Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies
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At 4 and 14, they tried to live on
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8.1/10 by 745 users

In the latter part of World War II, a boy and his sister, orphaned when their mother is killed in the firebombing of Tokyo, are left to survive on their own in what remains of civilian life in Japan. The plot follows this boy and his sister as they do their best to survive in the Japanese countryside, battling hunger, prejudice, and pride in their own quiet, personal battle.

Title:Grave of the Fireflies
Original Title:火垂るの墓
Release Date:April 16, 1988
Genres:Animation, Drama, War
Production Co.:Studio Ghibli, Shinchosha Company
Production Countries:Japan
Director:Isao Takahata, Yoshiyuki Momose
Casts:, , ,
Plot Keywords:japan, loss of mother, loss of father, hunger, world war ii, shelter, boy, sister, food, wartime, tokyo japan, little girl, death, starving
Alternative Titles:
  • Hotaru no haka - [JP]
  • Le tombeau des lucioles - [FR]
  • 螢火蟲之墓 - [TW]
  • Tombstone for Fireflies - [US]
  • 再见萤火虫 - [CN]
  • La Tumba De Las Luciérnagas - [MX]
  • Die letzten Leuchtkäfer - [DE]
  • 반딧불의 묘 - [KR]
  • 반딧불이의 묘 - [KR]
  • La tomba delle lucciole - [IT]
  • 再見螢火蟲 - [HK]
  • Die letzten Gluehwuermchen - [DE]
  • Túmulo dos Vagalumes - [BR]

Grave of the Fireflies Reviews

  • A Beautiful Unforgettable Masterpiece that shows the true cost of war.
    by The_Fifth_Echo on 16 June 2010

    770 out of 792 people found the following review useful:

    I decided to watch Grave of the Fireflies yesterday. My friends told me it was extremely moving and sad. I hesitated at first, but then I said "Oh well, I'll give it a try." At the end of the film, I was crying my eyes out. This was the best animated film, I've ever seen.This is a moving depiction of the fates of cast-off children who become casualties of war.

    This movie isn't your regular Animated Film. Pixar and Disney put films out there with happy endings. I'm not saying there bad films at all. They are also great pieces of work. But Grave of the Fireflies tells you the truth. This movie isn't trying to entertain you. It wants to inform you about how war is really like. There were many moments in the movie, that just brought me to tears.

    I am kind of upset, that this movie didn't get many awards as it should. In that regards, it is VERY underrated and it is kind of thrown apart. When it should really be respected and praise it. If this movie was made in our time period right now. I would be 100% sure this would of Won an Oscar for Best Animated Film. This is Studio Ghilbi's best movie they have ever released.

    I truly advice you to bring a handkerchief, cause chances are that you will cry.

    An Emotional Epic Animated Film, that I recommend everyone to watch.

    Quite Simply 10/10

  • The best movie you'll never want to see again
    by Nogami on 26 August 2001

    549 out of 571 people found the following review useful:

    I had the fortune of being able to see Hotaru no Haka on the big-screen in Seattle a couple of years ago. It was truly the high-point of my film festival excursions. At the end of the movie, there was silence, absolute and total silence in the theater - and then, only an occasional sniffle until the end credits had finished rolling and the house lights came up. It would've seemed almost disrespectful to profane the silence with words.

    Seeing a movie like this really changes attitudes about war - about who really suffers, and that the honor and glory is shallow comfort when you contemplate what has been lost in the struggle.

    I've made the comment to my friends that if you ever see someone who isn't moved (usually to tears) by this movie, you've found someone without a soul. As difficult as it is to watch, turn off the phone, dim the lights, and immerse yourself in the film with ones you love - you will be a better person for it in the end.

    There are many other reviews of this movie, and most of them are probably far more comprehensive than my own - I'll conclude by saying that this movie should required viewing at some point (as should the peace museums at Hiroshima and Nagasaki) for everyone.

    When you see war and conflict in the news or read about it in the paper, think back to this movie - your perspective will probably be broadened, and your eyes opened a bit more.

    I've only watched this movie about 4 times - it usually takes a year or so to "decompress" after watching it. To see it too often would lessen the impact, and that would be the worst possible thing to do to this movie.

  • A masterpiece, whose beauty is often overlooked
    by Lupercali on 4 September 2004

    457 out of 478 people found the following review useful:

    When I watched this movie, I steeled myself for a traumatic experience, based on every review I'd ever read of it, which usually include phrases like "don't watch this if you're suicidal." Instead, if I had to pick a single word to sum up the movie I saw, it would probably be 'beautiful'.

    Certainly it was sad, and arguably depressing, but I've read this movie compared with 'Saving Private Ryan'. That's ridiculous. 'Grave of the Fireflies' is gentle and poetic more often than it's violent, and it's remarkably restrained in its anti-war message. It simply tells a story : there's very little at all in the way of moralizing or polemics. Why would a story like this need such heavy-handed tactics?

    I've also read it argued that the movie is robbed of any suspense or impact when it's revealed in the opening scene that the main characters are dead. I have a quite different view of that device.

    Firstly. the beginning of 'Fireflies' is, for all intents and purposes, a 'happy ending'. This is such a non-linear plot development that you could fail to notice it, and thereby only see the movie's gloom. The moment where the ghostly Seita takes the ghostly Setsuko's hand and nods to her is not only a happy moment, it signifies that the suffering - which is yet to come, as far as the viewer is concerned - is over, and they are together again (albeit still without parents).

    As for a character revealing that he is dead in the first line of the movie, this is a device which has been used in centuries if not Milena. The crucial thing here is that 'Fireflies' isn't _about_ tension. It tells a story whose ultimate conclusion you already know (a legitimate narrative approach), and everything which happens during that story is emotionally infused with a foreknowledge of its ending. You find yourself hoping that things will go right now for Setsuko and Seita, and then the knowledge that ultimately it won't undercuts you with real emotional power. You know the characters are going to die, but you hope things won't be so bad in the meantime. It doesn't take much of an effort to make that an analogy for our own lives, which makes us all fireflies.

    Perhaps what might make someone feel disappointed or cheated by this film is simply that it's so damn honest. I mean that: it's one of the most honest, artifice-free movies I've ever seen. It doesn't even really try to ram an anti-war message down your throat there is very little overt violence, and if there are some scenes of corpses and suffering, it's never gratuitous, and it's over quickly. Compare this with 'Private Ryan', where you have to suffer through 40 minutes of the most horrific blood and guts, only to reach a conclusion which, after much blood and thunder, signifies very little.

    'Fireflies', OTOH, has far more beauty than gore. This is what really surprised me about it. Probably two thirds of the movie takes place in gorgeously drawn, tranquil rural or urban settings, with an almost pleasant dreamlike quality - even when the American bombers are flying overhead at one point there is a surreal, almost serene sense to it - and there are plenty of moments of happiness to offset the undeniably sadness and frustration of other scenes.

    Perhaps best of all, Setsuko is one of the very, very few (if not the only) animated 4 year-old I've ever seen who actually _behaves_ like a four year old. I'm so sick of seeing preternaturally smart, sassy, sophisticated and precocious children in Hollywood movies. Setsuko's emotion and behaviors are _exactly_ right for a completely normal four year-old, and recognizing this lends many scenes incredible poignancy. Similarly, Seita is a teenage boy who behaves with the sort of mixture of pride, compassion and hubris which you'd expect of someone his age. He still believes that Japan will win the war he thinks it's up to him to take care of his sister with their mother gone and father who knows where. This leads him to make mistakes: possibly the most obvious one being where he fails to take the farmer's advice, swallow his pride and ask his nasty aunt to take them back in again. You would probably have to say his decision not to even try - to go it alone instead, was a very bad one, but - hello, people - here is a character who makes mistakes because he's actually human: a believable teenage boy in an extraordinary situation, who doesn't miraculously save the day, because his best judgment just isn't good enough.

    Of course, his aunt may well have knocked them back anyway. Who knows?

    Don't go into the film expecting tension, drama or even a tirade against war. It's a movie about the beauty and fragility of life and youth. If you think Japanese animation is all giant robots and superhuman schoolgirls, this could be the film which changes your mind. It's slow, poetic, beautiful and sad, and extraordinarily honest.

    I must be the only person who didn't cry during this film (and I mean, I get choked up during some Disney movies). Yes, it is sad, but its beauty and honesty is what I'll remember.

    NB: this review refers to the subtitled version of the film.

  • Haunting
    by Black Rainbow on 28 January 2001

    383 out of 400 people found the following review useful:

    I was warned this movie would be emotional, but I had no idea just how understated that was. By the end, my friend and I were huddled together, pouring out tears I've never shed for any movie before. It was a mix of horror, empathy, sadness, and so many more emotions I can't even begin to list.

    Visions of this film have haunted me since first watching it, and I would find it hard to watch again, simply from it being so heart-wrenching. Only one movie has ever hit me hard enough to keep me from subjecting myself to it's strong emotions again (The thief, the cook, his wife and her lover).

    I strongly urge all to watch this, as it rises well about any films I've seen, anime or not.

  • More moving than you could ever expect
    by bdod5489 on 3 February 2005

    360 out of 386 people found the following review useful:

    This film is utterly emotionally draining whilst being rewarding at the same time.

    The animation is both realistic and stylized but that's not the point, the main focus of this film is the character development of the brother and sister protagonists. Their relationship is nothing short of beautiful and touching.

    And without spoiling anything I have to say that this film touched me in a way no other film has ever touched me in my adult life. One or two films have upset me and reduced me to watery eyes but Grave of the Fireflies had me in fits of sobbing despair. I was a mess! I'm talking total emotional breakdown. Couldn't talk without sobbing! One of the best films I have EVER seen, animated or not.

  • One of the finest films ever made.
    by Theoron on 7 December 1999

    271 out of 285 people found the following review useful:

    Occasionally there's a film that literally changes one's perceptions of the world. `Grave of the Fireflies' is one of those films. No movie ever made generates such an intense and powerful emotional response as this one.

    It's an animated film set in Japan during the closing days of World War II. Two children; a boy named Seita and his much younger sister Setsuko; must quickly learn to cope with life after their mother is killed during a fire-bombing raid by American B-29's. The film starts with the children and their mother preparing for the attack, then follows the children as they attempt to survive the death of their mother, and the possible death of their father, a naval officer serving aboard the Japanese heavy cruiser `Maya.' (A US submarine torpedoed the `Maya' in late October of 1944 during the battle of Leyte Gulf.)

    The story of two orphans trying to survive in war-ravaged Japan is not the subject of your typical light-hearted animated film. In fact it may be much too serious for anyone under the age of 14. The first five minutes of the film hits one like a sledgehammer – by far the most emotional opening scene I've ever come across. I found myself already reaching for the tissues, and trying to choke back the tears.

    Yet there's more than just tragedy in `Grave of the Fireflies.' It is the most awesome love story one is ever likely to see. But it's far from the typical Hollywood idea of a love story. Instead of the usual highly attractive Hollywood actors of the opposite sex pining for one another in front of the camera, we have an animated Japanese brother and his much younger little sister. It's not a tale of romantic love, but one of `brotherly' love.

    Seita loves his little sister, and once he discovers that his mother has been killed in the bombing, he does everything he can to keep his sister from finding out about her horrible death. Then, with typical Japanese seriousness, he begins to immediately provide for and comfort Setsuko; she being the only member of his immediate family he has left. Though not stated in the film, it seems obvious that part of Seita's motivation for looking so carefully after his sister has to do with avoiding his own pain and despair having been left with NOTHING after the bombing attack. No mother, no father, no home. The war Japan is waging against the rest of the world takes its toll on these two little ones, without regard for their feelings or emotions.

    That which truly broke my heart into ten thousand tiny pieces was the selfless way Seita looked after his younger sister, and shielded her from the horrors all around, especially the lack of food. Films show us many things, some good, some evil, but rarely has any film shown how one person so unselfishly puts another ahead of them self. Seita does makes some mistakes in the way he goes about taking care of his sister, but I can't fault him for his love and his devotion. Who of us have always chosen the best path, the most perfect way of doing things? Surely not I! Seita's obvious love and devotion to Setsuko is the most moving and convicting thing I've ever come across on film.

    I use the word `convicting' because this movie convicted me of my own very selfish nature. `Grave of the Fireflies' caused me sadness not just because of Seita's brave attempts to take care of his little sister; but because he gave of himself so totally and completely, even though his sister was a liability to his own survival. I could not help to be convicted concerning all the many times there have been family and friends who have needed my help or understanding, but I ignored them in favor of `doing my own thing.' How sad I am for all those times I've ignored the suffering of others and their cries for help. This film showed the evil in my own heart – something that I would not have noticed on my own. But now that the blinders have been removed, I can repent of my selfishness, and look for ways to help others, instead of avoiding them.

    Some Japanese anime I've seen are very much anti-American. But even though it's the Americans dropping the bombs in this film, there is no overt anti-American message. In many ways, the Japanese civilians are shown in as bad a light as is the American air and naval forces! Their hard hearts and stubborn ways are displayed on the screen without apology; and one can see how the plight of the two children is made even worst by the selfishness of the adults that they have come to rely upon.

    It would be easy for someone from `the West' (i.e. the USA, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, etc.) to think that the two children depicted in this animated marvel were the exception, rather than the rule. They lived in very trying times, and surely children in this day and age do not have to go through experiences similar to Seita's and Setsuko's. Unfortunately, that's not the case. There are still major problems with orphans and unwanted children in the former communist block countries of Eastern Europe and Russia itself. There are also large numbers of unwanted children roaming the streets of China, India, Mongolia, and various other Asian nations. We may not here about it on the news, or hear our friends talk about it; but I assure you that there are literally millions of children around the world whose situation is no better, if not much worst than that of Seita and Setsuko.

    I am very thankful I had the honor of watching this film. I'm also very thankful for the people who put it together. But most of all, I'm very thankful for the positive impact it has had on my life.

  • Brutally honest and heartbreaking
    by Dark0 on 9 October 2003

    260 out of 279 people found the following review useful:

    Being my first Anime review I thought I'd start off with my one of my favourite pieces of work from who else but Studio Ghibli. Ghibli have rarely produced anime that doesn't fall short of great but Graveyard is something different indeed.

    Set in the aftermath of World War II, Graveyard is focused on the lives of a caring brother and his young sister (Setsuko and Seita) and how they struggle against both the elements of wartime and a depreciating Japanese empire. The most striking thing about Graveyard is probably how real everything seems. The animation is very unconventional to the likes of say Spirited Away or Laputa but in a good way. The horror of war is beautifully realised through the animation, whether it be the American destruction being shown or the bleak outlook on peoples lives, namely the two main characters. Thankfully it earns every shred of emotion it conveys through these two sympathetic characters that only the coldest of hearts wouldn't warm up to.

    Avoiding any Hollywood sentimentality, it is often a bleak and depressing perspective depicted but all the more brutally powerful in the process. With my eyes welling up through the duration of the film, it occured to me just how well the Director understands what raw heartfelt emotion is and how to play the audiences heart strings. Nevertheless nothing is shown in a heavy handed approach, no empthasis is put on the Americans nor is there any special attention taken to the war details. If anything the citizens of Japan are shown in the coldest light often giving little help to the plight of others, but demonstrating furthermore what desperate situation everyone is in.

    Takahata instead decides to focus on the plight of it's title characters against the background of war. With the empire of Japan in crisis and food shortages everywhere it is heart breaking to see a brother struggle to meet ends meet for his sister. Due to the approach taken it borders on being horrifying but fortunately the tone is changed with the spirit put into Setsuko's character. Much like 'The Pianist' the issue is not the war but the struggle and will to survive in it. This is clearly displayed in a plot that revolves around the downward spiral Setsuko trying to feed himself and more importantly the younger and more vulnerable sister Seita. The animation though detailed and indeed beautiful in some sequences (namely relating to the title), is not by any means flashy but captures emotions and interactions between the characters perfectly. It's the perfect mixture of such animation, realistic and highly likeable characters that makes the whole film one tearful experience. Dealing with such difficult issues it's very hard to imagine this being a film and if it was I don't think it would of been done as well.

    Part of the brilliance also comes from symbology and the association to many different worlds in such a understanding depiction. The child, Seita, is nothing short of perfection in child like behaviour happily oblivious to the desperate situation, amusing herself with simplicity and the quirks of nature and the outdoors. The older brother Setsuko who must carry the burdon of everything is also perfectly portrayed and to watch there decent is painful to say the least. To struggle is one thing but to have shock, shattered dreams and be depended on is something anyone can empthasise with.

    There may be some people who will shy away from Anime, disregarding it as a mere cartoon. To those people and everyone else I recommend Graveyard as the tonic, which can be appreciated by anyone with a heart and soul. Among the finest pieces of Anime created and one of the most touching war films ever made.

  • A powerful film that shows the true cost of war
    by dee.reid on 28 August 2004

    217 out of 228 people found the following review useful:

    "Grave of the Fireflies" is one of the most ambitious, depressing, and quite frankly, best films that I've ever seen. I was nearly moved to tears by this film's brave treatment of such critical subject matter. Yes, it's an Anime' piece, but surprisingly, it came out in 1988, during a time where most Japanese animation films were either relentless bloodbaths, borderline pornography, or both.

    As a fan of the Anime' genre of film-making, many great pieces have achieved some sort of cult status here in America, yet none have really reached mainstream success. Some have broken through the barrier and have gained acceptance with American critics, like Katsuhiro Otomo's "Akira," or "Princess Mononoke," or "Spirited Away" (both films directed by Hayao Miyazaki). One that I've seen and has been barely mentioned by most critics is "Grave of the Fireflies."

    What we have with "Grave of the Fireflies," is a story of innocence lost and two children who ultimately face a losing battle with trying to survive in a small Japanese village in the closing days of World War II. WWII was the costliest conflict in world history, with millions dead and thousands left to pick up the pieces.

    In the center of it, are the aforementioned two children, who are pretty much left to fend for themselves after their mother is killed in a bombing raid. Because their father is off fighting in the war and they have no way of contacting any other family, they're sent to live with their aunt, who is at first warm and welcoming to them, but eventually becomes very cruel and the children are forced to live in a nearby bomb shelter. From that point on, the two children embark on a journey that is every bit as unpleasant and difficult as the grim realities of the world around them.

    Very easily one of the best Anime' films that I've ever seen (or any animated film for that matter), I find it difficult to believe just how truly overlooked "Grave of the Fireflies" is. The animation is beautiful, though certainly not dated by any means (even though Japanese animation has progressed well since this film was made).

    We get a sense of the dread of the two lead characters, who watch as the world around them crumbles into heaps of ashes, and aircraft loom ominously overhead, dropping their deadly, incendiary cargo on unsuspecting Japanese villagers.

    The director, Isao Takahata, obviously has a special resentment of the war, but manages to avoid condemning it outright. The director instead lets us focus in on the conflict as seen through the eyes of the two children, who watch unflinchingly as the realities of their world begin to falter before them.

    "Grave of the Fireflies" is a bold statement on the condition of the human soul during conflict. I probably shouldn't say this but I am anyways, but this film has to be the "Schindler's List" of animated pieces. It's brave, it's not overly sentimental, but it is relentless in its dramatization of a dangerous reality. It should be required viewing in any high school world history class.

    A beautiful film; not to be missed by anyone.

  • Powerful and Heartbreaking
    by Howard Schumann on 11 November 2002

    179 out of 194 people found the following review useful:

    "September 21, 1945...That was the night I died."-- Seita

    Reading war statistics and even seeing bloody images on television does not fully communicate the horror of war as well as the heartbreaking Grave of the Fireflies, an anime feature directed by Isao Takahata, a long-time colleague of Hayao Miyazaki. The film tells the story of two children, Seita, a 14-year old boy and Setsuko, his 4-year old sister and their uphill struggle to survive the effects of American firebombing in Kobe near the end of World War II. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel of Akiyuki Nosaka, Grave is a powerful experience that powerfully communicates the strength of the human spirit to carry on against overwhelming odds.

    Though despairing, the film does not resort to cheap melodrama to achieve its effect but delineates simple and direct images that are not watered-down to appeal to the children's market. It would indeed be too sad for most children under 13. In an interview with Cedric Littardi, AnimeLand magazine from 1992, Takahata said that he did not set out to depress the audience but to show a natural death, as opposed to a "scientific" death, the way most of us view it -- behind closed curtains in a sanitized hospital.

    Takahata in some ways softens the impact of the tragedy at the outset by showing Seita dying outside a subway station and his spirit reunited with his little sister Setsuko. The story is told by flashback as the two children are left alone to fend for themselves when their mother is killed in the bombing campaign. When their father is also killed in the Navy, they must struggle against starvation, the cruelty of an aunt they trusted, people's general indifference, and their own pride. Though both children eventually succumb to malnutrition (or radiation poisoning), the animation is so lyrical that it creates a magical, dream-like effect. This does not mask the tragedy but makes it all the more poignant.

    Nothing sums up the message of this film better than the beautiful poem, "I Come and Stand at Every Door" by Nazim Hikmat, one of the most important and influential figures in 20th-century Turkish literature.

    I come and stand at every door. But no one hears my silent tread. I knock and yet remain unseen. For I am dead, for I am dead.

    I'm only seven although I died. In Hiroshima long ago. I'm seven now as I was then. When children die they do not grow.

    My hair was scorched by swirling flame. My eyes grew dim, my eyes grew blind. Death came and turned my bones to dust. And that was scattered by the wind.

    I need no fruit, I need no rice. I need no sweet, nor even bread. I ask for nothing for myself. For I am dead, for I am dead.

    All that I ask is that for peace. You fight today, you fight today. So that the children of this world. May live and grow and laugh and play.

    -- Nazim Hikmet

    In our day where our leaders are busily preparing for another war, it is important to remember the human cost of these plans and the untold suffering they will inevitably bring. Grave of the Fireflies should be required viewing in the Oval office.

  • Heartbreaking
    by Nephilim-6 on 4 March 2001

    150 out of 165 people found the following review useful:

    During my searches on Anime on the net one day I came across this title. This was 2 years ago.

    Then last week I went to an Anime convention and at the DVD stand I saw it. I bought it immediately.

    When I got home 3 days later I popped it in. I was warned about it being tragic but nothing could have prepared me for the wave of emotion that hit me while watching it. I was depressed for a whole day. Even thinking about it made me cry..

    This is the power of Grave Of The Fireflies..

    This is not your typical Dragonball Z/Sailormoon/Pokemon style anime. While I love Sailormoon and some Dragonball Z, Grave Of The Fireflies surpasses it by lightyears. I bought it expecting an epic movie like Ghost In The Shell or Akira but even those paled compared to this.

    We have here a story of a 14 year old boy(Seita) who loses his mother in a firebombing during World War 2. He then has to take care of his 4 year old sister(Setsuko). While at first they're taken in by his aunt the relationship between him and his aunt takes a turn for the worst. He then ends up on the street and the struggle begins... It doesn't take a genious to figure out that things get really depressing, yet I won't spoil the ending..

    All I have left to say is that you have to see this movie.. It's the most powerful movie I've ever seen... It's painful to watch but still you have to see it...

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