Grave of the Fireflies: Collector's Edition (1988)
Review by Dindrane

Written & Directed by Isao Takahata, based on the novel by Akiyuki Nosaka
Directed by Isao Takahata
Voices by Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara
Original music by Yoshio Mamiya
Art Direction by Nizou Yamamoto


Dindrane's Anime Warnings:

Rating: NR

Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Buy it today.

Grave of the Fireflies won first prize as Best Animated Feature at the 1994 Chicago International Children's Film Festival, and it's easy to see why once you've viewed it. It's one of the most difficult and heartbreaking films you may ever have to watch, but it's all the more valuable and necessary because of that.

The film opens with the scene of young Seita, dying as he leans against a pillar in a bus terminal, just a few weeks before the Americans land in Japan after WWII. When a janitor finds Seita's body, he also finds an empty can of fruit candy clutched by the boy and tosses that can into a trash heap, where fireflies, who live such a short time, fly up and light the sky. At this, the credits roll, and we are taken back in time to see the final weeks of Seita's life and the life of his sister, Setsuko, the original owner of that can of fruit drops. In the midst of betrayal, starvation, and constant struggle, Seita constantly keeps his sister's happiness and well-being in mind--a monumental task given what he has to face.

The art is beautiful, painterly, and haunting. Done in a very simple yet realistic style, the scenes are rendered all the more effective because of the perceived innocence of the visuals. The colors are clear and distinct, and the video quality is absolutely wonderful, even though most of the film is painted in muddy colors and subdued greys. Even the scenes showing the physical effects of Setsuko's malnutrition are well-drawn and highly effective.

The audio is clear as a bell, perfect for the many hushed moments and subtle intonations found in this film. Given that most of the film is quiet dialogue, it's important for the sound to be good, and this digital transfer came out very well.

The disc is simply loaded with many wonderful features, especially the interviews with the director and author. They make an already excellent film into something deeper. Access to the script is also a very nice touch, especially with the art galleries. American viewers will particularly appreciate the additional historical information provided by the professors, who truly give a wonderful insight into this complex and important age. Animation buffs and artists will love the chance to see the storyboards, which are a great way to understand and learn more about the process of creating a work as complex as this one. Truly, this fine film was given plenty of secondary materials out of respect for the movie, and this is only as it should be.

This movie may not be easy to watch, but it's that very quality that makes it what should be required viewing for anyone in any kind of position of power in any country in the world. I can't help thinking that seeing this film would make everyone a little slower to declare or perpetuate wars. This movie will affect you, make you sad, and almost certainly cause you to question the real use and value of war, even when "called for." And that's exactly what it's supposed to do--just having it on your shelf will probably make you a better, deeper person, but please summon the courage to actually watch it, at least once. Just as the title suggests, Grave of the Fireflies is a true kind of tombstone or monument for these brief, luminous lives. May they and their kind rest in peace and never be forgotten.

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