#64: Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

When and how did I watch this?

December 28th, 2016, on YouTube.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

I thought this was a Miyazaki film, but later discovered it wasn’t. However, it was put together in the same studio, so there’s that. Either way, I haven’t been disappointed with any but one Japanese animated film on this list.

What do I know about it now?

Brutal. Although it’s animated, it expresses very real, very human sentiments. With the backdrop of WWII, a teenage boy and his young sister (presumably around 5 years of age) work to survive a series of bombings that has thrust the land into desperation and the necessity to ration, taking the life of their mother and creating contention between themselves and their aunt. The war itself is relentless, but it is really just a backdrop for the strong bond between the siblings and the contrasting lack of assistance from the community despite their youth. In a heartbreaking scene (really, the whole film is heartbreaking), the childrens’ aunt, fully aware of her sister-in-law’s fate, charges the boy Seita to stop being lazy and contribute to the war efforts while making provisions for himself and the household. The children abandon the house and make a home in some shelters built into a mound where they spend their final days. The symbol of the fireflies is profound: the younger Setsuko, only recently aware of her mother’s death despite Seita’s efforts to keep her unaware, buries a pile of fireflies the kids had trapped in their makeshift bedroom overnight, saying, “Why do the fireflies have to die so quickly?” It wouldn’t be long before Setsuko’s fate arrives as well, her bright light fading into the dark, and then the dawn arriving with one less light shining. The firefly is an innocent being, and only the young are amazed by their beauty. The score is fantastic and intensely moving, bringing to mind some classic video games I played as a kid. The “cinematography” may as well be such; the frames are held, and then panned, begging the viewers to meditate on moments. And we do.

What are some themes in the film?

Loss of innocence, Japanese class and age discrimination, the effects of war, unconditional love

Did this affect me personally?

Ugh. What part of the movie didn’t affect me? Most profoundly is actually the use of the fruit drops as a symbol of the gradual loss of sweetness in their lives.

Why is this ranked #64?

The film makes some heavy-handed commentary on the effects and horrors of war – and this list of greatest films is full of these films. Most of the the voters are likely Japanese, for this film is nearly anti-American (although wholly implied), and it resonates with the Japanese culture on multiple levels.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She only watched some of it.

Would I watch it again?

I’m not sure. While the film is rather tragic, I found it hopeful and inspiring, displayed as a hope for change.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

The film is a perspective-changer and especially needs to be seen by anyone that invests in vitriolic political debates or those that attempt to polarize or marginalize actually important issues.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

It’s a truism, though often ignored, that our innocence is lost along with the years past, and despite our best efforts to recover that sense of wonder, we’re doomed to strive in vain. While this abysmal perspective might evoke pain or fear of inevitable death, it is a reminder of how profound our impact on the younger generation really is, and how we must look inward and dig up those characteristics of innocence, youth, and indiscriminate humility. Fortunately, there are great films like this one – easily one of the best ever made – that exist as a sharp reminder to love one another unconditionally and sacrificially while we are still here, for the sake of now and the future.

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