Quickie: Grave of the Fireflies

Japan towards the end of WW2. Seita is but a young man but is forced to fend for himself and his little sister Setsuko after their mother is killed during a bombing raid.

Studio Ghibli are arguably best known for creating magical universes populated by wonderfully weird creatures, but if you go into Grave of the Fireflies expecting more of the same then you’re in for a shock.

The art style is familiar and is similar to that of My Neighbour Totoro, which is understandable as the two films were made alongside each other; tonally, however, the two films are about as different as they could get. Within minutes we know that this isn’t going to be an easy ride as we see Seita and Setsuko’s mother burned and bandaged following a bombing raid. Following that, as we see the pair struggle to survive and fend for themselves, the film continues to get bleaker.

But amongst the bleakness, there are moments of hope and joy. Seeing the relationship between the pair is delightful, particularly as Setsuko continues to play, unaware of their true peril. Seita doing whatever he can to provide for his sister is genuinely moving and heartbreaking in equal measure.

Grave of the Fireflies is not the whimsical tale many have come to expect from Studio Ghibli, but despite the overtly sombre outlook it is still an expert lesson in the horrors of war, the importance of family and the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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38 thoughts on “Quickie: Grave of the Fireflies

  1. strawberrypiemovies says:

    I adored this movie when I watched it. I probably cried for the last 3/4 of the movie. I hated seeing the little girl crying because it was so heartbreaking.

  2. keith7198 says:

    I’ve heard about this movie from several people yet I still haven’t seen it. Sounds like a pretty strong recommendation from you. Maybe I need to finally take time and watch this one. I’m just so stinking picky when it comes to animation. I wish that wasn’t the case.

    • Well it’s classic Ghibli in its art style, but it’s a pretty serious story this one. I’d definitely give it a go, it’s a very adult animation I reckon. Well, teen and adult, but it’s not exactly a heartwarming story for most of it.

  3. jjames36 says:

    I have never heard of this flick. Now I want to see it.

    Good review.

  4. Popcorn Nights says:

    Nice review Chris. I saw this recently and enjoyed it – if enjoyed is the right word. A very sad but beautiful film.

  5. jackdeth72 says:

    Hi, Terry:

    Excellent choice and critique!

    Meticulously detailed, very close to live action animation. Right up there with ‘Akira’ and ‘Princess Mononoke’ in that regard.

  6. Dan Heaton says:

    I agree on all counts. This was a very difficult viewing for me, but I’m glad that I saw it. Such a stunning film!

  7. The Vern says:

    Once you watch “Grave of the Fireflies”. You need to immediately pop on “My Neighbor Totoro” right away. Very nice review Terry

  8. thycriticman says:

    This received high critical appraise everywhere, and despite never watching any animated Japanese movies, it still looks like something I would like! Well written review!

  9. Good on yer for giving this some love. A beautiful film, but one I don’t think I can sit through again.

  10. ruth says:

    I know this isn’t a popular sentiment but I’m not in love w/ Studio Ghibli style, weird I know since I’m from SE Asia 🙂 That said I enjoyed Spirited Away. Haven’t seen anything else since though, I might give this one a shot.

  11. Nick Powell says:

    One of the saddest movies I have ever seen. I shed tears, I cannot deny that. Yet I agree, as bleak as it is, there are those fleeting moments of happiness. And we need those moments.

  12. Mark Walker says:

    Man, I’ve had this for the longest time and I’ve still never gotten around to watching it. Always waiting for the right mood to take me.

  13. Great review. I haven’t seen as much Japanese animation as I’d like to – sounds like this is pretty much a must see. Will have to make time for an animated weekend sometime soon!

  14. Good review man. I love this movie, but it’s so damn depressing.

  15. CouchKurisu says:

    Your review summed it up perfectly! Whilst I think it’s a great film, I wouldn’t readily put myself through it again, especially compared to Ghibli’s other films.

  16. table9mutant says:

    I still need to watch this one. Just waiting for a day when I’m not too depressed as this may push me over the edge. Lol!

  17. Victor De Leon says:

    I have this movie! I need to get to it asap. Maybe because it seems like it’s a downer of sorts that I’ve been dodging around it. But the animation looks amazing. Good review. Thanks!

  18. Grave is one of Miyazaki’s greatest creations. It is the bleakness, that is so well done. One watches it to descend into the creation of the master.
    Japanese anime’ is one of my guilty pleasures & not much understood in the West. However; I don’t personally review animation. I just enjoy it.
    Look forward to the upcoming (should be released now somewhere) The Wind Rises. Which might be Hayao Miyazaki’s last creation. He’s recently retired.

    • I’ve not seen much Japanese animation but I’ve enjoyed what I have seen. This was a really great film but one that you definitely have to be in the mood for, it’s not an easy watch. But it just goes to show that Miyazaki can create serious films as well as more light hearted material.

      • With any Japanese film (which I’m not an expert or that much of a fan of) or Anime’; it is the immersion into the emotion & creation that is key to enjoyment. Call it “immersion therapy”, a Western term for an old method of appreciation, that is key.
        We do it in some of our religions, when worshiping. It’s the same concept. Same with sitting in front of a wonderful painting.
        I’ve learned to take in the bleakness of some things, as well as the marvelous innocence of things. See it as balancing out one’s life. If I’ve had a wonderful day, sometimes I want to balance things out by bleakness. It’s a meditation of sorts. An antidote or opposite.
        I’ve learned, over many years, to enjoy Japanese Anime’ for what it is. Art & a peek into Japanese society. Which is a partial reflection of Western world as they have integrated elements of ours into theirs.
        Adults & children alike, enjoy cheap or quality animation in their viewings. It’s part & parcel of their society that anime’ series enjoy primetime showings in their evening TV lineups.
        I enjoy anime’ for what it is. I don’t like all of it. Much of the popular anime’ is geared towards juvenile viewing. But works created by institutions such as Studio Ghibli are always, each & every time, fabulous.
        This is my take on the matter, take it for what it’s worth. Anime’ does have its parallels in the West. Disney or other big features that also target every age group, etc. Anime’s is “film” but it’s different. It’s an acquired taste. Miyazaki & his family are masters. If you’re looking for something to watch & can’t make up your mind, you can look up his works, find one & watch. That’s what I’ve done over the years. They’re a rare treat.

      • Here’s a Youtube video highlighting Miyazaki’s work. http://youtu.be/1CUOBWWMVU8 if anyone’s interested.
        If I get started about the wonders of anime’ I can go on & on. 🙂

  19. erica says:

    Grave of the Fireflies is a Ghibli film but was not by Miyazaki. It was made by another Ghibli Studio founder Isao Takahata. Ghibli is most associated with Miyazaki but he’s not it’s sole creator and founder. While it’s true Miyazaki brought the most success to the studio, the studio itself is the outcome of more than one creative mind.

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