Starring: Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Akemi Yamaguchi
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Running Time: 89 minutes
Grave of the Fireflies is a movie I've put off watching for a while. Not because of the content, but just timing. When I saw that my workplace had received a couple copies of this serious animated classic, I decided it was time to delve into this little beast of emotions and see what everyone was talking about.
Setsuko and Seita are brother and sister living in wartime Japan. After their mother is killed in an air raid they find a temporary home with relatives. Having quarreled with their aunt they leave the city and make their home in an abandoned shelter. While their soldier father's destiny is unknown, the two must depend on each other to somehow keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. When everything is in short supply, they gradually succumb to hunger and their only entertainment is the light of the fireflies. [Source: IMDb]
I've heard many things about this movie from friends and various countdowns online. The most common comments are that the movie is beautiful and very sad or depressing. After watching it, I would have to strongly agree. From the synopsis alone, you can tell that this isn't going to be a fun trip, especially when children are involved. Backtracking to the animation, I would like to say a little more than I agree that the animation is great. It has a gloomy and appropriate color scheme to match the era. Lots of earth tones and browns that you see in a lot of war type films. The animation is very realistic and easily grabs you in the moment, whether good or bad. In short, it was a great choice for this emotional and realistic anime.
The other half of the compliment is the story, which is, in short, quite tragic and beautifully written. I can see this being inspired by a true story at that time. No matter what war you look at, children are affected by the violence between both parties. It was quite a feat to see such a story through the eyes of children and made it even more depressing than it already is. Watching them trying to survive on their own is a tough watch, but adding elements of abusive and unappreciative family members definitely adds a nail in the coffin for our main characters. The story successfully tugs at your heart and holds your hand through every situation Setsuko and Seita face. You'll feel frustrated, in awe, sad, hopeful, and downright depressed. In short, the story does a good job balancing the positive and negative emotions throughout the running time of the movie. So, you don't have to worry about the movie kicking you in the heart while it's down too much. Obviously, the characters greatly help the story. Sure, you can go either way with a story like this, but the characters, specifically Setsuko and Seita, really pull you in this time period and their daily struggles to survive. When our main characters leave their abusive aunt's home and live on their own, you really feel that sense of relief from the oppressive atmosphere and an instant feeling of hope that things will improve for them. Of course, when things go downhill, it really pierces your heart and you may experience some leakage from the corner of your eyes.
Despite the serious and unhappy tone of the movie, Grave of the Fireflies is an excellent film for anime fans. It gives the viewer a realistic look of that era in Japan through the eyes of children without sugarcoating it. The art and animation is not flashy nor over the top, so it doesn't distract from the serious tone of the story, but also lightens up during times of hope and joy. Setsuko and Seita successfully takes its viewers through their life of survival and optimism. This movie is definitely not for everyone, so don't assume that because it is an anime that your children would enjoy it. This is no Miyazaki fantasy story, this is reality and reality can be downright depressing sometimes. Of course, it does highlight the good and bad of life and has a bittersweet ending that'll really keep you thinking while you're wiping the tears from your eyes.
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