall of Seita. He is too proud to do what his aunt asks him to. When she cuts back on their food, he just raises the money from his mother's bank account and buys his own food. When she criticises him for doing nothing in return for her hospitality, he just leaves and moves away. And it is this stubborn pride that eventually proves his downfall, as well as affecting the life of his sister as things don't work quite the way he hopes. The biggest points the movie criticises are indeed pride (causing Seita's downfall), selfishness (Seita's refusal to work for the common good of others though he is more than capable; it's also an allegorical criticism of the youth of today), and war (the thing that causes so much suffering) of which it is interesting to note that while it is Americans who do the bombing, they are at their hardest only referred to as "the enemy" rather than an identifiable foe. This gives the film a grander sense of critique that no matter who is attacking who, innocent people always end up suffering regardless of nationality.
What I really like about this film is its deliberately slow pacing and attention to little, insignificant details. Oftentimes there is very little movement evident, with long stretches of still imagery of characters just watching quietly somewhere or at someone. Also the film is flooded with things that have very little bearing on the actual story, but which prove to be much more telling than the points that do take the story forward. Such instances include the point where the two have moved to an abandoned shelter and in the darkness of the night catch fireflies to illuminate their cave. The following morning Seita finds Setsuko carefully burying a pile of the dead flies that draws instant parallels to the similar mass burial their mother had earlier in the film. Or the dead man on the beach under a bamboo rug while bombers appear in the horizon. Or the many instances of Seita giving candy to Setsuko from the tin canister. Or near Setsuko's final moments when hunger starts to make her delusional and in her feeble state she offers her brother cakes made of mud
But indeed, as I said, this movie's plot is not important, nor is anything else you can identify from standard filmmaking that goes from point A to point B. It is the little things of life that make this movie and provides its allure, and particularly as you already know how the movie will end there is no striving for an ultimate climax. It just moves forward one day at a time towards its inevitable resolution. There are many scenes (including the opening) where we see Seita and Setsuko reflected in a red hue (like standing in a darkroom when a red light is on) that differentiates the "reality" and the "memory" as the spirits of brother and sister watch over the lives they lead while alive. This in particularly brings an added sense of poignancy in the last scene before the end credits as the two of them sit on a park bench watching down at modern Japan with its brightly lit skyscrapers.
You know I wish I could somehow adequately describe how this movie made me feel, but I'm afraid words are truly inferior in this case. You could know everything that is going to happen in this movie, yet it would not make any difference whatsoever. I was warned by many directions that this movie is a real tearjerker, and was a little apprehensive about it. I don't like over-hyping and was determined to just see if it was just over-exaggeration (I'm not going to cry simply because everybody says it will make me cry). Well, I'm sorry to report that my attempt at stoicism was a failure. Throughout the film there were multiple moments where I could just feel tears coming to my eyes and my throat choking. The last ten minutes or so totally broke me down and tears were just flowing uncontrollably. If ever there was a movie that truly lives up to its hype, it is this one.
The film has been released numerous times before since its premiere in 1988 (incidentally it was originally double-billed along with Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro in the theaters). The latest version features the film completely restored that greatly enhances the appearance of the film when compared to the original. The original feature doesn't hold that much in the way of extras, containing only a trailer (or so I would believe), but there is also a 2 Disc Special Edition that is of more interest than usual.
- Audio -
On the audio front, don't expect anything mindshattering. The stereo mix is crisp and decent with a few well-placed uses of directionality, while the dialogue is mostly kept in the front soundstage. The voice actors are superb. This is one of those films that I fully endorse everybody to watch using the Japanese language track rather than the English dub (even for people who say they rather listen to the dub so that they can better follow the story). While the English dub is decent (the actors properly imitating children), there is a massive sense of authenticity in the properly aged Japanese actors. Setsuko's voice actor Ayano Shiraishi in particular is phenomenal, particularly when you consider that she really was five years old when the movie was made. She is just touchingly real and unforced in her delivery that just calls for no messing about with different languages. The musical score of Michio Mamiya is perfect, sparse and lightly orchestrated (no brass) with a lot of plinging percussion and beautiful tunes throughout that is never overbearing or inappropriate. It adds another dimension that again tends to make me weep Damn it!
- Video -
On a visual level, the remastering has really refreshed the movie. When compared to the original's wobbly picture and bland colours, all of these have been cleaned and corrected so the film looks as if it had just been made. Presented in a 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen format, the style of the film is pretty simple throughout, but does hold a lot of detail that is never allowed to overstep the simple outline of the surroundings. The character designs are on par with Ghibli's usual style in being more rounded and real looking (depite having several more exaggerated features like largish eyes and widely opening mouths). The backgrounds are mostly comprised of watercolour like paintings and there is a lot of brown tones used throughout that add to the dreariness and desolation of the movie's more sorrowful scenes. All in all, there is nothing really you can fault on the way it looks; it really is that fantastic.
- Extras -
On the extras front, the 2 Disc Special Edition is more fulfilling that usual. On Disc 1 there is the option of seeing the entire film with alternative storyboards that again I think are good for the enthusiast, but really only hold a passing interest to a casual viewer. Disc 2 contains all the meat of the extra material. The opening "Creative Team Extras" contain an interview with director Isao Takahata, who gives out some details how the opportunity for the making of the movie came about, how this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to make since the film doesn't have a happy ending, and what the director was wanting to tell in the movie, among other things. It really is quite interesting listening. The biographys of Takahata and author Akiyuki Nosaka are of only small interest, but the following "Japanese Release Promo" is interesting in that it dates from the time the film was still new and has a number of little period details of interest.
The Production Extras contain all the technical stuff and trailers. The Bonus Storyboards show scenes in storyboard form that were cut from the script (which range from some quite nice little bits to some thankfully deleted ones). The DVNR Featurette contains a small look at the restoration process done to the film that also contains some original material comparisons with the restored version in a split screen that gives ample proof how much better the film looks. The art gallery contains a few promo pictures and sketches from the film and the two trailers (Japanese and U.S.) round out this section.
The final set of extras offers photographic comparison on how the scenes pictured in the film look today; a Historical Perspective with authors Theodore and Haruko Taya Cook talking about the political and militaristic sides of America's firebombing raids and Japan's involvement in the war; and finally there is a most interesting interview with critic Roger Ebert, who is absolutely enthralled with the movie, famously saying it is one of the "greatest war movies ever made." He also gives some quite interesting insights of his own as a film critic not particularly knowledgeable about anime as such, but as a long standing critic of all kinds of films for decades now offers some points not often noted by hardcore anime fans (such as pointing about the use of "pillow shots", meaning a completely irrelevant shot of, say, a telephone pole to separate scenes that anime is filled with). And a positive plus is that Ebert is one of the most known film critcs around, so it is good to have somebody of his stature endorsing Japanese anime with such enthusiasm for the mainstream audiences.
This is definitely one of those movies you don't take out often just for the pleasure of it. It is a film that is somehow reassuring to have among your DVDs, just to know it's there, but one you don't want to watch outside of some special occasion. I have rarely been as emotionally effected by any movie I have seen, and it tells a lot that it hasn't been easy writing this review either. And I don't mean that in a way that the actual writing was difficult, but that I was forced to remember the film again, which is enough to make me misty eyed all over again. Depressing it is. Emotionally devastating, yes. Essential to see: most definitely. Like Ebert says, this movie could not have worked well as a live action film due to the fact that you would always be conscious of the actors' in the film. What the animation affords is to cut past the visual side and the realism of war, to the real core of the story and the humanity it touches. It is a movie that will affect you every single time you see it. Ignore the hype; this is a film that most definitely deserves the often bandied about term "Masterpiece" better than many others.
CAST (Japanese / English)
Setsuko: Ayano Shiraishi / Rhoda Chrosite
Seita: Tsutomu Tatsumi / J. Robert Spencer
Aunt: Akemi Yamaguchi / Amy Jones
Mother: Yoshiko Shinohara / Veronica Taylor
Written and Directed by Isao Takahata
Character Designs and Animation Direction by Yoshifumi Kondo
Art Director: Nizo Yamamoto
Music Composed by Michio Mamiya
Based on the novel "Hotaru no Haka" by Nobuo Nosaka
Production Designer: Ryoichi Sato
© berlioz, 2006