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Grave of the Fireflies

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Kurt Hansen
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Grave of the Fireflies

I watched “Grave of the Fireflies” on Netflix. I had seen it a number of years ago and had forgotten about it. My daughter and I watched it together and she had never seen it before. It was interesting to get her opinion of the vie as well. The story is about a brother and sister whose parents are killed in world war 2. Mom in a firebombing of Kobe and dad as the Captain of a naval vessel. The children are left alone without parents and move to an aunt's house where they are looked upon as freeloaders. They leave where they are not wanted and move into a cave next to a river. They run out of money. The area they live runs out of food and the two are left to starve. Sister first and brother later. The book and movie is based upon a true story. 

The movie is done in Studio Ghibli style and works on many levels. The animation is beautifully drawn and the backgrounds are vivid and realistic, even down to the firebombs exploding and setting fire to their town. It's all done in a traditional japanese style of drawing. The children have large anime eyes but it is not disruptive to the story. Actually, I believe it takes us deeper into the pain and suffering of the children as their story unfolds. We are able to see the joy of buying rice at the store as well as the profound sadness as Setsuko makes rice balls from the mud of the cave floor. We also see Seita’s guilt get deeper as his sister slips further and further into starvation. The film plays upon our emotions as we hope against what we know will happen. The first scene is Saita dead on a subway floor. From the beginning we know what will happen, so each step further into the film ties us in inevitable knots. 

The film is a powerful anti-war statement, showing us, not only the destruction of property, but the cost in human lives, all to often forgotten. We often see films where hard work and struggle pays off with a happy ending. Not so with “Grave of the Fireflies”. We see the truth that some obstacles cannot be overcome and the destruction of war affects everyone involved, through despair, destruction, guilt, poverty and death.