In 1988, the iconic animation company, Studio Ghibli, released their third anime film, Grave of the Fireflies, a tragic story about the innocents in Japan during World War II.
14-year-old boy, Seita, is forced to be independent and ensure the survival of not only himself but his little sister, Setsuko. Through our characters, we view the rare lens of devastation of war through the civilians of Militarist Japan who have become stricken with displacement, starvation and disease.
Grave of the Fireflies was directed by Studio Ghibli’s co-founder, Isao Takahata. With Studio Ghibli’s iconic art style paired with Michio Mamiya’s heartfelt compositions, this film is definitely an emotional masterpiece worth watching! (get your tissue ready though)
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
The Terrors of War
The film shows our two main characters in the 1940s as the second World War devastated Japan, most notably when US fire bomb raids turned many of the country’s civilisations into ruin.
As bombs rained from the sky, Seita and Setsuko loses their home and their family. Oh, but their hardships don’t just stop there… Even after escaping from the bombing, the two children are thrust into an scary aftermath where they lack the basic necessities of food and proper shelter.
Simple Joys in Trying Times
As the title of the film tells us, fireflies play a role in the story.
Being out on their own the first time, Seita and Setsuko find a swarm of fireflies in their new shelter. Despite their situation, the two children find joy in watching their bright lights fly around them.
With new beginnings, fireflies represent hope. Although, they are short-lived. The next morning, Seita finds Setsuko making a grave for all the fireflies, despite being alive and well the night before. Just like the fireflies, Seita and Setsuko’s light will soon run out.
Tragedy of Innocence
A child needing to go through war is a crime. Setsuko, being a 4-year-old girl, enjoys playing and having fun. However, she is trapped in the midst of a very angry war.
After their home is bombed, Seita finds their mother severely burned and scarred. Not long after, their mother passes away. Despite this fact, Seita continues to keep Setsuko in the dark. Now on their own, Seita tries his best to keep Setsuko happy.
Whether it be for the better or worse, Setsuko is blissfully unaware of true horrors that are happening around her.
In Seita’s case-
Seita, being a young teenager, also falls victim to his innocence.
Losing their home and mother, Seita and Setsuko find refuge in their aunt’s house. Unfortunately, as their aunt grows more spiteful towards them, Seita becomes fed up. He packs his things and moves out with Setsuko. Seita was determined to find a better home for themselves, not knowing that surviving wasn’t as easy as it seemed.
The “Glorification” of War
“Death before dishonour” is a strict warrior code that originated from Japanese Samurai, as one would rather accept death before dishonouring themselves.
In Grave of the Fireflies, Seita glorifies the war. As his father is a soldier, he looks up to Japanese soldiers and follows the code of “Death before dishonour”.
After leaving their aunt’s house, Seita finds it increasingly difficult to take care of Setsuko. As they lack good shelter and a stable source of food, they start to grow weaker with each passing day.
Despite that, running back to their aunt would mean admitting defeat. You could even call it ‘dishonour’. And, as the warrior that Seita dreams to be, he would rather stubbornly live out on their own than return to his aunt’s. Never going back on his pride, starvation takes Seita’s life not long after Setsuko’s death.
Perhaps if Seita had never left their aunt’s house, they would have lived healthier lives. However, as young as he is and with no guidance, how would Seita have known the harsh reality of life?
As the few people in power enact their fight for power, the lives of millions of innocent people suffer as a result. This was especially clear in Grave of the Fireflies, as the two children are forced into an unfair fate.