Film Review: Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Also known as: Hotaru no haka (original Japanese title)
Release Date: April 16th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Written by: Isao Takahata
Based on: Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka
Music by: Michio Mamiya
Cast: Japanese Language: Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara, Akemi Yamaguchi; English Language: Adam Gibbs, Emily Neves, Shelley Calene-Black, Marcy Bannor, Andrew Love

Shinchosha Company, Studio Ghibli, Toho Co. Ltd., 89 Minutes

Review:

“[first lines] September 21, 1945… that was the night I died.” – Seita

Man, this is one of the most depressing movies I have ever seen but it is also one of the greatest anime pictures ever crafted. It’s a massive gut punch to the soul and it’s also one of the sweetest, beautiful films I’ve ever experienced.

This was made by Studio Ghibli and it was the first film they did that was directed by Isao Takahata, as opposed to Hayao Miyazaki. Upon its release, it was paired up with another Studio Ghibli film, Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro.

The story is about a fourteen year-old boy and his four year-old sister, whose father went off to war and whose mother was burned alive by an American attack on their town during the height of World War II. The orphaned kids go to live with their horrible aunt but eventually, she rejects them and they have to try to survive on their own, living in a cave by a lake. They have no money, no food and eventually the little girl gets very sick. Once the boy finds out that his father is most likely dead, things really, really get dark and whatever hope these kids had is gone.

Yet, in spite of all that, the bond of these siblings is powerful and there’s nothing but love between them and that’s what makes the picture so precious and so heartbreaking once you reach the tragic, immensely depressing end of the film.

I respect that this movie shows the horrors of war and also that it shows it from the perspective of the other side, at least for those of us in America. I think it’s an important story to tell, as these are things that most people don’t want to think about. Especially, when our government is at war with another government because its not the regular civilians that are generally doing the fighting but it’s those people who are the victims of the fighting, more times than not.

The fact that this is a story about kids is supposed to make the message more powerful.

Grave of the Fireflies is an incredible, beautiful and emotional picture about what can happen to innocence when it’s confronted by the worst parts of humanity. The film is astonishingly effective and it not only accomplishes what Isao Takahata wanted to say but it greatly exceeds it.

Rating: 10/10