Young Seita finds himself lumbered with his even younger sister Setsuka after their mother is barbecued by a US bomb in this WW2 drama, Grave Of The Fireflies. Their father still serving at sea, the two siblings are forced to live with their indifferent, sharp-tongued aunt. But she becomes continually more hostile, so the pair decide to leave and go live in the old air-raid shelter down by the lake. But this is wartime, and the pair have to struggle to survive, the most dangerous enemy being malnutrition. The war lost, it’s time for the Japanese to begin rebuilding their lives again, but for Seita and Setsuka it’s too late – they have no lives to rebuild.
Nothing much happens during Grave Of The Fireflies, just watching the children go about their daily lives. Occasionally, something exciting happens, like Seita having his head kicked in by an irate farmer when he tries to pilfer some sugar beet, but much of the time we simply watch the children going about their daily business. So it’s up to a combination of strong characters and interesting style to keep the viewer’s attention and, thankfully, in Grave Of The Fireflies, it’s here. Surely no-one can fail to be endeared towards Seita and Setsuka. Seita has a strong, big-brotherly devotion towards his little sister who is cute enough to evoke both tears (not from me, though – honest!) with her innocent despair and whimsical old-lady smiles with her childish antics. It really doesn’t have to be said that the animation here is fantastic. In fact, it’s quite exceptional, much more realistic and darker, less garish that most anime flicks with some fabulous, atmospheric scenes – mostly involving fireflies hovering around the orphans’ new home. And those air-raid sequences send a real chill through the spine, an eerie silence falling as the B52 bombers fly over the towns unleashing their deadly loads – then the explosions as buildings and people both are (quite tastefully, actually) blown to smithereens.
It’s interesting here to look at war through another pair of eyes, from a Japanese point of view. Self-destructive, almost Kamikaze-like patriotism is an undercurrent raising its head now and again with people mindlessly rejecting their own needs in support of the war-effort. It also, for once, lets us see the real casualties of war, the effect it has on our “enemies” – ordinary people suffering just as much as, or even more than, our own friends and families whilst dislocated world-leaders gallantly duke it out like chess-players. The fact that Grave Of The Fireflies is based on a true story, written by Akiyuki Nosaka, still struggling to come to terms with the death of his sister in 1967 gives the movie a deeply personal edge. Here is a film that should make the viewer think a little, and is also a welcome change from typical war movies – hollow, insincere tearjerkers, trumpet-blowing propaganda efforts and muscle-headed shoot ‘em ups. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, mind.
Aka Hotaru No Haka, Tombstone For Fireflies, Tombstone For The Fireflies