For all the praise I’ve seen Studio Ghibli receive, I’ve never been all too interested in watching their animations. Aside from Spirited Away, which I saw, enjoyed and forgot about a fair few years back, my investment in any of the studio’s films has waned. So then, I realise I’ve made a horrible mistake. Recommended to me with the confidence that it’ll be a ‘cry-fest’ (Just look at the title!), Grave of the Fireflies has assuredly reinvigorated my interest in the studio’s peculiar, heartfelt animations that have a certain type of charm to them – a charm not found in any 3D animation that Disney Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks churn out.
The film takes place in Japan during the final few months of WWII, where American air raids tore through the Japanese towns and villages. It follows Seita, a 14 year-old boy, and Setsuko, Seita’s (very) little sister, through their travails to survive bombings, poverty and malnutrition. It begins by revealing that the two protagonists die during the course of the film – portrayed as spirits shrouded by a red hue, the opening is both harrowing and visually stunning in equal measure. Which really does sum up the film – devastating, though the emotional punch not as powerful as I expected, yet exceedingly beautiful and a perfect portrayal of both the horrors and the idyllic nature of the Japanese countryside.
The score used for Grave of the Fireflies is equally powerful, tragedy conveyed by simple melodies. It’s use brings many moments of genuine joy – Setsuko running around with a group of fireflies is an exceptionally heartwarming moment – but also accentuates incredibly touching sequences – Setsuko’s tear-jerking instances of happiness particularly moving.
That’s not to say that Grave of the Fireflies is a perfect movie. While the animation is fantastic in places, it’s similarly rough and shaky in others. The voice acting feels forced (well, at least the English version) as do many of the characters’ actions (Seita’s aunt’s resentment towards the two protagonists is too drastic a shift in her feelings towards them). And while Setsuko’s death is moving, the fact that the audience expects it negates some of its intended effect.
Yet these few negatives don’t burden this sweet Japanese animation drastically – it remains a touching story with a mesmerising animation style; one that has reintroduced me into the quirky world of Studio Ghibli.
– Gus Edgar