“Into The Light” – Grave of the Fireflies (anime) – 10/10 Pools

A great war leaves the country with three armies – an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves. ~German Proverb

Genre: Historical/Drama

Review Status
: Complete (1 Movie/1 Movie)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US

Art/Animation: Recognizably Ghibli. The characters are a bit baby-cheeked, a bit softer in design than you usually see. However, that doesn’t detract from the story. The animation is, as expected, very good, flowing smoothly and well. Something I particularly liked was the use of Seita’s and Seitsuko’s spirits (colored red) to move the scene from one moment to another. You could see them revisiting all the places that their story took place. While these were brief scenes, it made it appear that the regular parts were almost like the memories of the siblings as they reviewed their lives.

Dub Vs. Sub: Unfortunately, due to an incident concerning my laptop and the dvd, I was unable to view the sub (though this might be a blessing in disguise- I can’t be that emotionally distraught more than once a week). However, in the sub they used children that were the ages of the characters to add authenticity, whereas they used grown voice actors in the dub.

Summary: In the aftermath of a World War II bombing, two orphaned children struggle to survive in the Japanese countryside. To Seita and his four-year-old sister, the helplessness and indifference of their countrymen is even more painful than the enemy raids. Through desperation, hunger and grief, these children’s lives are as heartbreakingly fragile as their spirit and love is inspiring. Grave of the Fireflies is a tale of the true tragedy of war and innocence lost, not only of the abandoned young, but of an entire nation. (Back of the DVD cover)

Review: When people get caught up in the idea of war, it’s all about the soldiers- the people who are actually fighting. It can be hard to remember that there are more people who are affected by it. When the US was attacking Japan, far more civilians were harmed in the fire bombings than soldiers were. This anime tells the story of two siblings that are caught up in one of them, losing their mother due to burns and being forced to travel to the country to live with their aunt, and awaiting the return of their father.

When a movie starts off with a boy dying and seeing the ashes of a young dead girl, you know that it will not be a happy movie. It’s the tactful way that it is told, the gentleness and honesty of the scenes that make this memorable and heartbreaking. Things are told from the beginning, the story of the siblings starting out in their home with a mother who loves them and a father that is overseas. Getting ready for the bombing is surprisingly not worrisome for the family. They’ve obviously drilled for it, and know what to do. Their mother goes on ahead, but the children stick behind for a while longer, and end up in a shelter that’s distant from where their mother was supposed to meet them. It’s a blessing as disguise, as after they discover their mother has been burned badly and might not make it. Scenes like this don’t need blood and gore to make them horrifying. Their mother is covered in bandages and is shriveled with the heat and injuries. Overnight, she ends up dying. Seita decides to keep it from his sister, in order to keep her spirits up, and they travel to the only person they know who might be able to help them.

Things seem to get better for Seita and Seitsuko. Their aunt takes them in, helping feed them and making sure they have a roof over their heads. They share all they have with her so that they can help out, from Seito getting the food and supplies that he had buried in the ground before their house was destroyed, to selling off their mother’s kimonos. There are little things that they still have and treasure, such as a tin of fruit snacks. However, appearances can be deceiving. As kind as she seems, their aunt becomes less hospitable the moment she discovers that their mother has died. She tells Seitsuko that their mother is dead, behind Seita’s back. It’s the little things she does that just make her seem less and less likeable, such as spooning just broth into Seita’s bowl while ladling vegetables and noodles into her daughter’s and husband’s bowls.

It’s no wonder that Seita feels that he and his sister should leave, when it’s clear that they are no longer welcome. However, they have no place to go! Not anyplace with family, at least, as they don’t know where any other relatives live. Seita discovers a little bomb shelter near a river, by the town. It seems ideal- there’s enough room for the two of them, it’s decently large… but how can they feed themselves? Food in the town is scarce, and the situation is getting worse by the day. Nuts and vegetation seem to sustain them for a while, but they go to sleep with hunger more often than not. Even so, they manage to enjoy their lives. Seitsuko plays in the water, makes little sculptures out of mud, and enjoys the fireflies that they capture to light their little home. Seito worries about where their next meal will come from and wonders why the fireflies must die so quickly.

Things only get worse and worse. Seito scraps for food, avoiding authorities and raiding burning homes for food and items to sell. He becomes more focused on finding food and surviving, blinding himself to the fact that his sister is becoming lethargic and unwell. She complains of being hungry and having diarrhea. While they continue to have some good times, they still miss their parents, and things just get harder as they scrap for the few things that they can eat. Through it all, both start showing signs that things aren’t well, including rashes over their bodies.

What hurts the most about this is when Seita finally takes Seitsuko to the doctor, the doctor says that it is merely malnutrition and that she should eat. Seita looks at him furiously and demands to know what he is supposed to feed her with. There is no food- anywhere. The doctor, perhaps not caring but also possibly having been desensitized to it because he had seen it before, merely calls in the next patient. There is no offer for them to come to dinner, no opening of a home or attempt to find them one. There is merely a blank look and the implication that it is their problem, not his.

Good news finally comes with the bad. Seito, waiting for his father, finally goes to get money from the bank to buy food, something that he has been putting off for ages due to the dangers of travelling. It comes too late- the war is over, his father is dead, and as he comes back to his sister he discovers she is delusional with hunger. She breathes her last that day, and Seito is left with nothing except the will to bury his sister, shouldering her death as heavily as he has all his other losses. Seeing him lose hope and the will to live is almost as heart wrenching as the death of his sister. She died smiling and loving her brother deeply. Seita dies in grief and hopelessness, the starvation that took his sister overtaking him as well.

This is not a movie for the sensitive or faint-hearted. However, it is a movie that everyone should see at some point. The issues addressed, how they are told, are beautiful in their own ways. Some things should not be ignored, and the way war affects regular people is one of them.

Overall, this was a beautiful anime about two sibling’s love and loss.

Recommended: Yes. However, this is harsh stuff. I think 10+ would be the lowest you could comfortably go with who was watching this. There is no fanservice, some nudity on the sister’s part when he helps her bathe (entirely non-sexual). You have the firebombings, and Seita gets a bit beaten up by a soldier as he steals food. You see maggots falling off their mother’s wrapped body, and several bodies being tossed into a mass cremation. You also see some of the cremation for Seitsuko. This isn’t gruesome in the least. There is also the scene in the beginning where you see Seita die. There is a certain air of not caring that surrounds the people that discover his body.

Other titles you might enjoy:
The Music of Marie (manga)
Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutashi wa Mada Shiranai (anime)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (anime)
Ginban Kaleidoscope (anime)
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (anime)
Utahime (manga)


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. beneaththetangles
    Jul 01, 2011 @ 15:40:10

    Truly a treasure – Roger Ebert called it one of the great war films ever made, which is perhaps one of the best accolades ever given an anime, coming from Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic (the only one, in fact). It's so heartbreaking (particularly in knowing that it's semi-autobiographical) that I haven't been able to watch it again since I first saw it 10 years ago.


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