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[ a parent's guide to anime ]

[ rated pg ] Grave of the Fireflies

A Parent's Guide to Anime
Rated: PG
Parental Guidance Advised

Review by Don Kreipke:

An emotionally devastating story that reaffirms the concept that the horrors of war impact the hardest on those who do not make the decision to wage it. Set in Japan at the end of World War 2, a teen and his 4 year old sister, having lost their family and home, attempt to survive in a society that neither cares about nor is able to sustain them. Violence, sexuality, and vulgar language are inappropriate to this sobering theme, and, as such, do not appear. "Fireflies" is paradoxically captivating but agonizing; it is virtually impossible for viewers of any age to be left unmoved.

Review by Lei Magnus:

Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka) is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Nosaka Akiyuki. The novel itself is popular in Japan and read in many schools. The story takes place near the end of World War II when the Americans were firebombing Japan, and the main focus is on how the bombings affected two children orphaned by the war.

The two main characters are Seita, a teenaged boy, and his beloved 5-year-old sister Setsuko. Their father was a sailor in the Japanese navy, and their mother gets critically wounded during one of the bombings of the port city Kobe. At the start of the movie Seita gives up all desire to live and passes on, another body in the train station. A passing janitor remarks on how desolate the corpses appear and searches Seita for any belongings. All he finds is a candy tin filled with something, though he knows not what it is. Thinking it's garbage now, the janitor hurls the tin out into a field. The lid on the tin pops off and ashes spill out onto the ground. Setsuko's spirit appears and she is soon joined by Seita's spirit. They hitch a ride on a ghost train which rolls past a wasteland littered with the remains of a recent bombing, and the movie flashes back to the history of the children.

After the children's mother dies shortly after the bombing, Seita asks his aunt for refuge. At first she feels sympathetic towards them, but eventually grows weary and condemns Seita for being slothful. Since wartime had brought about rations, food was scarce; so the aunt sold the kimonos of the deceased mother, and Setsuko then realizes that her mother is dead. Embittered by his aunt's behavior, Seita takes Setsuko and leaves the aunt's house. The two find an abandoned bomb shelter and take up residence. Eventually their parents' money runs out and the children are forced to steal food. But no matter how much they steal it is not enough, and Setsuko falls ill from malnourishment. Forced to leave her at the shelter, Seita proceeds to steal food by himself. It should be pointed out that Seita does get caught, and the man he stole from beats Seita violently. However the police scold the man and are sympathetic towards the plight of the children. But in the end, Seita is forced to return once again without enough food. The malnourishment affects Setsuko's brain, causing her to do ridiculous things; like baking mudballs in place of riceballs. Of course Setsuko dies and Seita performs crematory rites himself, spending what little money he had left on the materials for the funeral. At last the movie ends, closing on a scene where the two spirits sit on a park bench overlooking a city.

As mentioned, Grave of the Fireflies is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Nosaka Akiyuki. He and his sister were orphaned during the war and led a life much like Seita and Setsuko. Like Setsuko, Nosaka's sister died of malnutrition. For years he blamed himself, cursed himself for eating some of what he stole before giving anything to his sister. However unlike Seita, Nosaka obviously lived on.

It should be obvious that Grave of the Fireflies, although a family movie and a winner of a children's film festival, is not intended for children to watch alone. People of all ages refer to Grave of the Fireflies as one of the most depressing movies ever made. The reality of war is presented in its harshest, yet at the same time the movie takes on a more gentile presentation. Instead of hammering out anti-war messages, the movie provides insight as to what the younger victims of the war had to go through. Almost every person that has seen Grave of the Fireflies was crying at the end.

And if an amateur review is not good enough, Roger Ebert listed Grave of the Fireflies as one of the greatest films ever made. He did not distinguish between cartoons and live action, but rather insisted that animation is sometimes needed to express the real feelings intended.

Parent's Guide Rating:

Yellow (Parental Guidance Advised)

warning: This is not a movie kids should watch alone for the first time. It may be okay to let a teenager watch for the first time alone, for this is a very empathetic film, and most teenagers are too proud to be seen crying.

There is not really any depicted violence. When Seita is beaten the blows are not shown, but his face is bruised and swollen. When the mother is in the temporary clinic she is wrapped in bandages soaked thoroughly with her blood; and when her corpse is carried out flies swarm. There is no bad language in Grave of the Fireflies. If you find anything that is said in the movie objectionable then you are not paying enough attention to the movie. There is no nudity aside from a bath scene, and all that is depicted then is Seita's chest.

This really is a powerful film, but it is an excellent film as well. The only things that might be objectionable are the mother's corpse and Seita's acts of stealing; but such is the way of war, afterall.

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