CHANNEL 4 4SEVEN E4 MORE4 FILM4 4MUSIC 4oD

Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • PG
  • Animation, Drama
  • 1988
  • 90 mins

Grave Of The Fireflies

Grave Of The Fireflies

Synopsis

Animated drama set in Japan toward the end of the Second World War. Two children fall on hard times as a result of the war, and try to go it alone

About

Hailing from Studio Ghibli, home of Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Ponyo), Grave Of The Fireflies is a sophisticated, deeply moving film, adapted from Akiyuki Nosaka's 1967 semi-autobiographical novel by Isao Takahata.

It concerns the fate of two children, struggling to survive in Japan toward the end of the Second World War. Using the device of the protagonist narrating the story after his death, it's unequivocally tragic - but it's also potentially one of the most powerful war movies ever made, showing suffering not just from the perspective of the Japanese (unusual for Western audiences reared on US WWII fare), but also from that of non-combatant children. They're explicitly lambs to the slaughter, young lives cut off before their time. In fact, visually, the fireflies of the title are comparable with falling firebombs, but in symbolic terms they're analogous with the children - they shine brightly and die all too soon.

"September 21, 1945. That was the night I died," says Seita (voiced by Tsutomu Tatsumi in the original, J Robert Spencer in the US dub) as people walk past his wasted, barely teenage corpse in a railway station, only weeks after the Japanese surrender. The spirit of Seita walks into a field full of fireflies and joins the spirit of his four-year-old sister Setsuko (voiced by Ayano Shiraishi in the original, Rhoda Chrosite in the US dub). Together they travel into their own past.

When their mother is fatally injured in the firebombing of Kobe, the children go to live with a distant aunt (Akemi Yamaguchi; Amy Jones) in a small country town. Contact with the children's father, who is in the navy, is lost. When the aunt's embittered needling at Seita gets too much ("you lazy slug," she calls him, saying he should do more for the war effort), he decides to relocate to a small cave-like shelter with Setsuko, who barely understands the circumstances. However what starts out as an adventure soon becomes difficult. Resources are scarce. Setsuko gets ill, but Seita refuses to swallow his pride and return to the aunt's household. He also seems reluctant to try and approach the authorities for help.

Against exquisite hand-painted backgrounds, the children's lives fade. In reference to the war, one character comments "it's beginning to look hopeless", but such a sentiment also applies to the children's fate, as well as that of their nation. They are victims not just of the physical effects of the war but also the drying up of community sympathy and empathy, the collapse of civic infrastructures and the prevailing desperation that brings forth prejudice, and even pride. Seita, who refuses to - or is unable to - find help for himself and Setsuko is seen by many observers as the Japanese ego incarnate - the country unprepared to admit the defeat of "the glorious Japanese empire". Even the enemy here is not represented as an evil or heartless aggressor - the waves of bombers are faceless, remorseless, and are just part of the wider picture of the country suffering. The US is barely mentioned.

Instead, the action focuses on the daily lives of the children. Takahata uses motifs such as that of a tin of fruit drops, seen throughout, which gradually empties, to provide eloquent metaphors - the paint tarnishes and the sweets run out, much as the country's imperial facade crumbles and its resources dwindle.

Far from a sentimental anti-war tear-jerker, Takahata's Grave Of The Fireflies is a moving, honest tale of suffering, loss and a society unable to acknowledge its own predicament.

Ayano

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: J Robert Spencer, Amy Jones, Akemi Yamaguchi, Rhoda Chrosite, Ayano Shiraishi, Tsutomu Tatsumi
  • Director: Isao Takahata
  • Screen Writer: Isao Takahata
  • Writer (Book): Akiyuki Nosaka
  • Producer: Tohru Hara
  • Composer: Yoshio Mamiya

In a nutshell

Even though it's not exactly easy to watch the protracted deaths of two children, Grave Of The Fireflies is not only one of the greatest anime films ever made, but also an important (anti-) war film. A moving masterpiece.

by Daniel Etherington

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4 Johnny English Reborn

    Johnny English Reborn

    Rowan Atkinson returns as the inept secret agent, this time taking on international assassins

  • Film4 Maps To The Stars

    Maps To The Stars

    Julianne Moore, John Cusack and Mia Wasikowska star in David Cronenberg's Hollywood caricature.

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Joe Cunningham's 11 recommendations for LFF 14

    Unfortunately I haven¿t been jet setting around the world this year to the various exciting international film festivals, but that¿s what makes the London Film Festival¿s compilation approach to progr

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Michael Leader's 11 recommendations for LFF 2014

    One of the best things about the London Film Festival¿s smorgasbord approach to programming is that, amongst the world premieres and gala screenings, there¿s an eclectic collection of exciting films o

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

  • Film4 Studio Ghibli

    Studio Ghibli

    All you need to know about Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli

  • Film4

    Saoirse Ronan

    On lending her voice to the English-language version of Arrietty

Share