Grave of the Fireflies (1988) — A haunting look back at Japan in WWII

“In 1945, on the night of September 21, I died.”


Sue’s review: Okay, okay, sheesh! I take it all back, Disney! Go ahead and kill all the mommies and daddies you want! Shoot ’em, toss ’em off cliffs, throw ’em to the sharks, let ’em disappear in mysterious and unexplained pre-prologue circumstances! I won’t say another word about it! All I ask, and it’s a little thing really, no trouble on your part, is to make sure their offspring are plucky and resourceful and SURVIVE to live Happily Ever After. Okay? Please?

I am NEVER going to put myself through a movie like this again. NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!

Excuse me while I compose myself for a moment and wipe away the worst of the froth. Thank you so much.

In point of fact, I didn’t put myself entirely through this one because, y’know, there are limits and I think I hit mine at about forty minutes. However, with the thought that surely, surely it couldn’t be that bad all the way to the end, I took the time to do some research at the usual web sources. From all accounts, yes, it really is that bad.

Set in Japan during the last days of World War II, the story begins with the apparently routine discovery of the corpses of two children in a train station. It segues into a nice scene of the dead children going to Heaven (or some version therof) on the Happy Day Express (Choo-choo!). And then we get to see, in excruciating and prolonged detail, how they died, from the firebombing of their village that killed their mother to the far side of malnutrition. That’s the movie. That’s it.

If the theme is supposed to be “War Is Hell”, well, thanks a lot. Bearing in mind that this was an award winning CHILDREN’s movie (judged no doubt by The Society For The Advancement Of Night Terrors), I’m sure that the kiddies of the world really needed to be bludgeoned into lifelong pacifism by artistically animated views of Mommy lying on a cot, burned beyond recognition with MAGGOTS crawling all over her. And that’s just the beginning!

I’m sooooo glad my kids weren’t home when I had this one on! I’d probably have had to use a spatula to peel Spawn of Mutant 2 out from under her bed every morning.

And then there’s me. I’ve spent over thirteen years perfecting the art of sprouting gray hairs over every imaginable tragedy that could befall my children. Hey, life is scary. I don’t need to imagine THAT hard. What happens in Grave of the Fireflies horrifies every fiber of my maternal being. It doesn’t matter that these kids aren’t mine, or that they don’t exist at all. Call me a coward, but there is no part of me that can sit down and watch this. If that makes me less of a movie reviewer, so be it.

I am all for moral lessons – assuming there was one. I love the painstaking artistry of quality Japanese animation — but I draw the line at maggots and dead flesh. I am definitely a fan of dramatic effect — when applied with surgical precision as opposed to being fed slowly through a wood chipper. I appreciate when a movie, a story or a particular scene sticks with me — unless every memory of it leaves me wanting to vomit.

From now on, if I want to sit down in the comfort of my living room and observe the slaughter of innocents, I’ll just watch the news like everyone else.

Didja notice?

  • The fate of the first firefly? Yeah. Squashed. Kinda heavy handed on the metaphor, huh?
  • Seito’s excuse for lying around the house all the time. (The factory burned down and so did the school.)
  • Sort of an interesting view of Japanese civilian life during that time.
  • Just how adorable Setsuko (the little girl) is?
  • When Seito is swinging on the bars in the playground, he has no shadow, even though everything else does.

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