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Reviews: Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

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Grave of the Fireflies, a 1988 Japanese animated full-length film, written and directed by Isao Takahata, is considered by critics as the best anti-war film and one of Studio Ghibli’s most profoundly beautiful and haunting works.

In Sannomiya Station toward the end of World War II in Japan, a young boy, Seita, in ragged moth-eaten clothes dies of starvation. Unruffled, unmoved and untroubled, his body and spirit passes away amidst the restlessness of the train station. A janitor, seeing his death as trivial, comes and forages through his possessions and finds a candy tin can containing ashes and bones. Seeing this as useless, he throws it out into the open grass, allowing the spirit of Seita to be rekindled with the spirit of his younger sister, Setsuko, where Seita starts to narrate their story.

Grave of the Fireflies is a deeply humanized animated tale of the relationship between two orphaned children Seita and Setsuko during war-time Japan, where they struggled to live a happy and ordinary life like young vagabonds in the presence of great tragedy and fear. First living with their ungenerous relatives starving and calling them ungrateful little brats, they bravely decide to try to survive on their own. Seita and Setsuko, with only a candy tin can and a half-empty jar of white rice that was traded for theirdead mother’s old kimonos, take refuge in an abandoned shelter near the river. Seita and Setsuko, childish and lighthearted, continue to live a rustic way of life as they try to realize that each day would be more and more difficult, with no rice to eat and only fireflies as their candlelight.

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Though the movie is depressingly hard to watch, this animated feature powerfully enunciates real human conditions and evokes the experiences of childhood grief of two cast-off children burdened with adult responsibilities, living crisis within a crisis in a forlorn system (every man or child for himself) where they soon become casualties of war.

Grave of the Fireflies, is one of the most painfully excruciating movies one is ever likely to see, animated or otherwise. 

By Isabella Malonzo

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