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Grave of the Fireflies

A movie directed by Isao Takahata

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"Why must fireflies die so young?"

  • Nov 15, 2011
The first sentence in Grave of the Fireflies is "September 21, 1945...that was the night I died."
The voice belongs to 14-year-old Seita, and his spirit tells us what happened to him and his five-year-old sister, Setsuko, in the weeks before. This is one of the saddest films I've ever seen, and a great one. Many elements of the plot are discussed, so read no further if that bothers you.
Seita, his mother and sister live in Kobe, Japan. One day American bombers hit the city in a fire bomb raid. Their mother is terribly burned and dies shortly after in a crowded hospital. They haven't heard in a long time from their father, a naval officer serving on a cruiser. We assume he is dead. Their home is destroyed and Seita takes his sister to his aunt and her family. Things don't work out. Food is short. The aunt becomes more abrupt and impatient with Seita when she realizes the children may be staying permanently. Seita takes his sister to a hill one evening to watch the thousands of fireflies, which delights Setsuko. Seita finally decides to take his sister and live by themselves in an abandoned bomb shelter dug into the side of a river cliff. What money he has proves useless as food is increasingly hard to find. Slowly the two children slip down into malnutrition and sickness. Seita is responsible for his sister and tries to keep her spirits up when she cries for her mother or tells him how hungry she is, but there is no one to take care of Seita. They suffer rashes. Seita tries to comb the lice from Setsuko's hair. Setsuko begins to suffer from diarrhea. Without family, no one wants them.
One night he catches fireflies in a can and releases them in the cave for Setsuko. The next morning he finds his sister digging a grave for the fireflies, who have all died.
"Why must fireflies die so young," but there's no answer to the question. Soon after, Setsuko dies. Seita cremates his sister and carries her ashes in a box with him. And on September 21, in the Kobe railway station, surrounded by other lost, homeless people, Seita dies.
This is undoubtedly one of he great anti-war movies. There is also a moral lesson, which director Isao Takahata points out, in hubris. Seita makes a decision which is disastrous for himself and his sister, but it is a decision of a 14-year-old who has had to assume responsibilities far beyond what he should. The relationship between the two children, their love for each other, Setsuko's trust in him and Seita's determination to care for her is a heartbreaker.
The film is stunningly drawn, from nightmarish scenes of incendiary bomb attacks on wooden neighborhoods to achingly beautiful scenes of seashores, valleys and rain storms. Takahata and his animators have given Seita and Setsuko so much character and individuality that we see them as children, not animated subjects.
Film critic Roger Ebert, in a commentary on the film, says that the first time he saw the movie he nearly cried. So did I.

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December 09, 2011
This was a fantastic film! Have you seen the live-action version of this story?
More Grave of the Fireflies reviews
review by . December 09, 2011
posted in ASIANatomy
I had done a review on "Grave of the Fireflies" awhile ago, but I wanted to revisit on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Another film by Studio Ghibli, directed by Isao Takahata, is a very, very, very powerful movie about the aftermath of war in Japan after World War 2. WARNING: this movie is incredibly emmotional, even for us guys. If you don't tear up, or at least get a lump in your throat, then there is something very wrong with you...      The movie chronicles …
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2012
posted in ASIANatomy
While I've only seen about 120 anime titles in my life, I seriously doubt there's an anime I haven't seen yet that can beat out Grave of the Fireflies in my list as #1 in "best anime titles ever."      I seriously can't find anything wrong with this anime.  The characters feel so realistic, the story is nothing short of powerful, the animation and artwork is top-notch, the music is perfect, and portrays one of the best delivered, realistic anti-war …
Quick Tip by . February 17, 2012
posted in ASIANatomy
Movies quality is more on people's different tastes....But I wonder if anyone ever said that "Grave of the Fireflies" is not one of the greatest films ever produced. This film elevated Japanese anime to heights never before seen. It was proof that animation did not have to be aimed for kids.      Truly heart-wrenching and touching, this creation is a triumphant exercise in Japanese filmmaking...animated or otherwise.     
review by . October 14, 2009
Grave of the Fireflies has to be one of the most depressing films that I have ever watched.  Life in Japan is horrible during the final days of the World War II.  Starvation looms it's head over the civilian population as the people to everything they can to keep from dying of hunger.  Two orphans Seita and Setsuko wander the countryside after losing their mother and home to the bombing of their city.  Driving by constant search for food Seita does everything he can to keep the …
review by . June 19, 2009
I normally do not like anime.  Most of the crap shown on American TV is violent and really rather stupid.  However, there is another group of anime that is very special.  There is, of course, the absolutely wonderful anime of Miyazaki which I will review later on.  Then there is this one.  I could not believe how involved in a movie I could get until I got into this one.  I was hooked quickly, and then I started literally bawling my eyes out.  This is WW2 as seen …
review by . February 08, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Subtle story-telling, emotional impact, beauty of both idea and presentation      Cons: Not a {insert an expletive here} thing      The Bottom Line: If you have no heart or you don't like its strings pulled, then see this movie.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.      The Grave of the Fireflies places a pair of warm, gentle hands around your heart; these …
About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer ()
Ranked #32
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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About this movie


In post-World War II Japan, a janitor finds a deathly ill boy lying beside a metal candy container. The janitor unwittingly tosses the possession into the night, beginning a most unusual tale of survival set amid the atrocities of war in the Animi GRAVE OF FIREFLIES. Brother and sister Seita and Setsuko, ages 14 and 4, flee their disheveled home and deceased parents to make their bid for a new life. Before American troops begin to occupy their country, the children resort to dwelling in an abandoned bomb shelter in the countryside. Though these siblings later get a sense of safety, they realize necessities such as food and water will not be easy to come by.

A1988 animated film written and directed by Isao Takahata. This is the first film produced by Shinchosha, who hired Studio Ghibli to do the animation production work. It is an adaptation of the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka, intended as a personal apology to the author's own sister.


Taking place toward the end of World War II in Japan, Grave of the Fireflies is the tale of the relationship between two orphaned children, Seita (清太) and his younger sister Setsuko (節子). The children lose their mother in the firebombing of Kobe, and their father in service to the Imperial Japanese Navy, and as a result are forced to try to survive amidst widespread famine and the callous indifference of their countrymen, some of whom are their own extended family members.

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Director: Isao Takahata
Genre: Drama
Release Date: April 16, 1988
MPAA Rating: Unrated
DVD Release Date: Central Park Media (October 08, 2002)
Runtime: 1hr 28min
Studio: Shinchosha Company
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