Review: The Grave of Fireflies

The widespread belief is that the saddest film that Studio Ghibli has made is The Grave of the Fireflies. However, I still believe the movie is highly underrated. The film was produced in 1988 by Toru Hara, David Del Rio, and John Ledford. The film is believed to have “Put Ghibli on the map,” according to Norbeto Briceño from the Buzzfeed article, “I Just Watched The Saddest Movie Ever Made And Now I’m Ugly Crying.” I had the same experience (as the title of the piece) and you probably will too, this review will explain why. 

The anime film is a story about two children trying their best to grasp at life at the end of World War ll. This story takes place in Japan, where there are frequent bombings, fires, and loss of housing. Naturally, in such conditions, it would be difficult for children to thrive. The two children are 14-year-old Seita and his four year old sister, Setsuko. As with all Ghibli movies, these characters are drawn with some of the sweetest expressions and are made even sweeter by the classically warm art style. Seita maintains a childish sibling role rather than becoming a sort of parental figure to Setsuko. He is immature and somewhat ignorant, yet he still cares for his little sister and manages to show Setsuko the fun in life. Setsuko is the sweetest little girl who never keeps her opinion unheard, and likes to show her curiosity and investigate many things, such as bugs. The whole movie is based on a book written by Akiyuki Nosaka published in 1967 based on the author’s true story which adds an extra unique and accurate touch. The film makes you truly grateful for what you have, and shows people’s cruelty, but also shows there is always at least one person willing to offer a hand. 

The story is unique as it’s not gorey in the traditional sense, but it still maintains very dark themes. There are constant burnt bodies shown to represent the tragedy that warfare has caused the nation. According to the article, “Isao Takahata’s Stark World of Reality,” by Masami Ito, “Director Masato Harada has stated that it is an anti-war film. Somewhat surprisingly, however, Takahata says “Grave of the Fireflies” is not an anti-war film despite depicting the tragedy caused by World War II. Just talking about the atrocities of war will not prevent another war from happening, he says, because there will always be people who insist that Japan needs to strengthen its military so that it never suffers such an ignominious defeat again.” You can now watch it in English on Vudu or by ordering a DVD on Amazon. They also have the Japanese version of the DVD on Amazon if you are a hardcore Ghibli fan.

 I personally love the film and would give it 5 stars. The movie has a slow pace but is definitely worth the time as you watch the characters grow. It has depressing war-time themes, but it is done so beautifully that it stands as more of an art piece rather than just a depressing movie. You can catch certain objects maintaining a place in the story the entirety of the time. The children’s Fruit Drops, the wooden box, and fireflies are great examples to look out for. In conclusion, the film is a masterpiece that is most definitely worth your time watching.