Grave of the Fireflies Review: A touching and emotional story filled with heart and dread.
Getting away from the more fantasy filled worlds that Studio Ghibli is known for, Grave of the Fireflies brings its viewers into a gripping and realistic world filled with emotionally driven characters that aren’t seen in most films.
Following two young siblings, teenager Seita (Adam Gibbs) and his younger sister Setsuko (Emily Neves), Grave of the Fireflies has viewers follow their journey of survival in the last weeks of World War II in Japan. Starvation and death are constantly looming as air raids and food rations quickly make survival impossible for the two siblings. Being on their own in the devastation left by the war, Seita and Setsuko must work together to survive and reunite with their father.
I found Seita to be one of the best protagonists that Studio Ghibli has created. His love and devotion to keeping Setsuko safe and healthy is undoubtedly moving. Writer and Director Isao Takahata is really at his best with Grave of the Fireflies as he constantly makes Seita and Setsuko’s relationship feels both realistic and endearing. Watching their struggle is heart-breaking and can feel a little bit hard to watch, but these sad and dreadful moments work perfectly with the devastation and harsh conditions that surround them.
Shedding a tear feels will feel natural for those watching and the film is not afraid to tackle tough moments and delve into darker themes of survival. Seita’s growing frustration is showcased in an incredibly relatable way and I found a deep appreciation for following the journey of younger kids rather than soldiers or adults. The film uses some fantasy and magical elements that Studio Ghibli is known for as well, but keeps them grounded in order to balance with the film’s darker tones.
Takahata also made an excellent choice to tell the perspective of WWII from the Japanese side. Traditionally in American culture, WWII has been pretty much shown from every other viewpoint except the Japanese. For most Americans, it’s kind of a sore subject with what happened with Pearl Harbor and many have seen their views on the war as unimportant. But Grave of the Fireflies shows that this isn’t exactly fair as the film as many of the depiction of life in times of war and destruction feel similar.
Japanese tradition is extremely prevalent and seeing their pride in their country made certain moments feel real. Honestly, I felt the film to be a little more eye-opening than most films that tackle war and shined on a typically ignored aspect that I feel should be shown in more American cinema.
Seita and Setsuko’s journey really displays the film’s more anti-war messages and how it truly strays away from glorifying acts of war. The film’s animation fits into this perfectly as well with plenty of gruesome depictions of the bloodshed and loss that war causes and the darker colors used also elude to the dark times that the two face along the way.
Grave of the Fireflies is a film that is not only great because of the emotional experience it presents, but it is also extremely important because of the story it tells. It’s a film that everyone should watch because of its historical perspective, dark yet beautiful animation, and the heartwarming yet brutal journey of Seita and Setsuko.