I used to admonish my other half when he stayed up late and watched Japanese anime (I am still perplexed as to why it is shown that late at night – usually after 10.00 pm on SBS). It all backfired when one night, with nothing on telly, I watched my first Japanese anime and to boot, it was an offering from the famous Studio Ghibli. Ever since, I have been a fan. If you want to give anime a go, I recommend you start with GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (GOTF) (or Hotaru No Haka in Japanese) from Studio Ghibli, one of the finest anime created and one of the most touching war films ever made, anime or not. It is directed by Isao Takahata, who also wrote the screenplay.
Set in the aftermath of World War II, GOTF focuses on the lives of Setsuko and his young sister Seita and how they struggle against both the elements of wartime and a depreciating Japanese empire. The most striking thing about GOTF is probably how real everything seems and its depiction of the gravity of the era and war. I cried quite a few times during the course of the movie, and by saying this, I hope I have not put off any blokes that may be reading this – it is mushy, yes, but it deals with war, human emotions and sibling love – not the boy meets girl, stick finger down throat, stuff. And what’s wrong with that I say!!! Anyway, I’ll save that argument for another time.
To the movie – With the Japanese empire in crisis and food shortages a daily occurrence, it is heart breaking to see a brother struggle to make ends meet for his sister, who does not understand the gravity of the situation, especially when the children have had an idyllic childhood, sheltered from the war until the war finally arrives in Japan.
It is now 1945 and Japan is losing the war. Setsuko and Seita’s lives crumble when the children lose their mother in a bombing and their father, whilst he is in service with the Japanese navy. Setsuko has to ‘grow up’ overnight and look after his sister. At first, they take refuge at some relative’s place. When the true colours of the relative emerge, Setsuko leaves to fend for himself and his sister. They make do in a cave by the river. What seems like a Huckleberry type fun adventure soon shows its true form. Seita develops skin disease from malnutrition and things get from bad to worse. The kids are forever hungry, and Setsuko has to resort to theft. To find out what happens to the children, I recommend you watch GOTF. I give this movie 5 stars.
PS: Don’t let the release date put you off – the quality of the anime is phenomenal! As you can see from the pictures.
FYI: The story is based on the semi-autobiographic novel by the same name, whose author, Akiyuki Nosaka (born 1930), lost his sister due to malnutrition in 1945 wartime Japan. He blamed himself for her death and wrote the story so as to make amends to her and help him accept the tragedy.
Due to the graphic and truly emotional depiction of the negative consequences of war on society and the individuals therein, some critics have viewed Grave of the Fireflies as an anti-war film. Roger Ebert (American film critic) considers it to be one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever made. Animation historian Ernest Rister compares the film to Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and says, "It is the most profoundly human animated film I've ever seen."
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