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.