Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki created Studio Ghibli in 1985, three years before Grave of the Fireflies was released. Trying to get Grave of the Fireflies made into a movie was an uphill battle. Based on a short story by Akiyuki Nosaka, the story was too bleak and difficult to accomplish in the live-action setting and Nosaka resisted a film until it was presented to him in animated form. After watching the film, it’s safe to say that Nosaka and Takahata made the right choice in animating the story. I don’t think Grave of the Fireflies would have left such a lasting impression if it hadn’t have been animated.
Grave of the Fireflies tells the story of Seita and Setsuko, two children who lose their mother after an allied air raid on Japan near the city of Kobe. Seita and Setsuko’s father is a Navy man and they haven’t heard from him for a very long time. Essentially orphaned, the two children are sent to live with a distant aunt who eventually grows to resent the pair of them as rations begin shrinking. The pair eventually moves into an abandoned bomb shelter where Setsuko, the younger of the two, starts getting sick from malnutrition. Food is scarce and though her brother tries to provide for her, nothing is enough. Eventually, they both perish from starvation and are reunited again in a grave of fireflies.
This is the first non-Hayao Miyazaki directed or written film I’ve seen from Studio Ghibli. It’s quite different from what I’m used to. Not that that’s a bad thing at all. Grave of the Fireflies is a beautiful examination of the toll of WWII on Japanese children in the mid-1940s. The film is brutal but that doesn’t mean it isn’t beautifully animated or beautifully presented to the audience. However, it’s important to remember that no matter how beautifully animated it is, Grave of the Fireflies really isn’t a children’s film. Dark elements abound and even for me, it was a rough viewing experience, especially as Seita and Setsuko’s aunt became antagonistic toward the children.
Studio Ghibli made the mistake of putting this film alongside My Neighbour Totoro when it was initially released. As a result, Grave didn’t do well in the box office but despite that, Grave is a film that demands to be seen. The audience may be seventy-three years removed from World War II and thirty years removed from the film’s release date but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t any less powerful than it was. In fact, Grave of the Fireflies could be a powerful teaching tool to children interested in what happened in other places of the world during World War II, but remember, it may be too dark for some children.
In all, while Grave of the Fireflies isn’t technically a children’s movie, it is a must-see for older children as well as adults. It’s a powerful look at the consequences of war and what humanity can do to each other. It’s a reminder that wickedness and war will never solve problems but only create them in the long run.
Shelby is currently adapting her favorite novel into a screenplay as well as toying around with a few spec scripts for a few of her favorite TV shows. She hopes to walk down the red carpet at the Emmys one day. She contributes a long list of actors, writers, friends and co-workers as the inspiration for her dreams and goals.
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