Thursday, August 9, 2012


Watched tonight one of the saddest movies, a Japanese anime no less, The Grave of the Fireflies (1988), which amazingly was made twenty-four years ago. Two orphans (Seita and Setsuko), chased from their city by a massive bomber-caused firestorm, struggle to stay alive as Japan faces the reality of losing the war, and as supplies dry up. Starving and soon homeless (after being harrassed from the home of their aunt), the older boy (about 14 or 15 perhaps) does what he can to provide for his innocent younger sister, who is about 4 or maybe up to six, by establishing a home in an abandoned air-raid shelter near a pond, and begs, borrows, and steals to provide food for his gradually sickening sibling. I don't want to spoil anything, but if you are not prepared for a really melancholy movie, I would avoid this one. One of the saddest scenes is when the boy realizes that his sister has understood all along that their mother died (having been told much earlier by a relative), and after holding in the truth to protct her for so long, breaks down and cries. Although there is no overt criticism of U.S. actions, there is the implication that the Americans wreaked unjust havoc on the civilian population in a cruel manner designed particualrly to target innocents (though others would argue that the entire population was trained and prepared to fight to the last person in the even of invasion). In almost a metaphor for the military leadership, the boy is amazed when he discovers that Japan has already lost the war. Despite all the military allusions, there is no acknowledgement of Japanese complicity is starting the war or having engaged in atrocities against foreign populations at all. The strongest message for me however, is the enduring love of an older brother who sacrifices everything to look after his sister, the ability to bear up under repeated disappointments and losses, and the special bond that develops between siblings, and to some extent the strength of very young children to find some joy in a troubled world. I was disappointed me though, in that it seemed to me that someone would have made more of an effort to help these small children, even if they had taken the little girl from the boy. The anime is very good too, especially some of the more magical scenes, and I can see why it is considered a classic. The movie will leave you drained, but at the same time it is a beautiful work of art and I encourage people to try it if they are up to the challenge.

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