Isao Takahata’s groundbreaking artistic vision created Grave of the Fireflies (1988), a movie based on the book of the same name written by Akiyuki Nosaka. It tells the story of Seita, a teenage boy going through hell during World War II in Japan along with his little sister, Setsuko.
The animated film produced by Ghibli Studios remains as one of the finest masterpieces ever and it has often been included in some “The Best of All Time” lists. Due to its strong message against armed conflicts it has been labeled as an anti-war kind of film. However, it has a deeper meaning and goes beyond military battles and human carnage.
|Seita and Setsuko|
The movie’s opening sequence is as shocking as it can be: a young man (tentatively Seita) is dying from starvation in the middle of some public place. After he passes away, the spirit of Setsuko finally appears to be reunited with his brother’s.
Then in an almost never-ending flashback, they are shown living happy with her mother in Kobe. Later, their entire world as they knew (neighborhood, schools, workplaces) it is reduced to ashes after being bombed and destroyed by the American Forces.
The distant relative
The two siblings move to their aunt’s place where they are mostly treated with great indifference and a latent lack of compassion. That woman represents the part of society that has taken away any kind of opportunities from the youngest generation, making them feel as if they were hard to love in some way.
The storytelling showcases everything that’s wrong with the system: just before any made-up war, the great elites will never ask any children or any other regular human being if they agree with it or not. When the beast is hungry for blood (or oil, you know), it will destroy everything that crosses its path. And it doesn’t matter how many innocent ones will die because of it, as it’s all about overrated patriotism and nonsense pride.
Grave of The Fireflies is named after one magical scene: after taking a bath, Seita and Setsuko are playing in the cornfields and suddenly they see hundreds of those beautiful insects flying around like stars in the sky. Seita urges Setsuko to catch one of them with her hands. It seems to be those fireflies are the living representation of their dreams and hopes. At that present moment there is no past and there is no future: only one instant of pure joy that only a child can experience.
There are lots of flashbacks during the movie and in this way the two kids go from heaven to hell within seconds. Politics and greed are the worst enemies of millions of kids in this world, whether they’re from Palestine, Syria, Japan, Mexico, or any other country around the world.
In some moments Seita’s mind is playing games with him, or maybe it is just the way he tries to escape from reality. So that, he remembers the happy times they spent with their mom while Setsuko is always complaining about the food or the weather. After all, what does a five-year old girl understand about losing everything because of some stupid war?
|Grave of The Fireflies  remains as one of the best movies ever made.|
Eventually they leave their aunt’s home and move to an abandoned bomb shelter. The fireflies show up again and they provide them with light every night.
The unforgettable little girl
Setsuko is one of the most endearing characters ever created in the history of animated films. She’s the embodiment of the innocence destroyed by a world led by evil adults. She’s the one refusing to eat rice soup three times a day and missing her mom’s desserts every other second. Setsuko carries her little doll everywhere as if she's holding tight to her past so desperately, even when she’s too young to understand everything that’s going on.
Setsuko gets sick later and finally dies. Seitsa himself incinerates her body even when he does not understand what just has happened. Her little sister is now another casualty of war. And in so many ways his own world is now pretty much over.
Grave of The Fireflies’ legacy almost three decades later
It would be almost redundant to talk again about the movie’s impact and influence. It is widely known that it is considered one of the best films ever made and since its release has gotten rave reviews worldwide. The director, studio and producers created a masterpiece that will continue touching people’s hearts for years to come.
Grave of The Fireflies is not just another anti-war movie. It is a powerful tribute to every kid who has been systematically raped, humiliated and destroyed by those who were supposed to protect human life. The lives of all children in this world are above politics and beliefs. Until we don’t understand that, we won’t deserve to be called a “civilization”.
But great for us, that message feels like an open hand trying to reach us more than a raised fist asking for revenge.
Setsuko’s crying hears louder than ever. And it is the same lament of those children killed in Palestine, Syria, Latin America or any other country. They are the ultimate unnamed victims of bombings and air attacks by those who fabricated those conflicts in the first place.
The movie’s last sequence offers a glimpse of Seita’s concept of paradise, as he still hears his sister’s laughter on his mind while seeing her playing and running from one place to another. And that is itself the very same thing we all do when a loved one leaves this world… Maybe it is the way our souls prevent us from feeling that much pain.
Every one of our hopes is like a firefly lighting the world. So now it is time to give life to every dream that hasn’t been born yet.
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Distributed by: Toho
Produced by: Ghibli Studios and Sinchosa
Based on the book of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka Starring: Tsutomo Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara y Akemi Yamaguchi
Cinematography: Nobuo Koyama
Music: Michio Mamiya
Edited by Takeshi Seyama