Sunday, December 21, 2008

Grave of the Fireflies

Hotaru no haka; animated war drama, Japan, 1988; D: Isao Takahata, S: Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara

"In September '45, I died". The ghost of Seita tells about his death at the age of 14 due to starvation. His little sister Setsuko died a few days earlier and their ghosts tell the story of their lives: during World War II, Japan is in chaos, their mother died during the bombing of Kobe while their father fights on the Pacific. Seito and Setsuko leave their aunt and find a place to stay in an abandoned bunker. Since they are running out of food, Seita starts stealing clothes and vegetables, but in the end the tragic outcome is inevitable.

Isao Takahata made his education in a department of the big animation company "Toei Doga" and together with his mentor Miyazaki started to make anime shows, like "Heidi", until they formed the now famous studio Ghibli. There he made a few excellent films, like "Only Yesterday", and this devastating, slow burning anti-war anime movie, "Grave of the Fireflies", a very touching and personal dedication to the victims of World War II - the story is even more painful due to the fact that it tells that theme from the perspective of the most fragile ones, two children, Seita and Setsuko, who represent the Japan that hopelessly, but optimistically fights for survival during that period when the hate of their nationalist-irredentist politicians got them into such a mess that they had to start from year zero. The two protagonists are described gently, in a quiet and somber way, Setsuko in the scene where she salutes with a too big helmet on her head, Seita when he experiences a personal collapse and starts to cry. Due to the emotional attachment one can forgive the slightly overlong and exhausted running time towards the end, since it's a big shift from Disney's tradition, and even from the general Japanese action animation, especially since its touching setting will stay in the viewers' head for a very long time.


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