Reviews of Grave of the Fireflies (1988) and related work

Grave of the Fireflies (1988Moving picture, 89 minutes)

Takahata Isao (writer-director).

West Japan. Two children suffer from Allied bombing, meagre rations, and a bad-tempered aunt around the end of WW2. It feels best to be free of the aunt and look after oneself until dad gets back from the front, proudly having served his glorious country. The audience knows how it ends from the very beginning, leaving room for a chain of joyous fireflies.

Wartime tragedy. The most effective tragedy I know of. I break down in tears every time I watch it. Only one scene, the strafing, is over the top. Some historical background in case the plot seems incredible: 10% of the surviving population was rendered homeless by Allied bombing, and the rice yield of 1944 was the worst the country had seen for 50 years. Curtis LeMay, the American who invented low-altitude incendiary bombing, said in an interview for The World at War (1973): “I suppose if I had lost, I would have been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, we were on the winning side.” More people died in a single night’s bombing of Tokyo than in all of England during Germany’s most intense air raids from late 1940 to May 1941. Over a million Japanese civilians died before Hiroshima. This takes nothing away from the suffering caused elsewhere by Japanese aggression.

References here: “Don’t mention the war!”, Ghibli movie titles, Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947), Chie the Brat (1981), Kayoko’s Diary (1991), Rail of the Star: A True Story of Children (1993), Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation (2001/2005), In This Corner of the World (2016).

moving picture Ghibli Japanese production animation fiction

Grave of the Fireflies (2005Moving picture, 148 minutes)

The story is framed by a look back from the present day and adds several characters that did not make it into Studio Ghibli’s version. Most importantly, the aunt has a lot more of the narrative to herself, elaborating on her triage.

Longer (about 2 hours and 25 minutes), made for TV, and produced as live action with substantial aid of CGI. Documentary footage from around the world runs to the end credits. Bad special effects, far too pretty actors, more melodramatically scored. Never comes close to topping the masterpiece, yet the remake does not seem pointless. The expansion of the story is nice, and the bluntly political epilogue also makes this version special.

moving picture same source material Japanese production fiction