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Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

aka Grave of the Fireflies

Directed By: 
Details: 89 mins · English, Japanese, Italiano, Spanish, German


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I'd heard this was pretty grim but I was still quite shocked at some of the brutal imagery and the cruelty portrayed. Even more surprisingly the darkness isn't unrelenting, as we get several joyful scenes of the children enjoying themselves at the seaside and in their rural hideaway. But from the first scene we know what's coming, and it isn't pretty. At times it feels a bit manipulative and single-minded, as if the filmmakers' only intention was to make you cry, but it's powerful and beautifully made, showing the depths to which some people can sink when times are tough, and the deep cracks in Japanese society.

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No_movie_poster Seita (voice)
No_movie_poster Setsuko (voice)
No_movie_poster Mother (voice)
No_movie_poster Aunt (voice)


Small Isao Takahata Director
No_movie_poster Takeshi Seyama Editor
No_movie_poster Tohru Hara Producer
No_movie_poster Akiyuki Nosaka Novel
No_movie_poster Ryoichi Sato Executive Producer
No_movie_poster Michio Mamiya Original Music Composer
No_movie_poster Nobuo Koyama Director of Photography
Small Isao Takahata Writer
No_movie_poster Akiyuki Nosaka Story Contributor
No_movie_poster Takeshi Seyama Editing


The film opens on September 21, 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, at Sannomiya Station where Seita (???), a 14-year-old boy, is seen dying of starvation. Later that night, a janitor digs through his possessions, and finds a candy tin containing ashes and bones, which he throws away into a nearby field. From the tin spring the spirits of Seita and his younger sister Setsuko (???), as well as a cloud of fireflies. The spirit of Seita continues to narrate their story, which is, in effect, an extended flashback to Japan in the final months of World War II, beginning with the firebombing of the city of Kobe in March 16–17, 1945.

The flashback begins with a fleet of several hundred American B-29 Superfortress bombers flying overhead. Setsuko and Seita, the two siblings, are left to secure the house and their belongings, allowing their mother, who suffers from a heart condition, to reach a bomb shelter. They are caught off-guard as the bombers begin to drop thousands of incendiary bomblets, which start huge fires that quickly destroy their neighborhood and most of the city. Although they survive unscathed, their mother is caught in the air raid and is horribly burned. She is taken to a makeshift clinic in a school, but dies a short time later. Having nowhere else to go, Setsuko and Seita move in with a distant aunt, who allows them to stay but convinces Seita to sell his mother's kimonos for rice. While living with their relatives, Seita goes out to retrieve leftover supplies he had buried in the ground before the bombing. He gives all of it to his aunt, but hides a small tin of Sakuma fruit drops, which becomes a recurrent icon throughout the film. Their aunt continues to shelter them, but as their food rations continue to shrink due to the war, she becomes increasingly resentful. She openly remarks on how they do nothing to earn the food she cooks.

Seita and Setsuko finally decide to leave and move into an abandoned bomb shelter. They release fireflies into the shelter for light, but Setsuko is horrified to find that the next day they are all dead. She digs them a grave and buries them all, asking why they have to die, and why her mother had to die. What begins as a new lease on life grows grim as they run out of rice, and Seita is forced to steal from local farmers and loot homes during air raids. When he is caught, he realizes his desperation and takes an increasingly ill Setsuko to a doctor, who informs him that Setsuko is suffering from malnutrition but offers no help. In a panic, Seita withdraws all the money remaining in their mother's bank account, but as he leaves the bank, he becomes distraught when he learns from a nearby crowd that Japan has surrendered unconditionally to the Allied Powers. He also learns that his father, a Captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy, is probably dead, since nearly all of Japan's navy is now at the bottom of the ocean. He returns to the shelter with large quantities of food, only to find a dying Setsuko hallucinating. Seita hurries to cook, but Setsuko dies shortly thereafter. Seita cremates Setsuko, and puts her ashes in the fruit tin, which he carries with his father's photograph, until his own death from malnutrition in Sannomiya Station a few weeks later.

In the film's final scene, the spirits of Seita and Setsuko are seen healthy, well-dressed and happy as they sit together, surrounded by fireflies, and look down on the modern city of Kobe.

Release Dates:

DVD : 2009-07-07