Movie Review: Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Grave of the FirefliesInformation

Director: Isao Takahata
Writer: Akiyuki Nosaka (novel), Isao Takahata
Release: 1988


After an air raid destroys their home, Seita and his younger sister Setsuko must find a way to fend for themselves.  However, rations are tight and even those who might wish to help have no means to do so.


Grave of the Fireflies is one of those rare films so powerful and so poignant, that talking about them at all seems some sort of desecration.  After having watched so much death and destruction, little seems left to say.  What, in fact, can be said?  Perhaps a Shakespearean character might wish to soliloquize on death, but for the rest of us, fettered by words and not knowing how to grasp at the ineffable, silence in the face of something so large and so solemn often seems best. Unfortunately, when people read reviews, they typically expect to see some words used, and so I must offer a short attempt at describing the majesty of this film, even though I expect the attempt to fall flat.  What do you say about a film that opens with both protagonists dead and only gets worse from there?  How do you describe the effect of seeing Allied forces destroy the lives of so many innocent civilians–the Allies, whom the West calls the “good guys”?  How do you process the displacement of families, the orphaning of children, the starvation of innocents?  How do you look at a society that wishes they could save their children but literally has nothing to offer?  It simply rends your heart. Grave of the Fireflies is the most depressing film I have ever seen.  It offers small moments of beauty, fireflies in the night, but all of it ends too soon and the impending death looms ever in the background.  I was not sure I would be able even to finish watching the movie–and yet to think that it is based on true events, that people lived this nightmare and could not get out.  It may not be a typical “anti-war” film–at least, I never felt that it wished to convey that particular message.  But few films offer such an unrelenting view of the misery, the harshness, and the futility of war.

Krysta 64


12 thoughts on “Movie Review: Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

  1. jubilare says:

    I’ve felt, for a long time, that I need to watch this film, but I haven’t found the courage, yet. I’m afraid it will kick off my depression… and yet I know it to be an important film, and from anything I’ve ever heard, a brilliant one. Yikes…


    • Krysta says:

      I actually didn’t know too much about it besides that it is a Studio Ghibli film (and that the box says it’s a really important war film), so I wasn’t prepared for how depressing it is. I thought, yeah, it’s going to be sad, maybe I should bring the box of tissues over. But it opened with both of the children dead/dying and it was pretty much downhill from there. I thought at one point I was going to have to turn it off and walk away, which is not something I’ve ever felt with any sort of movie before.

      So I don’t really know what to say. It’s good, but maybe bring a movie buddy along (like a warm, cuddly cat) to help you get through. It’s hard to be too upset with a purring cat by your side.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. kamifurr says:

    We own this, but I’ve only watched it once. It was hard. It is the most depressing movie I’ve ever seen too.


    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I don’t know if I can bear to watch it again, either. I think I would if someone else wanted to see it, but I can’ t envision myself waking up one day and thinking “Today is a great day to watch this terribly depressing film!”


  3. jubilare says:

    Have you ever seen the Secret of Kells? If not, it might be a good antidote to the sadness. Not that it doesn’t have some sadness of its own, but it’s a beautiful, heartwarming, and very odd film. I re-watched it, recently, and liked it even better than I did the first time.


    • Krysta says:

      I haven’t, but I remember David reviewed it on The Warden’s Walk and he made it sound really good! Unfortunately, my library doesn’t have it and I can’t really afford to buy it right now, so I’ll be waiting for someone to gift it for me. Maybe I can make it bold on my Christmas list. Underline it a few times. You know, give a broad hint while still being discreet.

      I have to say, though, that two recommendations makes me want to watch it even more!


      • jubilare says:

        I think it’s on Netflix instant, right now. If you don’t have that, maybe you can find a friend who does and make them watch it with you? 😉

        Some of the same folks who did Secret of Kells have a new film out, now, that I want to go see. It’s called Song of the Sea, and it looks like it’s about selkies!


        • Krysta says:

          No, neither my friends nor I have Netflix, incredible as it may sound. But I have gone and put it on my Christmas list (What? It’s not too early,right?) and I have people who will casually suggest it as a present idea if I ask them to. 😉

          Song of the Sea looks gorgeous, though. Just seeing the poster art makes me want to watch it. And the music in the trailer is beautiful.

          Liked by 1 person

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