28 August 2004 | dee.reid
A powerful film that shows the true cost of war
"Grave of the Fireflies" is one of the most ambitious, depressing, and quite frankly, best films that I've ever seen. I was nearly moved to tears by this film's brave treatment of such critical subject matter. Yes, it's an Anime' piece, but surprisingly, it came out in 1988, during a time where most Japanese animation films were either relentless bloodbaths, borderline pornography, or both.
As a fan of the Anime' genre of film-making, many great pieces have achieved some sort of cult status here in America, yet none have really reached mainstream success. Some have broken through the barrier and have gained acceptance with American critics, like Katsuhiro Otomo's "Akira," or "Princess Mononoke," or "Spirited Away" (both films directed by Hayao Miyazaki). One that I've seen and has been barely mentioned by most critics is "Grave of the Fireflies."
What we have with "Grave of the Fireflies," is a story of innocence lost and two children who ultimately face a losing battle with trying to survive in a small Japanese village in the closing days of World War II. WWII was the costliest conflict in world history, with millions dead and thousands left to pick up the pieces.
In the center of it, are the aforementioned two children, who are pretty much left to fend for themselves after their mother is killed in a bombing raid. Because their father is off fighting in the war and they have no way of contacting any other family, they're sent to live with their aunt, who is at first warm and welcoming to them, but eventually becomes very cruel and the children are forced to live in a nearby bomb shelter. From that point on, the two children embark on a journey that is every bit as unpleasant and difficult as the grim realities of the world around them.
Very easily one of the best Anime' films that I've ever seen (or any animated film for that matter), I find it difficult to believe just how truly overlooked "Grave of the Fireflies" is. The animation is beautiful, though certainly not dated by any means (even though Japanese animation has progressed well since this film was made).
We get a sense of the dread of the two lead characters, who watch as the world around them crumbles into heaps of ashes, and aircraft loom ominously overhead, dropping their deadly, incendiary cargo on unsuspecting Japanese villagers.
The director, Isao Takahata, obviously has a special resentment of the war, but manages to avoid condemning it outright. The director instead lets us focus in on the conflict as seen through the eyes of the two children, who watch unflinchingly as the realities of their world begin to falter before them.
"Grave of the Fireflies" is a bold statement on the condition of the human soul during conflict. I probably shouldn't say this but I am anyways, but this film has to be the "Schindler's List" of animated pieces. It's brave, it's not overly sentimental, but it is relentless in its dramatization of a dangerous reality. It should be required viewing in any high school world history class.
A beautiful film; not to be missed by anyone.