Studio Ghibli Presents: Grave of the Fireflies
Warning! Following review and included insights contain spoilers
Laughs are cheaper than dirt, but when you find something that can make you cry, you’ll know that it’s excellent.
Studio Ghibli’s “The Grave of the Fireflies” was not the first film the studio produced, but it was listed first in the Great Collection for good reason. Originally released in 1988 as the studio was gaining credibility and popularity thanks to the work and direction of Hiyao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, Grave of the Fireflies was based on a historical fiction novel by Akiyuki Nosaka.
In the movie, we follow the two brief lives of children living through World War II. Although the misfortune and the fictional recollection that occurs due to the horrible conditions of war, this film was not meant to be seen as an anti-war film. Nosaka wrote his 1967 novel, also titled “Grave of the Fireflies” as a way to make peace with the tragedy that befell his own sister. Shinchosa publishing studios not only brought Nosaka’s novel to all of Japan (to huge critical success), they also brought Grave of the Fireflies to Studio Ghibli, where it became a feature film.
We first see Seita, the elder brother of this story, in a subway station as he falls into death’s embrace after what seems a short contemplation. A red light shines down the subway tunnel, and Seita’s spirit rejoins his sister, Setsuko’s outside the station.
These red spirits follow their past lives through a span of war and financial depression, beginning with the bombings that split their family apart in the first place. After the grizzly death of their mother, the young duo moves in with some extended relatives for some time. This is where the tragedy of the story happens. Seita tires of his aunt’s brash semantics, letting pride get the better of him. He withdraws some of his dead mother’s savings and moves out of the relative’s house into an earthen shelter cut from a nearby hill, bringing toddling Setsuko with him.
Seita is counseled to put his pride aside and apologize, so that he can return to his extended family and the local community. Instead, both Seita’s and Satsuko’s health declines horribly as malnutrition and isolation drive them closer and closer to death.
Theme of the Fireflies
Fireflies are seen floating all throughout the fields and hills in this touching picture. After moving into a hillside shelter, the duo captures a small handful of fireflies and releases them in the pitch blackness of their abode. Where there was no light, a single firefly allows both brother and sister to see each other’s faces. They bring an entire potful in to the niche each evening to see by, and in the morning the fireflies will all have died.
It’s artistically spoken, that a single life can light up the world as much as a single firefly can light the darkest night. A community of people is as bright to the soul as noonday is to the eyes. A single life is over as quickly as the light of a firefly fades away, and as Satsuko buries the first mound of firefly bodies into the dirt, Seita flashes back to the day his mother’s charred body was thrown into a communal burial pile.
It is my opinion, that the red souls of Seita and Satsuko are portrayed in red, not because of anger, revenge, or pain; they are red because they live. The film deals with horribly grotesque images of war on occasion without dwelling on the terror, and the true message is to let pride go by the wayside. Without pride, we wouldn’t need to fight a war or argue..
Without pride, we can protect what governments and money cannot.
“I’ll stay by your side forever and ever”
8 Notes/ Hide
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- hookersorcake said: I haven’t seen this one yet. I was never in the mood for it because it looked pretty sad. Thanks for the in depth review.
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