Club Ghibli #14 - Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Why do you have to vote so soon? :(

  • 9

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 8

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 7

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 6

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 5

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 4

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 3

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 2

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 1

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 0

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    5

Diddy

Rice Queen
Joined
Feb 5, 2004
Messages
63,675
Location
Osaka, Land of Fire
It was back in January that we last went back to the 80s, the same month we last got to an Isao Takahata movie too. And goodness me, what a movie to pick up with. Blame dear sister @Mats for this one, but after the previous film toying with the idea of war, "Grave of the Fireflies" means business.

Studio Ghibli was finding its feet, building on the success of Nausicaa, formally establishing the studio and scoring another hit with Laputa (L*puta in Spain), they made the astonishing choice of making "Grave of the Fireflies" a double feature with "My Neighbour Totoro" - it all paid off in the end, with the "Totoro" ending up the flagship film for the studio and making the unlikely duo financially viable, and their studio commercially and critically unparalleled.

"Grave of the Fireflies" ("Hotaru no Haka") is set in Kobe city in the last months of WWII, where American firebombing decimated the city and left hundreds of thousands homeless, including orphaned 14-year-old Seita and his 4-year-old sister Setsuko, who are forced to scratch out a living in the burnt remains of the devastated city. Even reading the synopsis and watching the trailer made me want to cry, so just watch this without any more information.

Obviously the subject matter wasn't exactly catnip at the box-office, but it is probably THE biggest critical hit for the studio, consistently ending up on "Best animated movie" lists, "Best war movie lists" and also a "Most depressing anime" list.

Sorry in advance, this is the only movie in the canon produced for Shinchosha - the company who own the rights to the short story the film is based on. As a result it is not on the usual streaming services - but I really recommend finding a way to see this somehow.




HOW THIS WORKS

In a semi book club format, the films will be announced, and over the course of about 2 weeks we can watch it and let everyone know what we thought. I'll nominate someone to pick the next film each time, but maybe let's try not to blow all the famous ones first!

I was thinking 2 weeks should be enough time for most people to fit in a viewing at some point, but it's not strict so please come back when you have a chance, no pressure!
@Christian @Gangsta Nancy Lam @jivafox @COB @Haiku @ZenGiraffe @Lucille @KindaCool @Eyes @Queen of the Bay @RaspberrySwirl @RJN @Beverley @big ron @ButterTart @Mats (let me know if you don't want to be tagged any more)
 

Haiku

User
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
3,074
Needless to say, I'd reccommend watching the Japanese original version or the more recent dub version but if you can't find it, there's the above as an option. :D
 

Christian

GOOD BYE!
Joined
Apr 28, 2005
Messages
42,484
Location
Darkness
It's pretty incredible stuff. I first saw it about a decade a go and remember finding it so affecting, that I didn't want to watch it again for years. I could only remember small bits of it, so was somewhat baffled as to why it was such a tough watch. It's heavy on the atmosphere and emotion rather than pure plot incident which is probably the reason why. In any case, I saw it again in 2020 and it was just as brilliant second time around.
 

Haiku

User
Joined
Jan 18, 2016
Messages
3,074
For those in the UK, you can also rent/buy the Original Japanese voice version (with English subtitles) on Amazon Prime video. :thumbsup:
 

Diddy

Rice Queen
Joined
Feb 5, 2004
Messages
63,675
Location
Osaka, Land of Fire
YES definitely listen to the Japanese version - a particular strong point is the performance from the little kid as a voice actor. I DREAD to think what whiny little puke the American dub got!
 

HerSereneHighnessAnniFrid

“whatshername”
Joined
Nov 13, 2018
Messages
803
It's pretty incredible stuff. I first saw it about a decade a go and remember finding it so affecting, that I didn't want to watch it again for years. I could only remember small bits of it, so was somewhat baffled as to why it was such a tough watch. It's heavy on the atmosphere and emotion rather than pure plot incident which is probably the reason why. In any case, I saw it again in 2020 and it was just as brilliant second time around.
I can only watch this about every three to four years but somehow it really is my ‘favourite’ film of all time because of how deep an impression it leaves. I never knew that art could tear your insides out and leave you feeling total grief.

The first time I watched it, I cried for about three days afterwards and had actual depression for about two weeks having sobbed my way through it. I was NOT READY.
 

HerSereneHighnessAnniFrid

“whatshername”
Joined
Nov 13, 2018
Messages
803
(I will say that I was probably ON THE EDGE at the time due to a bad relationship PLUS I have a super-empath issue with overidentifying with the inner lives of vulnerable people - especially fictional characters.)
 

Peekaboo

User
Joined
Nov 13, 2005
Messages
5,668
This film is TOO HARROWING for me to ever watch again. The final 10 minutes are UNBEAREABLE.

Apparently it's based on a famous real-life story that the main character put down to paper but the film takes some liberties, unsure to what extent as I haven't dug as deep in Takahata's filmography as I have with Miyazaki's.
 

Peekaboo

User
Joined
Nov 13, 2005
Messages
5,668
Also I think this has already been mentioned elsewhere but this film was shown as a DOUBLE BILL with My Neighbour Totoro, which is the most HYSTERICAL DOUBLE BILL in the HISTORY OF CINEMA!!!!!!

I don't know what's worse, coming off the whimsical high of Totoro into this ABSOLUTE HELL or the EMOTIONAL WHIPLASH of watching the ending of this film followed by THIS:

 

Gangsta Nancy Lam

🎻🎻🎻
Joined
Jun 6, 2012
Messages
15,350
Location
Hell
Also I think this has already been mentioned elsewhere but this film was shown as a DOUBLE BILL with My Neighbour Totoro, which is the most HYSTERICAL DOUBLE BILL in the HISTORY OF CINEMA!!!!!!

I don't know what's worse, coming off the whimsical high of Totoro into this ABSOLUTE HELL or the EMOTIONAL WHIPLASH of watching the ending of this film followed by THIS:



Apparently Totoro was billed second.

What an UNHINGED EXPERIENCE.
 

Diddy

Rice Queen
Joined
Feb 5, 2004
Messages
63,675
Location
Osaka, Land of Fire
I don’t really get how the double bill works - you have to stay there for both films? And Christ imagine taking British kids to the cinema (I could stop there) and be like “sorry Chelsea, sorry Rylan, Wall-E will be on in 90 minutes, we need to watch Dancer in the Dark first, now sit quietly”
 
Last edited:

Eyes

I'll fly, no proof
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Messages
287
Harrowing film. But excellent. It has been a few years since I last watched it, I could go for seeing what more details I can pick up.
 

Eyes

I'll fly, no proof
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Messages
287
so I watched it again...

ohhh god. I always remember very well the bits at the end, I've seen it a few times but the story of how they got there I hadn't remembered as well. This film is dark and upsetting in my memory. So at least it wasn't all that. There's great details on the little actions they do while surviving, like the girl eating the fruit drop debris rather than the last fruit drops, to save them.

So this watchthrough I was paying a lot of attention to the choices made by people that send them into this unfortunate situation, both individual and on the societal level from a society that was being starved out by the Americans. It is this helpless tumbling down from living a relatively secure lifestyle to scrounging for food with other characters steadily less willing to help as their own situations get more desperate that makes it so compelling. Especially in a society like Japan where abandoning a family member in normal times is unthinkable - the aunt would never normally have been so hurtful as to drive the kids out.

This time why do fireflies die so soon? got me crying a lot, I'd forgotten the impact of that especially considering what was coming up.
 

Diddy

Rice Queen
Joined
Feb 5, 2004
Messages
63,675
Location
Osaka, Land of Fire
OK

This is always a hard movie to watch - it hasn't been THAT long since the last time, in some ways that makes it harder to watch because I know how it's all going to unravel.

QOTB I want to go into details so don't read any more until you've seen it!


--

I don't remember how it was the first time I watched it in 2003, the opening scene in some ways gives us the "happy ending" that sort of lets you get through what you know is likely coming.
I guess you can work out what it's about the first time from context clues? But anyway, NOW that opening scene always makes me cry, leaving me thinking "oh Christ how will the next 90 minutes be?"

The main two characters are just so real - I remember hearing about them using a girl Setsuko's age for a voice actor, and wow ... I can't imagine an older woman Bart Simpsoning herself as a 4-year old in this film, can you? Seita's pain is palpable, I think only once he actually says (to the aunt) what he's doing, i.e. not telling Setsuko about their mother, but even then we can feel his inner resolve, and torment, desperation and finally numbness. Setsuko too, occasionally acting like a grizzling child really puts into contrast when she spontaneously does something grown-up. And that hollowness she has towards the end...

It's not a film that bludgeons you over the head with a message - it's just an account of the descent of this family and the society around them. The Americans are barely mentioned despite their regular presence. Aside from comments about food shortages there is little direct exposition from the various other people, you can just see how things are changing for some people (and not for the more well-off), the cruelty and indifference of the aunt and other citizens.

But amongst all this, it's not tragedy porn - of course there are some starkly horrible images like their mother in hospital, but also some totally carefree moments of just being brother and sister. The flashbacks to happier times aren't just used as contrast to their current situation, even at the end we have a short montage of Setsuko playing by herself happily, and Seita washing himself from a broken water pipe - these scenes don't really have any narrative importance, but it just feels authentic. Hand-drawn animation takes a long time, and I have always loved Ghibli adding these scenes just for the sake of a thoughtful pause, a respite, or just enriching the characters.

While practically all of these Ghibli films have been set in fantasy worlds, having the first scene in Sannomiya Station, and the aunt in Nishinomiya, mentions of Nunobiki - these are places I often go to, I used to work in Nishinomiya. It's hard to describe the feeling I get from that, a heavy feeling somehow. I'm not allowed to brush it off as a story from another place and time, it happened within living memory in the places I live now.
 

Eyes

I'll fly, no proof
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Messages
287
I stopped off in Nishinomiya when I visited Japan, I didn't connect it with this film at the time but now :(

Great write-up Diddy, totally agree that it's great to see some lighter moments in the film, that of course make it all so much more tragic later on.
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top Bottom