Grave of the Fireflies:Review

#japanese #animation #isaotakahata #wardrama

Country of origin:Japan

Language:Japanese (later dubbed in English)

Directed by: Isao Takahata

Based on: Semi-autographical short story of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka

Music:Michio Mamiya

Starring:Tsutomu Tatsumi,Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara,Akemi Yamaguchi

Released:16 April 1988

Duration:89 minutes

Genre:Animated War Drama

In 1945, shortly after the end of the Second World War, a boy Seita is found dead at Sannomiya station. When a janitor cleans up the body and checks his possessions, he finds a very damaged and empty candy tin which he throws away. The spirit of Seita’s younger sister, Setsuko arrives along with Seita’s spirit, and both of them are surronded by the warm glow of a swarm of fireflies. From here on, Seita’s and Setsuko’s story is narrated.

The story starts in Kobe, towards the end of the Second World War. A fleet of several hundred American aircrafts are flying ready to start firing. Seita and Setsuko leave ahead, while their mother packs up their home and supplies. It is hard for their mother to catch up to them as she suffers from a heart condition. Their father, is in the Japanese army, fighting the war. A sudden drop of incendiary bomblets catch them off guard, but Seita and Setsuko survive. However when they reach the shelter Seita sees his mother severely burned,and soon she dies. He hides this from Setsuko worried that she is too young to handle the fact that their mother is dead.

Having nowhere else to go and with no news from their father, both of them move in with a distant aunt. They are forced to sell their mother’s kimonos for rations which they share with the aunt and the family. Seita takes Setsuko out to the beach and they play a lot. When Seita retreives the ration his mother hid before the bombing he finds a tin of fruit drops, which his sister loves. But as ration decreases, the aunt keeps resentfully mentioning the fact on how they are helping with none of the work in and out of the house, as they become a burden.

Realising they are a burden, both of them move into an abandoned bomb shelter. There they release fireflies at night for light. The next day, Setsuko is horrified to find that the fireflies are dead and buries them. She asks why the fireflies and her mother had to die, to which a shocked and sad Seita has no answer.

Slowly as the war worsens, and as their ration dwindles, Seita is forced to steal from nearby farms and houses for whatever food he gets. But despite all his efforts, Setsuko is diagnosed with severe malnutrition and he is helpless.

In a frenzy, he retreives the money left in his mother’s bank account. It is at this time,that he finds that Japan has surrendered to the war and that his father is probably dead since all the army ships have sunk into the sea.Seita manages to obtain some food but while he prepares it, his sister hallucinates and dies. A grieving Seita cremates his sister.

Soon, Seita too dies a lonely death. The two are then seen to reunite as spirits with the tin of fruit drops as they happily leave the world together away from the war, its brutality and its suffering.

Although I have given a detailed explanation into the story, this does’nt even account to half of how much the film depicts. Despite being an animated film with just an 89 minute duration, the filmmakers have managed to recreate the situation during the war and the sufferings that many had to endure. A lot of us, specially those who were born after the world war, do not understand the magnitude and effects that the war has had. I beleive that films like this get us closer to knowing that. The film has a very real and genuine story. The idea to portary a lonely brother and sister and show how they became people with noone to look after them was wonderfully done. The fact,that it came to a situation where two young children were forced to fend for thenselves, show us that the war had such a huge impact. The war might have between countries who were battling with armies and weapons. But the real victims of the war are the normal people who in reality did no wrong to suffer this much of a loss.

The emphasis on the fruit drops that was cited many times throughout the film was also beautiful. The music being mostly an instrumental and slow music perfectly suited the theme of the movie. If this movie does’nt touch your heart and make you cry, i don’t know what will.

I was suggested by a friend to watch this film. I was apprehensive of watching it in the first place, thinking how good can an animated film do as a war concept. But this film has exceeded my expectations in ways I did’nt imagine. A true classic and a definite milestone to animated Japanese films as far as I am concerned.

Image courtesy: Google Image Search


  1. This movie really made me cry. It was incredible in every way. As you say, it might be an animated piece, but it so lifelike and manages to depict the war in such a realistic way, that you forget that it’s animated. A truly haunting and beautiful movie that has found a place in my heart forever. Terrific review, and I am very glad to see you liked the movie so much too.

    Liked by 1 person

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