I can honestly say this was one of the most depressing, moving, and heart-wrenching movies I have ever watched. Based on a true story, Grave of the Fireflies depicts the sufferings of two children who lose their houses in the Kobe bombing during WWII. This movie is unrated, but I personally would not recommend it for anyone under 13 years old due to some graphic depictions of suffering and disease.
I feel that the WWII context gives this movie a bad reputation. Many people might assume that this movie is an anti-American movie, but it’s not. This movie is profoundly anti-war itself. It begins with the death of a main character, and then backtracks to when the story begins at the Kobe bombings. Seita and his little sister Setsuko watch the destruction of their city and lose a loved one all in quick succession. They move in with their aunt, but eventually end up on the streets, where everything simply falls apart. With no money and no food, it’s only a matter of time before the worst happens, leading back to the beginning scene of the movie. It was sad enough to already know their fate, but it makes it much worse seeing how they ended up that way.
The symbolism in this movie is also profound. If you watch, you’ll see certain things crop up time and time again, sometimes in heart-wrenching ways. At one point I had to turn the movie off because I started crying too hard to understand what they were even saying. This movie isn’t happy. It deals with the stark reality of the consequences of war and suffering. Eventually even the innocence of a little girl is broken by how hopeless their situation is. It’s one of the most saddening movies I’ve ever watched, because it was real.
The art in this movie wasn’t extraordinary, but this movie was released in 1988, so I don’t really have any right to complain. It’s nothing to be terribly awed by, but that’s to be expected. What is incredible is how many emotions animated characters can pull out of you. I’ve read elsewhere that this movie would not have worked with real actors, but animated, it became believable and that much more real. (Regardless that it was mostly real anyway- based on a true story!)
I highly recommend this movie to anyone who feels they can handle it. I’ve seen adults that said they had to turn the movie off at some points because they were simply overwhelmed. This movie doesn’t seek to glamorize war in any way- it sends another message. “War is society’s failure to perform its most important duty: protect its innocent.”