Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies (Japanese: 火垂るの墓, Hepburn: Hotaru no Haka) is a 1988 Japanese animated war tragedy film based on the 1967 semi-autobiographical short story of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka. It was written and directed by Isao Takahata, and animated by Studio Ghibli for the story's publisher Shinchosha Publishing (making it the only Studio Ghibli film under Tokuma Shoten ownership that had no involvement from them). The film stars Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara and Akemi Yamaguchi. Set in the city of Kobe, Japan, the film tells the story of two siblings, Seita and Setsuko, and their desperate struggle to survive during the final months of the Second World War. Grave of the Fireflies received critical acclaim and has been ranked as one of the greatest war films of all time and has been recognized as a major work of Japanese animation.
|Grave of the Fireflies|
|Hepburn||Hotaru no Haka|
|Directed by||Isao Takahata|
|Screenplay by||Isao Takahata|
|Based on||"Grave of the Fireflies"|
by Akiyuki Nosaka
|Produced by||Toru Hara|
|Edited by||Takeshi Seyama|
|Music by||Michio Mamiya|
On 21 September 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, a teenage boy, Seita, dies of starvation in a Sannomiya train station. A janitor sorts through his possessions and finds a candy tin, which he throws into a field. The burnt remains of several small bones spill out, and the spirit of Seita's younger sister, Setsuko, springs from the tin and is joined by Seita's spirit and a cloud of fireflies. They board a train.
Months earlier, Seita and Setsuko's house is destroyed in a firebombing along with most of Kobe. They escape unharmed, but their mother dies from severe burns. Seita and Setsuko move in with a distant aunt, and Seita retrieves supplies he buried before the bombing and gives everything to his aunt, save for a tin of Sakuma drops. The aunt convinces Seita to sell his mother's silk kimono for rice as rations shrink and the number of refugees in the house grows. Seita uses some of his mother's money in the bank to buy supplies, but eventually, the aunt becomes resentful of the children, saying they do nothing to earn the food she prepares.
Seita and Setsuko decide to leave the aunt's home after she insults them one time too many, and they move into an abandoned bomb shelter. They release fireflies into the shelter for light. The next day, Setsuko is horrified to find that the insects have died. She buries them in a grave, asking why they and her mother had to die. As they run out of rice, Seita steals from farmers and loots homes during air raids, for which he is beaten. When Setsuko falls ill, Seita takes her to a doctor, who explains that she is suffering from malnutrition.
Desperate, Seita withdraws the last of the money in their mother's bank account. As he leaves the bank, he becomes distraught when he learns that Japan has surrendered. He also learns that his father, a captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy, is most likely dead, as most of Japan's navy has been sunk.
Seita returns to the shelter with food, but finds Setsuko hallucinating. Seita hurries to feed her, but she dies as he finishes preparing the food. Seita cremates Setsuko's body and her stuffed doll in a straw casket. He carries her ashes in the candy tin along with his father's photograph.
Seita and Setsuko's deceased spirits arrive at their destination, healthy and happy. Surrounded by fireflies, they rest on a hilltop bench overlooking present-day Kobe.
|Character name||Japanese voice actor||English dubbing actor
(Skypilot Entertainment/CPM, 1998)
|English dubbing actor|
|Seita Yokokawa (横川 清太)||Tsutomu Tatsumi||J. Robert Spencer||Adam Gibbs|
|Setsuko Yokokawa (横川 節子)||Ayano Shiraishi||Corinne Orr||Emily Neves|
|Mrs. Yokokawa (横川 さん)||Yoshiko Shinohara||Veronica Taylor||Shelley Calene-Black|
|Kiyoshi Yokokawa (横川 清)|
|Seita and Setsuko's aunt (親戚の叔母さん, Shinseki no obasan)||Akemi Yamaguchi||Amy Jones||Marcy Bannor|
|Seita and Setsuko's cousin||Shannon Conley|
|Old man||Crispin Freeman|
|Train Station Worker||Andrew Love|
Grave of the Fireflies author Akiyuki Nosaka said that many offers had been made to make a live-action film adaptation of his short story. Nosaka argued that "it was impossible to create the barren, scorched earth that's to be the backdrop of the story." He also argued that contemporary children would not be able to convincingly play the characters. Nosaka expressed surprise when an animated version was offered. After seeing the storyboards, Nosaka concluded that it was not possible for such a story to have been made in any method other than animation and expressed surprise in how accurately the rice paddies and townscape were depicted.
Isao Takahata said that he was compelled to film the short story after seeing how the main character, Seita, "was a unique wartime ninth grader." Takahata explained that any wartime story, whether animated or not animated, "tends to be moving and tear-jerking," and that young people develop an "inferiority complex" where they perceive people in wartime eras as being more noble and more able than they are, and therefore the audience believes that the story has nothing to do with them. Takahata argued that he wanted to dispel this mindset. When Nosaka asked if the film characters were "having fun," Takahata answered that he clearly depicted Seita and Setsuko had "substantial" days and that they were "enjoying their days." Takahata said that Setsuko was even more difficult to animate than Seita, and that he had never before depicted a girl younger than five. Takahata said that "In that respect, when you make the book into a movie, Setsuko becomes a tangible person," and that four-year-olds often become more assertive and self-centered, and try to get their own ways during that age. He explained that while one could "have a scene where Seita can't stand that anymore," it is "difficult to incorporate into a story." Takahata explained that the film is from Seita's point of view, "and even objective passages are filtered through his feelings".
Takahata said that he had considered using non-traditional animation methods, but because "the schedule was planned and the movie's release date set, and the staff assembled, it was apparent there was no room for such a trial-and-error approach." He further remarked that he had difficulty animating the scenery since, in Japanese animation, one is "not allowed" to depict Japan in a realistic manner. Animators often traveled to foreign countries to do research on how to depict them, but such research had not been done before for a Japanese setting.
Most of the illustration outlines in the film are in brown, instead of the customary black. Black outlines were only used when it was absolutely necessary. Color coordinator Michiyo Yasuda said this was done to give the film a softer feel. Yasuda said that this technique had never been used in an anime before Grave of the Fireflies, "and it was done on a challenge." Yasuda explained that brown is more difficult to use than black because it does not contrast as well as black.
Themes and analysisEdit
Some critics in the West have viewed Grave of the Fireflies as an anti-war film due to the graphic and emotional depiction of the pernicious repercussions of war on a society, and the individuals therein. The film focuses its attention almost entirely on the personal tragedies that war gives rise to, rather than seeking to glamorize it as a heroic struggle between competing nations. It emphasizes that war is society's failure to perform its most important duty: to protect its own people.
However, director Takahata repeatedly denied that the film was an anti-war film. In his own words, it "is not at all an anti-war anime and contains absolutely no such message." Instead, Takahata had intended to convey an image of the brother and sister living a failed life due to isolation from society and invoke sympathy particularly in people in their teens and twenties.
Since the film gives little context to the war, Takahata feared a politician could just as easily claim fighting is needed to avoid such tragedies. In general, he was skeptical that depictions of suffering in similar works, such as Barefoot Gen, actually prevent aggression. The director was nevertheless an anti-war advocate, a staunch supporter of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, and has openly criticized Japan's penchant for conformity, allowing them to be rallied against other nations. He expressed despair and anxiety whenever the youth are told to fall in line, a reminder that the country at its core has not changed.
The film was released on 16 April 1988, over 20 years from the publication of the short story.
The initial Japanese theatrical release was accompanied by Hayao Miyazaki's lighthearted My Neighbor Totoro as a double feature. While the two films were marketed toward children and their parents, the starkly tragic nature of Grave of the Fireflies turned away many audiences. However, Totoro merchandise, particularly the stuffed animals of Totoro and Catbus, sold extremely well after the film and made overall profits for the company to the extent that it stabilized subsequent productions of Studio Ghibli.
Grave of the Fireflies is the only theatrical Studio Ghibli feature film prior to From Up on Poppy Hill to which Disney never had North American distribution rights, since it was not produced by Ghibli for parent company Tokuma Shoten but for Shinchosha, the publisher of the original short story (although Disney has the Japanese home video distribution rights themselves, thus replacing the film's original Japanese home video distributor, Bandai Visual). It was one of the last Studio Ghibli films to get an English-language premiere by GKIDS.
Grave of the Fireflies was released in Japan on VHS by Buena Vista Home Entertainment under the Ghibli ga Ippai Collection on 7 August 1998. On 29 July 2005, a DVD release was distributed through Warner Home Video. Walt Disney Studios Japan released the complete collector's edition DVD on 6 August 2008. WDSJ released the film on Blu-ray twice on 18 July 2012: one as a single release, and one in a two-film set with My Neighbor Totoro (even though Disney never currently owns the North American but Japanese rights as mentioned).
It was released on VHS in North America by Central Park Media in a subtitled form on 2 June 1993. They later released the film with an English dub on VHS on 1 September 1998 (the day Disney released Kiki's Delivery Service) and an all-Regions DVD (which also included the original Japanese with English subtitles) on 7 October 1998. It was later released on a two-disc DVD set (which once again included both the English dub and the original Japanese with English subtitles as well as the film's storyboards with the second disc containing a retrospective on the author of the original book, an interview with the director, and an interview with critic Roger Ebert, who felt the film was one of the greatest of all time.) on 8 October 2002. It was released by Central Park Media one last time on 7 December 2004. Following the May 2009 bankruptcy and liquidation of Central Park Media, ADV Films acquired the rights and re-released it on DVD on 7 July 2009. Following the 1 September 2009 shutdown and re-branding of ADV, their successor, Sentai Filmworks, rescued the film and released a remastered DVD on 6 March 2012, and plans on releasing the film on digital outlets. A Blu-ray edition was released on 20 November 2012, featuring an all-new English dub produced by Seraphim Digital.
The film was modestly successful at the Japanese box office, where it grossed ¥1.7 billion. As part of the Studio Ghibli Fest 2018, the film had a limited theatrical release in the United States, grossing $516,962.
The Ghibli ga Ippai Collection home video release of Grave of the Fireflies sold 400,000 copies in Japan. At a price of at least ¥4,935, this is equivalent to at least ¥1.974 billion in sales revenue.
The film received universal critical acclaim. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times considered it to be one of the best and most powerful war films and, in 2000, included it on his list of great films. The film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 100% approval rating based on 40 reviews with an average rating of 9.30/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "An achingly sad anti-war film, Grave of the Fireflies is one of Studio Ghibli's most profoundly beautiful, haunting works".
The film ranked number 12 on Total Film's 50 greatest animated films. It was also ranked at number 10 in Time Out's "The 50 greatest World War II movies" list. Empire magazine ranked the film at number 6 in its list of "The Top 10 Depressing Movies". The film ranked number 19 on Wizard's Anime Magazine on their "Top 50 Anime released in North America". The Daily Star, ranking the film 4th on its list of greatest short story adaptations, wrote that "There is both much and little to say about the film. It is simply an experience—a trip through the lonely boroughs of humanity that the world collectively looked, and still looks, away from". Theron Martin of Anime News Network said that, in terms of the original U.S. Manga Corps dub, while the other voices were "perfectly acceptable," "Setsuko just doesn't sound quite convincing as a four-year-old in English. That, unfortunately, is a big negative, since a good chunk of the pathos the movie delivers is at least partly dependent on that performance."
On 25 December 2016, Toei Company made a Twitter post that read "Why did Kiriya have to die so soon?" (なんできりやすぐ死んでしまうん, Nande Kiriya sugu shinde shimaun?) in order to promote an episode of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid. The hashtag became popular but Toei deleted the tweet after receiving complaints that referencing the Grave of the Fireflies line "Why do fireflies die so soon?" (なんで蛍すぐ死んでしまうん, Nande hotaru sugu shinde shimaun) was in poor taste. Before that, the ranking website Goo's readers voted the film's ending the number 1 most miserable of all anime films.
After the international release, it has been noted that different audiences have interpreted the film differently due to differences in culture. For instance, when the film was watched by a Japanese audience, Seita's decision to not come back to his aunt was seen as an understandable decision, as they were able to understand how Seita had been raised to value pride in himself and his country. But, American and Australian audiences were more likely to perceive the decision as unwise, due to the cultural differences in order to try to save his sister and himself.
|1989||Blue Ribbon Awards||Special Award||Isao Takahata||Won|
|1994||Chicago International Children's Film Festival||Animation Jury Award||Won|
|Rights of the Child Award||Won|
Following the success of Grave of the Fireflies, Takahata drew up an outline for a follow-up film, based on similar themes but set in 1939 at the start of the second World War. This film was called Border 1939, based on the novel The Border by Shin Shikata, and would have told the story of a Japanese teenager from colonial Seoul joining an anti-Japanese resistance group in Mongolia. The film was intended as an indictment of Japanese imperialist sentiment, which is briefly touched upon in Grave of the Fireflies. Although Takahata finished a full outline (which is republished in his book Thoughts While Making Movies), the film was canceled before production could start due to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Public opinion in Japan had turned against China, and Ghibli's distributor felt a film partly set there was too risky.
2005 live-action versionEdit
NTV in Japan produced a live-action TV drama of Grave of the Fireflies, in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. The drama aired on 1 November 2005. Like the anime, the live-action version of Grave of the Fireflies focuses on two siblings struggling to survive the final months of the war in Kobe, Japan. Unlike the animated version, it tells the story from the point of view of their cousin (the aunt's daughter) and deals with the issue of how the war-time environment could change a kind lady into a hard-hearted woman. It stars Nanako Matsushima as the aunt, as well as Mao Inoue as their cousin.
2008 live-action versionEdit
A different live-action version was released in Japan on 5 July 2008. The film stars Reo Yoshitake as Seita, Rina Hatakeyama as Setsuko, Keiko Matsuzaka as the aunt, and Seiko Matsuda as the children's mother.
- Air raids against Japan during World War II
- Evacuations of civilians in Japan during World War II
- Japanese cruiser Maya – According to the movie, the children's father was a captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) who served aboard the Maya, a Takao-class heavy cruiser which participated in a number of naval engagements during the Second World War. On 23 October 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Maya was torpedoed by an American submarine and sank with the loss of 479 men, including the ship's captain. The ship's name is derived from Mount Maya, a mountain located near the city of Kobe, which is where the movie takes place.
- Sakuma drops (known as fruit drops in the movie) are the fruit-flavoured hard candy eaten by the protagonists in the movie. They are made by the Sakuma Candy Co. and are sold in 4-by-3.5 inch tin cans with a tin pull cap. Although not as popular as in the past, Sakuma drops are still sold in Japan today and their tins have become a popular collector's item. Several commemorative tins resembling the one depicted in the film and featuring an image of Setsuko have been released over the years.
- Barefoot Gen, a manga series set in the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
- Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, a video game with similarities to the film.
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