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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 3.13%
Average: 3.13%
Pretty Bad: 1.56%
Total Crap: 4.69%

2 reviews, 52 user ratings

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Grave of the Fireflies
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Jay Seaver

"You know it won't end well - because war can't."
5 stars

Movies about soldiers, generals, and national leaders don't really get at why war is so awful. In even the most militarized societies, there's still a massive civilian population of people that try to go on living their lives in much the same way, only with a million times the stress placed on them. Most confused are children, who aren't yet equipped to understand just why the world has changed so much.

Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies (from a novel by Akiyuki Nosaka) tells the story of a brother and sister trying to survive during the American firebombing of Japan during World War II. The boy, Seita, is about twelve; his sister, Setsuko, is about five. Their father is in the Navy; they lose their mother early on. An aunt takes them in, but soon grows to resent them, and they strike out on their own.

It's clear from the very first scene that this movie will not end well. War movies often don't, but there's no doubt here; we see Seita alone and in a pitiful state before flashing back to watch the events that led him there. Indeed, the Seita we see helping his mother and sister prepare for evacuation is almost unrecognizable compared to the gaunt, dying, rag-clad young man of the opener. There's an understated determination to this Seita, although I'd stop short of calling it bravery. He's too naive to truly understand what he's facing early on, and his later courage is a kind of foolish bravery.

It's a foolish bravery because Takahata doesn't idealize his protagonist. Certainly, Setusko is a cute little moppet, but she's five and unable to truly understand the war beyond that her parents have gone away for a while and she can't get more candy. Seita attempts to shield her, and there's a certain nobility in his attempts to allow Setsuko to keep thinking of the world as a good and amazing place despite what's going on around them. Less noble is his attempt to stay a child himself. The children's aunt is kind of nasty, but she's got a point when she points out that Seita isn't helping out much. His purchase of a rice-cooker so that he and Setsuko don't have to share their food is an act of defiance, and his decision to leave their foster home is ill-considered to say the least. As good and self-sufficient as he may be, he's not ready to shoulder the responsibility for someone else.

I have, up until this point, been somewhat careful to avoid mentioning that Grave of the Fireflies is animated. In the United States, animation is often treated more as a genre than a medium, and the idea that a movie can be both animated and a serious drama is greeted with a bit of skepticism. Why not simply do it as live action, one may ask. That Takahata is an animator should be the only explanation necessary.

This film does show him to be one of the masters of the medium. The character designs are flawless, from the rounded Setsuko to the gangly (but serious) Setia. The depictions of war's horrors balances is never graphic enough to come across as exploitative, but never understated, either. He knows when detail adds power and when it is distracting. He steadfastly resists the temptation to cram more onto the screen when stillness is more effective.

Grave of the Fireflies is a quiet movie about the collision between how a child looks at the world and an environment which makes no allowances for a child's innocence. Among those who have seen it, it is often described as one of the best films about war every made, and deservedly so.

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originally posted: 03/12/05 05:04:12
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User Comments

3/04/20 Christy Cahill So heartbreaking, not a dry eye to be found 5 stars
7/14/15 The anti-troll Ignore the 1-star ratings... they're either trolls or blind idiots. 5 stars
4/13/15 jokerass lol 1 stars
9/23/14 DMF The best war movie, heck one of the best movies, ever made. 5 stars
7/17/14 Calvin One of the best movies I've ever seen 5 stars
4/16/13 A Cynical Contrarian The real tragedy is that Seita didn't go back to his aunt to save his sister. 3 stars
1/13/11 The Rusty Gh0st Very good film one of the best. 5 stars
8/26/10 karthik arumugam no grandiosity but true simplicity tat rips human emotions apart 5 stars
7/24/09 Weaselman heart wrenching, soul searing must see 5 stars
7/15/09 Satan Nigroid Really terrible. You must be a woman or a wapanese if this makes you cry. 1 stars
6/25/09 Somebody Simply heartbreaking. One of the best movies about war I've ever seen. 5 stars
4/17/09 Kelsey This was the most heart breaking movie I have ever seen. 5 stars
2/18/09 Flounder So sad and poignant, it hurts 5 stars
11/24/08 Humble You will never know how an anime can move you this much, MASTERPIECE 5 stars
9/22/08 don Crap 1 stars
7/06/08 Tsheten Sherpa One of the saddest movie ever....for me,this is the best movie i have ever seen 5 stars
5/21/08 Danial MorningStar Just thinking of it brings tears to my eyes(can't stop).... 5 stars
3/10/08 Anm Absolutely amazing. Deserves far more credit than it gets. 5 stars
2/09/08 Vercious It's a great film but make sure to stay away from the english dub track. Blech! 5 stars
12/23/07 jackie niebisch not only best anime ive seen, also one of the best movies 5 stars
6/25/07 Tbone A Masterpiece 5 stars
6/07/07 Random unflinching revelation of war-ravaged youth; a high point of the hand-drawn medium 5 stars
4/25/07 InAnigma Ive seen it a couple a day's ago.. And I'm still trying to hold down the tears 5 stars
2/12/07 William Goss A testament to the heartbreaking power of hand-drawn animation. 5 stars
10/21/06 Mizuho Saddest anime ever! 5 stars
10/10/06 Badge Masterpiece 5 stars
6/01/06 Alex Kalderimis Harrowing but profoundly rewarding. 5 stars
1/14/06 brian Somewhat overhyped. Characters are clumsy at times. The sadness is real, but affected. 4 stars
1/04/06 DMF Possibly the best movie I've ever seen. 5 stars
7/10/05 Bulahaw greatest war film ever!! 5 stars
4/09/05 craig varney take it or leave it type movie 3 stars
3/13/05 Charlene Javier Best. War. Film. Ever. 5 stars
1/18/05 t-1000 as good as spirited away 5 stars
1/13/05 SAKURAZUKAMORI Great plot, animation, not a single fault in the entire film. 5 stars
12/18/04 T.N This belongs to any list of fine war films. 5 stars
10/15/04 M. C. amazing, beautiful and haunting 5 stars
10/09/04 Phil Smith GYOTFF is both powerful and moving, but it is also a very depressing film. 5 stars
8/13/04 Mark D Fulwiler A masterpiece- one of the greatest anti-war films 5 stars
7/13/04 stephanie innocently spectacular! life's splendid yet so fragile! 5 stars
7/01/04 DM The only thing harder than watching this movie is to start watching and then stop 5 stars
3/11/04 Demarkation A truly poignant experience without resorting to cheap sentimentality 5 stars
2/24/04 Barbara Incredible, so beautiful but so sad. War sucks. 5 stars
1/05/04 Azh This movie was a spectacular war-film...the first of its kind! 5 stars
12/12/03 Seita's lover seita is a hottie and setsuko can eat my rice balls 2 stars
12/12/03 Michele C. Marcantoni This film moved me in ways I couldn't have ever imagined... amazing, spectacular 5 stars
12/09/03 Flounder This so-called cartoon transcends the barrier between real and animated film. 5 stars
9/05/03 Larry one and only - monumental beauty 5 stars
9/04/03 initial_d A heart-wrenching masterpiece, TRULY a must see 5 stars
8/11/03 Zefram Mann A hard, but increadibly enriching movie to watch. 5 stars
3/25/03 DMF Certainly the most moving. 5 stars
3/23/03 master.node Anime Schanime! This may be the best FILM ever made! 5 stars
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  16-Apr-1988 (PG)



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