Saturday, 20 December 2008

"Grave of the Fireflies" - DVD review

As the credits rolled on this film I said to Mr Ashbless, "You know you didn't have to watch it all the way through."

"Yes I did," he said, slightly muffled behind his damp sleeve: "I couldn't believe that even a Japanese anime would spend an hour and a half showing you a small child starving to death."

Well now he does.

Grave of the Fireflies, much like When the Wind Blows, is an animated film that uses loveable cartoon characters to very gently tackle the unspeakably awful. You shouldn't be under any illusion that it's going to have a happy ending: the film starts with the ghost of a boy in cadet uniform telling you "This is where I died." You then see his death-scene (he starves in what appears to be a railway station), and cleaners root through his belongings and find a sweetie tin which they throw out into the grass, where bone-shards spill out of the tin. Among the fireflies that are a recurring motif of the picture, the ghost of a 5-year old girl rises up and joins her brother, smiling. Roll titles.

At least the ghosts appear to be happy.

The rest of the film is an extended flashback. Set in Japan right at the end of WW2, it is about two children, teenaged Seita and his little sister Setsuko. Their father is in the Imperial Navy, their mother is burned during the firebombing of Kobe and dies of her wounds. Seita tries his best to look after his sister, but in a country gripped by famine where even family members turn on them, she and then he inevitably succumb to malnutrition.

There's a much fuller description of the plot and context, and the firefly symbolism, over at Wikipedia.

This is a beautiful but bleak film. Very much in the same style as the gentle fantasy My Neighbour Totoro (released by Studio Ghibli at the same time) it shares a semi-rural Japanese setting, terrific animation and characters so sweet even my childproof heart was melted. The scenery is just beautiful, and even the horror is underplayed and veiled by the children's natural innocence and optimism.

This movie is yet another attempt to remind us all that every war causes indescribable suffering to the innocent on both sides. Do we really need to be told this again? Yes, unfortunately: over and over and over.

Absolutely recommended, but NOT for children.


jothemama said...

Oh, God. Not for me either. You brave pair.

Janine Ashbless said...

I can do depressing films once in a while but not routinely. Maybe I should sit down and write a list of movies I can't bring myself to watch even though I ought to. It'd start:
City of God