Grave of the Fireflies

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I will be attempting to watch each Studio Ghibli film released and examining the highlights and how this iconic animation powerhouse has developed over the years. The retrospective kicks off with Grave of the Fireflies, a 1988 animation classic directed and written by Isao Takahata co founder of  Studio Ghibli. This animation  follows the emotional tale of two siblings that are left homeless and motherless in the 1945 Kobe Bombings. You can watch this moving and controversial film here on Youtube.

This film is based on the semi autobiographical novel written by Akayuki Nosaka recording his experiences during the war and how he tried to protect his younger sister. The animation is concerned more with the story of a brother and sister relying on each other to survive despite the harsh conditions and isn’t as historically accurate as Nosaka’s novel. It is clear from his subsequent interviews  that the War was far more harrowing and traumatic than the film suggests and that Nosaka wanted to imagine this story of a brother caring for his sister than the truth of what really happened.

“Now, I really regret how Keiko (Nosaka’s sister)  was so cruelly reduced to skin and bones.I thought about how great it would be, if I could have loved and cared for her as much  as the brother in Grave of the fireflies did for his sister.I put these thoughts into action for Seita” (quoted in Shimizu 1995;15)

David C Stall comments in his novel ‘Imagining The War in Japan’  that despite the discrepancies between Seita and Nosaka in how Seita cared for his sister better, and the potrayal of the Aunt as a glutton, insensitive uncaring person and the importance of fireflies.What remained unchanged was Nosaka’s inability to mourn. This is evident from the novel, the film, the countless interviews he has partaken in, his survivors grief is to such  an extent that he mourns for his lost family, objects that were of sentimental value, the streets he used to walk down, his lost beliefs, in essence he mourns for his former self and his lost innocence, his lost childhood.

In my opinion, that is what makes Grave of the fireflies such a moving, compelling film, the fact that Seita and Setsuko go on a journey that no child be subject to, and you see how they slowly lose the will to live, they have spent all of their tears, they have encountered so much sorrow and lost all hope.

As I write this review, I am struggling to hold back tears because I am remembering the significance of fireflies, the candy tin, and how Nosaka still is unable to mourn for his lost family and the countless other lives that the war stole. I truly believe this film should be watched by all, it isn’t an anti war film. This isn’t about the battle on the trenches or on the sea but focuses on the fight for survival in a time where people could not afford the luxury of caring for other people. Especially caring for two children getting underfoot, needing to be fed or clothed when such things were scarce. I feel sympathy for all the characters and how War affects not only the troops who see death around them, but the ordinary civilians the war is being fought for. The Aunt in Grave of the fireflies is is portrayed as a glutton, but in those dire times if you were in that situation could you watch as people ate  and you starved? Or could you handle  the pressure of trying to make food last for a week, a month, a year?

Nosaka describes how he would intend to give his sister the broth in the gruel he made, and whilst bringing the spoon to his mouth to eat it, he couldn’t resist putting it into his mouth as well as the rice in the bottom of the pan.When he found vegetables, fruits, he would eat them without sharing as if he was a hungry ghost. In that time, “Nosaka admited that he love his sister but his gluttony overrode his  affection and concern for her”.

We should spare a thought to these people who lie awake at night wondering if they will be safe. If they have enough money, food to go on. If the war will ever end. Through the eyes of  Seito and Setsuko, you see the desperation and hardship that was rife in that time.

Grave of the Fireflies was set in Kobe, which was selected as a target for fire bombings by the Allied Powers due to the city having the largest port and flimsy infrastructure.Kobe was fire-bombed on two occasions in March and June 1945, resulting in Japan’s surrender and the death of 8,841 civilians and majority of homes destroyed.It is during this fire-storm bombing that our two characters find themselves motherless and homeless.   War is a necessary measure in order to protect the majority of  people and this film addresses that .However the film is concerned about  how two young children dependant  on each other survive and obtain happiness, in a time where smiles and laughter have died.

Image –source

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