Film Review – The Grave Of The Fireflies (1988)

For years critics, cinephiles, so called experts have battled over the decades to give animation the right and respect it deserves to be judged on the same par as feature films. The right to say animation is not for just kids but for everyone, Japanese animation (or anime) has been a forerunner for many years as a defender that animation can delivery just as powerful story as it’s human counterparts. Today sees the Blu-Ray release of what many call one of the best war films ever created, highly regarded up there with Platoon, Path Of Glory, Schinder’s List, its that powerful it will having you reaching for not just the snacks but the tissues. Set in the aftermath of tragedy, seen through the eyes of children, Grave Of The Fireflies.

Set in Japan at the end of World War 2, The Grave Of The Fireflies focuses on Seita a young boy along with his small Sister Setsuko are forced to fight for survival after their mother was killed in a air raid whilst their father whereabouts unknown due to him been in the navy. Fate unknown first they live with their aunt but as rations tighten up things get harder for everyone , Seita and Setsuko are forced to fend for themselves living off anything they can find, however tragedy awaits for them.

grave_of_the_fireflies_setsukoThe Grave Of The Fireflies is one half of the latest double play from Studio Ghibli‘s ongoing release of their whole back catalogue onto Blu-Ray. The film has been pair up with Kiki’s Delivery Service and I recommend when you watch the 2 films you watch this one first. Why? if you believed Bambi was the only animation that would have you reaching for the kleenix make The Grave Of The Fireflies the second film. The melancholic realism is so powerful however when the film’s protagonists are children based on an (semi-)autobiographical you already know their fate the film becomes a deeply moving story even adults will be effected too.

The Grave Of The Fireflies is a simple story of survival, a story that death lurks around every corner waiting for Seita and Setsuko drop their guard. When politicians think they are the true voice of the people acting on what they think is in our best interests like going to wars we shouldn’t even be involved in (most wars post World War 2), it’s those stuck in the middle, the men, women and children who suffer. This film is an downward spiral, through the eyes of children, innocence, nativity runs through the film and even when they must adapt like adults you still get the sense of feeling they are children. Even Seita been older (about 14/15 years old) whose at a age to understand what’s happening is wrong, he tries to do better but his foolish pride at times clouds his judgement that makes you wonder if his judgement was free maybe things could have been different and death could have been kept out.

The Grave of The Fireflies is an frighteningly vexing film filled with poignancy, haunting (the silence when death was around), beautiful piece of art but also relentless in nature too. Some people may argue does this film have a rightful place in the magical world of Ghibli, the answer is undoubtedly yes. This is a visually engaging, unrivalled storytelling that will absorb attention in every little details, a film that’s maybe aimed at an age slightly above Ghibli’s typical age group around 12 years, an age where children are taking their first footsteps into why somethings are just wrong (war).Is The Grave Of The Fireflies a war or anti war film or neither? Whilst the film delivers the cruelty of war the kindness and spirits of humans is really the film’s true message, however adapting life through extraordinary circumstances (war) as means to survive I would also consider this film to be an war film too.

The beauty of this film can be summed in several scenes most notably with the sweet jar, which every sweet Seita and Setsuko consumed another day went by until the jar was empty. It’s when Seita fills the empty jar with water he gives it to his sister she drinks the sweet water, her face lights up the screen. This is a scene that reminds of the scene in John Hillcoat’s The Road in which father finds an unopened coke can from an old vending machine, he gives it to his son whose face lights up an experience he’ll never again have like Seita’s sister

The Grave of The Fireflies is an beautiful but harrowing, brutal story that will have you not just reaching out for your snacks but also the kleenix tissues. If anyone says to you Bambi is the only animation that will make you cry tell them to watch The Grave Of The Fireflies. This is powerful filmmaking at it’s best and will make you think twice about saying animation doesn’t deserve to be criticized or respected on the same par as feature films. Once you open yourself up, you will experience one of the greatest war films ever made, just ask BFI as they have it in their greatest films ever made list.


Anime, Drama | Japan, 1988 | 12 | Blu-Ray | 1st July 2013 (UK) | Studiocanal | Dir: Isao Takahata |Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara |  Buy The Grave Of The Fireflies: (Blu-ray + DVD) [1988]
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