GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (1988)

 

Format: 88-minute feature

 

Rating:  PG (V)

 

American Production:  Central Park Media

 

Grading

 

Premise:

A

Story:

A-

Writing:

A

Character Design:

A-

Animation:

B+

Artistic Merits:

A-

English Dub:

A-

Musical Score:

B+

 

 

Humor Content:

n/a

Action Content:

n/a

Drama Content:

A

 

 

DVD Presentation:

A-

DVD Extras:

A

 

 

OVERALL:

A-

 

Synopsis                                                                                                                          

      In Kobe, Japan, in 1944, the teenage boy Seito and his four-year-old sister Setsuko lose their home and mother to allied firebombing and their naval officer father when his ship is sunk. Although temporarily taken in by an aunt, they ultimately must fend for themselves. Though their spirit and love for each other keep them together, the harsh realities they face – food shortages, the devastation around them, the helplessness and general indifference of their countrymen – ultimately take their toll. In the end they become but two more civilian casualties of the war.

 

The Long View     

      Based on a semiautobiographical novel, Grave of the Fireflies takes a very personal look at the terrible side effects of modern warfare on civilians. The result is a story of great tragic power that can, at times, be very difficult to watch. That it is animated buffers the viewers somewhat against the grim reality of what we are actually watching here: two children that are gradually starving to death. It is a subject that occasionally comes up peripherally in war pictures, but never have I seen it dealt with in such a straightforward manner.

      Grave is a movie loaded both with simple scenes – such as Seito using fruit candies to create a fruit drink for his sister – and powerful imagery, such as the opening scene revealing Seito’s ultimate fate, or the pictures of the firebombed city aflame, or the street-eye-view of descending bombs, or the shots of their bandaged and horribly burned mother. Touching are Seito’s efforts to protect his sister from the harshness of what has happened, but one gets the sense that he does it as much for his own sense of denial. And when Setsuko finally succumbs to the ailments brought on by malnutrition, one gets the sense that Seito loses his last reason for living. In death the two are reunited as spirits, which brings the end of the story back around to the beginning. (I strongly urge viewers to immediately flip back and rewatch the first few minutes after you’ve seen the end; the poignancy of the early scenes have much greater impact once you see the ending.)

      The name for Grave comes from a scene a bit more than halfway through the movie, where Setsuko buries some dead fireflies that she and her brother had collected the night before. The sequence is loaded with powerful meaning that must be experienced, so I will not describe it further. Also noteworthy here is that the movie is not in any way accusatory; although Americans are clearly responsible for the devastation wrought in the movie, not a single word is spoken about them or against them. They are merely an enemy to be avoided, nothing more. Grave also does not take any stand on the issue of the rightness or wrongness of the attitudes of the Japanese leadership that got them into the war. It seems deliberately intended to be as apolitical as possible.

      The technical merits to Grave, while good, are not at the top of the heap. Like many anime, the artistry is heavily influenced by watercolor paintings, which the digital remastering done for this DVD release brings out beautifully. The English dub and musical score are both excellent and will not disappoint. It is worth noting that a good chunk of the early part of the movie passes without any soundtrack, which I actually think helps lend emphasis to those early scenes. This is material that does not need soundtrack enhancement to achieve its dramatic potential. Also deserving of special recognition are the sound effects, particularly the unsettling sound of the dropping firebombs. Although I have given it a PG rating, younger children may be disturbed or frightened by some scenes. It should only be shown to young children with adult supervision.

      Grave is considered an anime classic, with good reason. Some American critics have even gone as far as to label it one of the best war movies ever made. It is not a movie that everyone is going to like, but it is a movie that everyone should see.

 

DVD Extras

Main Disk:

·       Company Previews

·       Storyboard viewing option: while the film is playing, the “angle” option can be used to flip back and forth between the animation and the storyboard for the scene. This is a unique set-up as far as I’m aware. Note that when this option is used at the beginning of the closing credits, stats concerning the film and a list of the awards it has received are displayed before the credits roll.

 

Bonus Disk (included in the Collector’s Series release):

·       Interview with film critic Roger Ebert (2002) about Grave of the Fireflies

·       Interview with director

·       Historical Perspective featurette

·       Author and Director bios

·       DVNR featurette (concerns the process used to transfer the movie to DVD from film and digitally remaster it in the process; very interesting)

·       Bonus storyboards of various scenes that were not included in the film

·       Art Gallery (mostly still shots with some production sheets mixed in; accessible via DVD-ROM)

·       Locations, Then and Now (compares sites depicted in the film to their current-day appearance; very interesting)

·       Japanese and American trailers

·       Japanese release promo

·       Company Trailers (some a duplicate of those on the main disk, some new ones)

 

 

 

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