★★★★★/★★★★★ Grave of the Fireflies written and directed by Isao Takahata.
Every time I see this magnificent film, I cry my eyes out. And that is my warning to everyone wanting to see it. It is not a happy story of only happy things happening as the characters go around playing with a bunch of fireflies, it is a devastating tale of two siblings trying to survive the finals months of WWII in Japan.
“September 21, 1945… that was the night I died.”
The story begins, and I am not kidding, with a boy named Seita dying of starvation, and a janitor rummaging through his possessions, where he finds an empty candy tin, which he throws away. Out of it, the spirit of Seita’s younger sister, Setsuko, comes out and joins his spirit, as he begins to narrate how they got here, accompanied by flashbacks of the events.
We know what is going to happen in the end by the beginning of the story, a horrid tragedy brought forth on other people by ourselves. But the true beauty lies on the attempts of the brother to save his sister, even though we know they are both doomed to die. This leaves us with the hard-hitting scenes portraying their love for each other, and how every moment they spend together is fleeting, and will come to a horrific end.
The story succeeds in showing us the strength of the human spirit during war times, and the struggles and desperation they go through in a world that is too occupied with themselves to care about two orphans. The are enjoying their days, despite them coming to an abrupt end.
I have read many comments on this film deeming it an anti-war film, which in many aspects, it does portray a negative on war. Yet, the main story does not revolve around that, the story is giving us a sense that children were in WWII, not just commemorated heroes, but real people, people that endured the worst, and that even though, and that aside from that, they are not revered, because they might as well be us. Oftentimes, when I see a war film, I see children mistreated in a lot of their characterization, they are shown as lazy, ignorant or indifferent of what is happening, and in a desperate need to be protected. This animated film throws that to the wind, not quite making them the “heroes of war” we constantly see, but an everyday hero, a hero that we can mostly understand, and we can empathize with, the hero we might have to be for our younger or older family members or friends if we were ever confronted with a similar situation.
What makes the animation so wonderful is the eye for detail and the use of light and dark to give the scenes a tone to match the score. For example, most of the dark colours used for the illustrations are brown instead of black, leaving black only to be used when extremely necessary, which is a bit hard to do, because brown does not blend as well as black with other colours. The music and animation need each other in this film, together they draw us deeper and deeper into the lives of the characters, and unlike jump-scares in some horror movies that require it to make it the one memorable scene, here it is added to emphasize the scenes, aiding in making them all equally memorable, from the ones we laugh at to the ones we weep with.
The imagery used to portray such a dammed story and the ability it carries to remain ingrained in us for years to come, make it one of the greatest masterpieces, not only of animated media, but of all types of film ever made.