Saturday, October 15, 2016

Grave of the Fireflies/Hotaru no haka (1988)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

There are some movies that seem to take on a life beyond what they were intended for. From what I understand, Grave of the Fireflies was originally written as a book by an author who needed to deal with some issues in his childhood. While I can’t really elaborate without ruining the story, I can say that the movie has become somewhat of an anti-war movie.

The movie takes place in Japan during the final months of World War II. Seita is a boy about high-school age. He works and goes to school, but both his school and place of employment are destroyed when Allied forces begin air raids on his home town. He’s told by his mother to look after his sister, Setsuko, and to make sure that they both get to the shelter safely. (Their father is in the Japanese Navy and is away at war.)

Both make it to safety, but are separated from their mother. After the raid, they find out that their mother didn’t fare well. She has to be taken to a hospital, but dies en route leaving the brother to look after his sister. Fortunately, there’s an aunt who can take them in, but she’s too strict for the siblings’ liking. Seita makes the decision to strike out on their own rather than live with the aunt.

This proves more difficult than he originally anticipated. While he can come across money and he and his sister get rations, enough food is scarce and they’re forced to live in an abandoned shelter. Money and food run out on occasion and Setsuko seems to be getting sick. Seita cares for his sister very much and hates to see her like this. He can go back to the aunt, and is urged to do so on several occasions, but is too prideful to honestly consider it.

I don’t want to say more than that for fear of spoiling the movie. I will say that you shouldn’t be fooled by the fact that this is anime. It’s a very adult movie and really shouldn’t be watched by small children. I don’t recall much death being shown on screen, but there is some gore and the effects of war aren’t something that many children would be able to understand.

There are also certain subtleties that many children may miss. For instance, the aunt may seem like an overbearing foster parent when in reality, she has hard choices to make. Seita doesn’t work and doesn’t seem to think there’s much for him. When he agrees to let his mother’s kimonos be sold off for rice, he thinks that he’ll be entitled to a better share than he and his sister actually get. The aunt points out that she and her husband contribute to the household and society whereas the two siblings don’t. As an adult, you can understand the aunt’s point of view.

If you think that animation is for children, this is a great movie to break you of that belief. Grave of the Fireflies is not only great animation, it’s a great movie. I’d say it’s even top-10 material. I’d give it five stars.

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