Grave of the Fireflies is a 1988 Japanese animated film produced by Studio Ghibli and based during World War II. It follows the story of Seita and his little sister Setsuko trying to survive the aftermath of the firebombing of Kobe, in which American B-29 bombers launched a firebombing attack against the city of Kobe, Japan on March17, 1945. When Seita and Setsuko’s mother is killed by the bombing and they are forced to move in with their aunt.
The story is told by the spirit of Seita who has died of starvation along with Setsuko. It is a sad and depressing film and very different to most war movies in our language for two key reasons. The first reason is that it shows us what happened on the other side of the war. Most tales about World War II for English speaking audiences star other English speaking countries such as America or Australia, but this movie focuses on Japan’s point of view, what war was like for the losing side and what they thought of their enemy. The second major difference is that this film isn’t about courageous solders fighting for their country, but it’s about the civilians and victims of war. It is a tragic story about the innocent people who were killed as a result of World War II and looks at war as the horrible thing that it is instead of glorifying it.
Throughout the film, Seita tries to keep Setsuko distracted from all of the pain and suffering that happens around them and the film suffers from this a little. There are a few times where the film can get boring and hard to watch, like the scene where Seita takes his sister to the beach and these moments are made even worse by the average English voice actors. As long as you make sure you’re watching with the original Japanese voices and English subtitles these scenes shouldn’t bother you as much.
The music is good and does a good job of setting the mood of a particular scene but the melodies themselves aren’t too memorable. The animation is also very high quality for an anime that was released in 1988.
Grave of the Fireflies is a great film by both war movie and anime standards. Though, in my opinion, it isn’t as good as some of Studio Ghibli’s fantasy films such as Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle or Spirited Away, it is still a film worth watching. I give Grave of the Fireflies an 8 out of 10.
This page contains all of my reviews and essays, either in written or video form. You can also find the videos listed here (and more) on my YouTube channel.