A haunting, harrowing war movie, an emotionally devastating character study, and an extraordinarily restrained example of anime or Japanese animation, Grave of the Fireflies is a unique and unforgettable masterpiece.
Set in a Japanese coastal village during the waning days of World War II, the simple story follows a young teenaged boy named Seita and his kid sister Setsuko as they try to survive the air raids and napalm firestorms that have become routine. The film depicts the horror of wartime bombing of civilian targets, but avoids portraying its characters as idealized victims.
From the outset we know that both Seita and Setsuko will die; in the film’s lone departure from realism, the opening scene shows their spirits reunited outside a train station and riding a train to the next world, and the rest of the story is seen in flashback from the point of view of Seita’s spirit.
Despite this inevitability, the film draws the viewer into the childrens’ story, evoking the experiences of childhood grief, small moments of ordinary life and happiness amid tragedy and fear, and the overwhelming confusion of adult responsibilities in desperate circumstances falling on teenaged shoulders as powerfully as in any film I’ve seen.
As is so often the case with anime, sharply observed details (e.g., Setsuko’s slight rocking motion in a moment of stress) give the film a naturalism that transcends its visual stylizations. Grave of the Fireflies is a beautiful, heartbreaking film.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.