Grave of the Fireflies aka Hotaru no haka (1988) An Anime War Movie

Thanks to Novroz who mentioned Grave of the Fireflies pointing out I should review it on this site I finally watched this very beautiful anime last night.

Animes are maybe not everybody’s cup of tea and I am far from being an expert having only seen the other Studio Ghibli treasure Princess Mononoke aka Mononoke-hime still I know when I see a masterpiece. And Grave of the Fireflies is a masterpiece and should have been added on my Children in War Movies List before. This is an artfully drawn anime with a very moving story. It is a must-see for anime fans and people interested in war movies alike.

War does affect people in different ways. Some fight in it and die in it. Some get injured and are sent home. Others return suffering from post-traumatic shock. But many stay at home. All the old people, the children and the women. What about those people on the homefront? What happens to them? How do they cope with constant air raids, lack of food and other supplies? How do children cope? This is what Grave of the Fireflies shows us. You have to watch the first five minutes very carefully or you might not get the full meaning of the movie. It is quite subtle and could be missed.

Seita and Setsuko, a brother and his little sister, are two Japanese children whose lives are profoundly affected by the war. Their mother dies in an air raid while their father, an officer of the Japanese Royal Navy, is at war. The two children find refuge at the house of their aunt. But close quarters and lack of food doesn’t help and they are soon not welcome any more. Left with some money the children leave the house of their realtives and live in a shelter outside of town. The brother who is ten years older cares touchingly for his little sister but he can hardly find anything to eat. He tries to buy something but no one sells anything. He tries to steal and gets beaten up. The little girl gets weaker and weaker and finally falls very ill. When Japan surrenders Seita hears from someone that the Navy has been completely destroyed. His father is very probably dead as well.

The end of this movie is particularly good. It’s very sad and I can understand that people who are less familiar with war movies in general might be very shaken. I don’t think it is advisable to watch it with little children although it is not gruesome but the way death and war are treated is very emotional. The little girl is absolutely amazing. So realistic.

Even though this is a war movie it is also a meditation on life’s fragility and fugacity. A very poetical and emotional movie with wonderful pictures.