04: Grave of the Fireflies

Ok, i said i won't WATCH this for some time yet, didn't say i wouldn't review it.
thought i'd get it over with. who knows what tomorrow brings.
I WILL NOT PUT ANY SPOILERS HERE. (is a picture worth a 1000 spoilers?)

Grave of the Fireflies is a 1988 Studio Ghibli animated feature.

Set in japan during the final days of WWII, it tells the story of two children, left alone to fend for themselves after their mother's horrible death after the fire-bombing of Kobe.
(their father was shipped off to the Imperial Navy and nothing was heard of him since)

The movie starts with the voice of the narrator, showing a uniformed boy looking at a dying child beggar in a broken-down train station.
people are passing the beggar not noticing his existence, he dies alone.
cleaning-crews are checking sleeping beggars to see if they are still alive, they find this one, and in his pocket an empty, rusted tin of candy drops.

The movie then goes back in time a few months prior, and the story really begins.

Seita, the pre-teens brother, and Setsuko, the little sister.
They travel to find a distant relative, which at first is kind and good to them, but as the war is ending, people change.
slowly they find themselves shown the door, and end up really on their own.
Seita then tries to find work, and failing that, stealing from people's homes when the owners rush to shelters during raids.
afterwards they manage to find a home of sorts, a small bomb-shelter in a high river bank.
Seita now starts to convert this into their new "house", he buys all sorts of equipment for their new home, and a tin of candy drops for his sister.
all the while they are not aware of the reality and finality of their situation.

review ends here. this was the "Happy" part of the movie.
all i can say, is please remember the opening scene carefully. for at the end everything comes full circle and forces you to grab for the Kleenex. LOTS OF KLEENEX.

this is no mere cartoon. the background is historically accurate and as i've read, the movie itself is based on a semi-autobiographic novel of the same name. i am in the process of finding it.
solid story-telling, beautiful backgrounds & animation, and that dangerous little streak of sincerity which grabs you by the..ahem. lapel.. and forces you to see it till the end no matter how painful it gets.

this movie was bundled in theaters with Studio Ghibli's happiest film to date, the brilliant "My Neighbor Totoro" just to ease the dose of sadness one gets here.

this movie brings up some serious questions:
how much pride do you have?
are you willing to LIVE without it? or is it the other way around?

this is in essence, an anti-war movie, and one of the best.
at times it feels more like a documentary than a story, because at the end you get the same itching urge to get up, thank God for what you have, and do something to help others a bit more.

i saw this movie early last year, in two sittings, and for days after i still had troubling emotions inside. sentences from this movie kept popping up randomly in my head for months after.

i bought me a copy once i moved to jordan, but as of yet i don't feel like watching it again.
Warning: do NOT, i repeat, do NOT watch it if you have depression, lost someone recently, or generally just going through a bad time. but before you leave this world, you have to see this at least once.

final score

9/10 - no full marks because animated movies should NOT be this powerful.

trivia (copied as usual)
  • In commercial terms, the theatrical release was a failure. While the two movies (this one and Totoro) were marketed toward children and their parents, the extremely depressing nature of Grave of the Fireflies turned away most audiences.
  • Appropriately aged children were cast in the roles of Seita and Setsuko, however at first, producers felt the 5 year old girl portraying Setsuko was too young. Because of her age, instead of completing the animation first and recording her voice to run parallel with the animation as with other characters in the film, they recorded her dialogue first and completed the animation afterward. The animators were not used to this way of working, which is why her lips are hardly seen.
  • The release of the film in South Korea was delayed indefinitely because authorities feared it would be thought of as justification for Japan's role in World War II.

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