Grave Of The Fireflies
Directed By Isao Takahata
Grave Of The Fireflies is without doubt the bleakest film on this list, it’s from the makers of the acclaimed Spirited Away, Studio Ghibli, but if you think this is a beautiful heartwarming film full of sprites and wonderfully absurd creatures, you’re wrong.
The film is the tale of Seita and Setsuko, a brother and Sister duting the last few months of WWII, when Japan is being destroyed by US attacks. After their mother is killed in an air raid, the two children stay with their aunt, unhappy with their ungratefulness, they are forced to leave and live elsewhere, but with no way to contact other relatives and nowhere else to go, they take lodge in an abandoned bomb shelter. However, after a while with no money and little food, things quickly escalate out of plan and they both slowly die of malnourishment.
The film is so effective because it’s so sad and real. The bright colours of Totoro (a film that this was played with as a double feature because it was too bleak) are replaced with washed out faded murky greys and bleak oranges. Dark crimsons and them taking a “Train of passing” are constantly there to remind you of the characters overall fate and it’s both beautiful and heartbreaking.
Like other Studio Ghibli films, it’s done through the childs point of view and here it’s more effective and more terrifying than ever, looking out at the horror of war, loss and destruction, things a child should never have to witness, which really helps you relate to the characters, when Seita and Setsuko are happy, you feel their joy, but when they’re left alone and tragedy strikes, you cry along or put a hand on your mouth in shock and disbeliefe. The latter will unfortunately happen a lot.
But all these things are what makes Grave Of The Fireflies a masterpiece, it’s both touching and mesmerizing. Miyazaki can make stories of child like wonder and enchantment, but nothing he makes will ever match Takahata-san’s piece of art. I can confidentally say that Grave Of The Fireflies is the most under-rated and under-appreciated Studio Ghibli film and is also their best. It’s everything incredible about Japanese storytelling with heartbreaking moments and a beautiful woodwind based soundtrack, if you don’t cry at the end, you aren’t human. the film has rightfully been compared to anit-war films such as Schindler’s list and I do completely agree that it deserves a place in your DVD collection and your heart.