Author: John Mathews
Taking place toward the end of World War II in Japan, Grave of the Fireflies is the poignant tale of the relationship between two orphaned children, Seita and his younger sister Setsuko . Their mother, however, is fatally injured in the air raid and is taken to a makeshift hospital which is actually a school, where she dies from burn wounds. The film decides to tale its narrative in a direction that immediately tel us the fate of the protagonist, making the film more painful to watch.
Having nowhere else to live, Setsuko and Seita go to live with their aunt, and write letters to their father. Following cruelty from their aunt, who gives them barely enough food, insults them and sells their mother's kimonos for rice (which she keeps for herself), Seita and Setsuko finally decide to go and live in an old, abandoned bomb shelter. The film does provide an insight into Japanese culture by focusing its attention almost entirely on the personal tragedies that wars give rise to, rather than seeking to glamorize it as a heroic struggle between competing ideologies.
Gradually, they begin to run out of rice, and Setsuko begins to starve. It is moments like this when we the audience begin to feel their pain and it really makes us emotional towards the innocents in this situation. The frequent air raids make us feel a great amount of fear to us too, imagining what would happen in our own hometown. Seita turns to stealing from local farmers and looting homes during air raids for supplies. When he learns of his father's death, Seita removes all the money from their mother's bank account and purchases a large quantity of food for Setsuko. From here the film ultimately gets sadder and sadder tot he point where you begin to appreciate the values of life. It shows us the horrors and lack of concern from the US towards these everyday innocents caught in he middle, the relationship between the two protagonists brought a tear to my eye; as it is a loss of their innocence. This is one of the only few films that almost had myself breaking down in crying, the animation acts a retelling of horror and an account of survival. It is the best anti-war piece I have ever seen and falls on the level with something Stanley Kubrick would do, a good companion piece to 'Paths Of Glory'.
Upon doing further research, I discovered it's initial release the film was virtually ignored, the initial theatrical release in Japan was accompanied by Hayao Miyazaki's much more lighthearted My Neighbor Totoro as a double feature. However, character goods of Totoro, particularly the stuffed animal of Totoro and Cat bus, sold extremely well after the film and made overall profit of the company to the extent that it stabilised subsequent productions of Ghibli studio. In terms of filmmaking, 'Grave of the Fireflies' is a superior film to 'My Neighbor Totoro'. Its a far more moving, well directed masterpiece. Don't get me wrong Totoro is a very good film, 'Fireflies' is on a whole different level with a far more serious message that works incredibly well. This is another rare film that I will issue a perfect 5 (so far I have only given the Raid 2 a 5 on the DSC).
The release of the film in South Korea was delayed indefinitely because authorities feared it would be thought of as justification for Japan's role in World War II.
Presented here on Blu-Ray from Madman in its original Aspect Ratio of 1.85:1 this is a perfect presentation, the animation is clean with absolutely no scratches. I recall seeing this film many years ago as part of a school excursion (I was studying Japanese) in a theatre and the film was scratched. If this is from a film source it is looking incredible.
The colours are rich and vibrant, really making it stand out. The black levels are also rich creating a nice balance.
Rich audio, presented with two track. Japanese (Dolby Digital 2.0) andEnglish (Dobly Digital 2.0), Sound effects pop and dialogue comes off very clear. A great presentation.
Blu-Ray Special Features: 4/5