I heart Studio Ghibli. Like, a lot. Now, normally, that’s because of Hayao Miyazaki, who is arguably their best asset; because of him, even seeing Studio Ghibli’s animation style in any film, Miyazaki or not, gets my heart all warmed up. So, naturally, I was pretty excited to get into Grave of the Fireflies, one of Ghibli’s non-Miyazaki works. I don’t really know what I was prepared for going into this one, but after it was over, one thing was for sure: I definitely wasn’t prepared enough. Umberto D, Europa ’51, Bicycle Thieves… you can have them if you want them, but for me, the goddamn saddest, most depressing film I have ever seen has now got to be Grave of the Fireflies. And I couldn’t have appreciated it more.
People looking at this one should know right off the bat; there’s very little to this one that can be called plot. Things do happen, but there’s no real line of narrative; it’s mostly just about how young Seita and younger sister Setsuko try to survive in a war-ravaged rural Japan after their mother dies. That’s about as much plot summary as you’ll be getting from me, both because there isn’t a whole lot more to it than that, and also because I don’t want to spoil this experience. As for the animation, it was stellar, but I was expecting that, even from the early years of Studio Ghibli. I can’t attest to the Japanese voice performances, as I saw the English dubbed version, but the voices in English were very subtle, and very fitting for the mood and the topic of the film.
This is one that words can really do no justice; you just have to see it for yourself. This is one of the most gut-wrenching, eye-watering, heart-stoppingly sad films I have ever personally witnessed, and though it got very close to unbearable as it was happening, after it was over I couldn’t help but have a feeling of catharsis. This was great, plain and simple, mostly for the very reasons that would seem to be turn-offs for the average moviegoer. Now, I, of course, will first and foremost recommend Spirited Away as probably the best ‘gateway’ film for someone to get into Japanese animated features, but this is definitely on the list, somewhere. Even though it was Studio Ghibli, I was uncertain as to why they needed another slot on the list, but I was thoroughly convinced by the end of this one. See this if you get the chance. You might be bawling your eyes out by the end of it, but it couldn’t be more rewarding, mostly for that very same reason.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10