Grave of the Fireflies looks at the trials of surviving a war on the homefront. Based on a true story, by novelist Akiyuki Nosaka, the movie takes place during the final months of World War II where heavy U.S. bombing is taking a toll on the entire country. Both physically and mentally. It’s not your typical war movie where there’s constant action and heroics. Instead, Grave of the Fireflies explores the mental and physical toll a war takes on one family, a microcosm for what’s occurring all over the country. It lets us see the real casualties of war, ordinary people.
The movie follows the plight of a brother and sister, and Setsuka as they try to survive after their home is destroyed in a U.S. bombing raid. Their mother dies after falling victim to the fires that occurred because of the bombing and with their father away in the Navy, the children find themselves living with an a indifferent, sharp-tongued aunt. She becomes continually more hostile towards the children, putting the war effort before their needs, so they decide to leave and make a home in an old air raid shelter down by a lake. Being wartime, the children struggle to survive, with the need for food being their most urgent.
Grave Of The Fireflies is a slow movie, it revolves around watching the children go about their daily lives. Occasionally, something exciting will happen, like Seita getting roughed up by a farmer, but most of the time we just watch the children going about their daily business. What keeps you interested is the interaction between Seita and Setsuka. Seita has a strong, big-brotherly devotion towards his little sister who looks to her older brother for guidance. It’s the characters that draw you in, and keep you interested. By the end of the movie you actually care for the characters.
Visually, the animation here is fantastic. While the movie may be twenty years old now, it emotes a much more realistic and darker look compared to most anime movies. The scenes with the U.S. bombers carpet bombing the towns was done exceptionally, it gave you a bit of a chill with the eerie silence as the bombs dropped.
It’s not often American audiences get the chance to see the effects of World War II through another pair of eyes, this time from a Japanese viewpoint. Grave of the Fireflies is a good look into the effects of war that we hardly see. While the movie may have dragged at times, overall it was a good movie that should get at least once viewing.