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Anime, Novel, Film, Live Action

Grave of the Fireflies (火垂るの墓, Hotaru no haka) is a 1988 Japanese animated drama film written and directed by Isao Takahata and animated by Studio Ghibli. It is based on the 1967 semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka.[1] It is commonly considered an anti-war film, but this interpretation has been challenged by some critics and by the director. The film stars Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara and Akemi Yamaguchi. Set in the city of Kobe, Japan, the film tells the story of two siblings, Seita and Setsuko, and their desperate struggle to survive during the final months of the Second World War.

Grave of the Fireflies received critical acclaim from film critics. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times considered it to be one of the best and most powerful war films and, in 2000, included it on his "Great Movies" list.[2] Two live-action remakes of Grave of the Fireflies were made, one in 2005 and one in 2008.

Plot[edit | edit source]

The film opens on 21 September 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, at Sannomiya Station. Here, Seita (清太), a 14-year-old boy, is shown dying of starvation. Later that night, after removing Seita's body, a janitor digs through his possessions, and finds a candy tin, which he throws away into a nearby field. From the tin springs the spirit of Seita's younger sister, Setsuko (節子), whom Seita's spirit joins; as well as a cloud of fireflies. Seita's spirit then begins to narrate their story alongside an extended flashback to the final months of World War II, beginning with the firebombing of the city of Kobe in 16–17 March 1945.

The flashback begins with a fleet of several hundred American B-29 Superfortress bombers flying overhead. Setsuko and Seita are left to secure the house and their belongings, allowing their mother, who suffers from a heart condition, to reach a bomb shelter. They are caught off-guard as the bombers begin to drop thousands of incendiary bombs, which start huge fires that quickly destroy their neighborhood and most of the city. Although they survive unscathed, their mother is caught in the air raid and is horribly burned. She is taken to a makeshift clinic in a school, but dies shortly after. Having nowhere else to go, Setsuko and Seita move in with a distant aunt, who allows them to stay but convinces Seita to sell his mother's kimonos for rice. While living with their relatives, Seita goes out to retrieve leftover supplies he had buried in the ground before the bombing. He gives all of it to his aunt, but hides a small tin of Sakuma fruit drops, which becomes a recurrent icon throughout the film. Their aunt continues to shelter them, but as their food rations continue to shrink due to the war, she becomes increasingly resentful. She openly remarks on how they do nothing to earn the food she cooks.

Seita and Setsuko finally decide to leave and move into an abandoned bomb shelter. They release fireflies into the shelter for light. The next day, Setsuko is horrified to find that the insects have all died. She buries them all in a grave, asking why they have to die, and why her mother had to die. What begins as a new lease on life grows grim as they run out of rice, forcing Seita to steal from local farmers and loot homes during air raids. When he is caught, he realizes his desperation and takes an increasingly-ill Setsuko to a doctor, who informs him that Setsuko is suffering from malnutrition but offers no help. In a panic, Seita withdraws all the money remaining in their mother's bank account, but as he leaves the bank, he becomes distraught when he learns from a nearby crowd that Japan has surrendered unconditionally to the Allied Powers. He also learns that his father, a captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy, is probably dead, since nearly all of Japan's navy is now at the bottom of the ocean. He returns to the shelter with large quantities of food, only to find a dying Setsuko hallucinating. Seita hurries to cook, but Setsuko dies shortly thereafter. Seita cremates Setsuko, and puts her ashes in the fruit tin, which he carries with his father's photograph, until his own death from malnutrition in Sannomiya Station a few weeks later.

In the film's final sequence, the spirits of Seita and Setsuko are seen healthy, well-dressed and happy as they sit together, surrounded by fireflies. The camera then moves overhead, showing the two of them looking down on the modern city of Kobe.

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References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Hotaru no haka". The Big Cartoon DataBase. The Big Cartoon DataBase. Retrieved 13 May 2012. 
  2. "Grave of the Fireflies (1988)". Sun-Times Media. 19 March 2000. Retrieved 22 November 2012. 

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