Grave of the Fireflies Movie Review
In other words, hardly the stuff of reality cinema.
Grave of the Fireflies is about as real as animation gets, Japanese or otherwise. Set during WWII-era Japan, the film traces the days of a young man and his little sister, who become orphaned during the firebombing of their home town. At first they live with their aunt, then decide that she's too mean, soon moving out to their own Swiss Family Robinson-style dwelling, thinking they can go it alone. Ravenous hunger is soon the least of their worries.
It's hard to tell if Fireflies represents a veiled Hiroshima or not (nuclear fallout isn't even hinted at). But the story of the two kids is so tragic the details slip away. Looking past the typical grunts/gasps of the characters and the stiff animation (backgrounds, notably, are just paintings where nothing ever moves -- not even smoke rising into the sky), it's impossible not to see Fireflies as a real work of art and a eulogy to a tragic error in the history of a nation, one which has never forgotten the vengeance it was paid during the war.
Writer/director Isao Takahata is clearly and vehemently against war (to the point of preaching), and his sentimentality can get a little maudlin. The problems of the main characters, though, aren't just the result of the bombs being dropped -- they're too proud to accept charity and too stupid to make appropriate bargains for their possessions in exchange for food. The story is pitiful, but you can't say their tragic story is inevitable. Blaming their plight on war (and indirectly, on America), is over the top and simply incorrect.
Nonetheless it's a haunting reminder of how animation, when done properly, can be even more devastating than the work of real actors.
Aka Hotaru no haka.
Star light, star bright.