A Studio Ghibli production that goes quite a long way away from the regular fantastical storylines the production house has become renowned for. In fact, Grave Of The Fireflies strayed quite far from any other animation movie, in terms of the seriousness of the subject matter.
Directed by the late Isao Takahata, Grave of The Fireflies was first released in 1988 and tells the story of two children who were orphaned by the United States’ relentless bombing of Japan during World War ii.
Following one such bombing, the children’s mother, school, neighbours and everything they know is destroyed. This leaves the two, Seita and Setsoku, in the care of an aunt who does not do well at looking after children who are not her own. This pushes Seita – the older of the two to find a safe enough cave dwelling for.him and his younger sibling. Naturally, this is a serious decision for two children to make and it leads to great hardships.
Grave Of The Fireflies is based on the 1957 autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka and beautifully tells a simple yet gripping story of survival and what effects war can have on individuals and society as a whole.
It was this successful capture of the muli-faceted nature of the torments of conflict that has kept this film relevant even thirty years later. Even today many films do not manage to capture these themes. Instead, the true nature of conflict is lost to glamorisation of war.
Moral Questions Of Conflict
Grave Of The Fireflies pushes the viewer to ask themselves moral questions around the concept of survival from quite early on in the telling of the story. First is the aunt who provides better for her own brood than she does for the two orphans, even going as far as ripping them off to do so. It is brutal, but like it or not, it is part of what humans do when times are really tough. They look out for those closest to them.
The second is the general lack of sympathy and care that the two orphans receive from society, even a doctor speaks quite cruelly to them. This general sense of coldness from society is a constant reminder that these children are struggling to survive in the aftermath of a war. There are probably dozens of orphans from the bombings and people have become numb to the sight.
In one instance, Seita is caught stealing and is beaten quite severely for doing so. This speaks a lot of the desensitisation that comes with conflict. As resources start to dwindle, people will fight more ruthlessly to protect what little they have.
Grave Of The Fireflies also points out the need for tough decision making in those situations. The two children had the choice between living a life of being marginalised with no telling how far the mistreatment would go. On the other hand they had the choice to struggle on their own. The older child chose the second option for them.
Because we are not all soldiers, we often fall victim to the glamorised version of how conflicts play out. Grave Of The Fireflies does a good job of reminding us who are fortunate enough not to be directly affected by the horrors that those who are have to face on a daily basis.