Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I have spoken a lot about Hayao Miyazaki. Now it's time to talk about Isao Takahata. His filmsis just as amazing as Miyazaki's, but they don't receive anywhere near as much attention. I plan on writing a detailed analysis for The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which is now my second favorite animated film of all time. However, I feel like it would be best for me to talk about Grave of the Fireflies first before talking about The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.

Grave of the Fireflies is a very unique kind of war film. This film isn't about people fighting in battle. This film doesn't have any action sequences. Instead, Grave of the Fireflies is a slice of life story packaged in an anti-war film. This film explores war from the civilian's perspective instead of from the soldier's perspective.

Grave of the Fireflies is much more of a thematically driven story than a character driven story. Still, the characterization is great given what the film is going for. Seita is a teenage boy who struggles to survive in the film while taking care of his younger sister, Setsuko. Throughout the film, Seita tries to survive and find joy, but he ends up losing everything. He loses his mother because of the firebombing. He loses his father because the Japanese navy has been destroyed. He loses his sister because of malnutrition. He loses his own life because of starvation, which is shown at the beginning of the film. The film uses Seita's characterization to show that war ruins the lives of civilians.

On the surface, Grave of the Fireflies communicates the idea that war causes nothing but death and destruction. Beneath the surface, Grave of the Fireflies is a critique of the United States. The US claims to care about spreading democracy and providing freedom, equality, and happiness to everyone. In World War II, the US fought against Nazi Germany and Shōwa Japan in order to fight against racism, colonization, forced labor, and other forms of oppression. Yes, Nazi Germany and Shōwa Japan were oppressive regimes that were built on injustice and genocide. However, so was the US. The land was stolen from the Native Americans. The US was built on African American slavery and the exploitation of working-class Americans. The US invaded foreign countries because they cared about their own personal interests, not because they cared about the lives of civilians in those countries. To make matters worse, racism and classism are still massive issues in the US today despite laws existing to protect people of color and the working class. If Nazi Germany, Shōwa Japan, the Soviet Union, and Communist China are harshly criticized in history for genocide and oppression, then the US needs to be held to the same level of scrutiny.

What makes Grave of the Fireflies brilliant is that it avoids taking the generic approach of portraying the Allied powers as the good guys and the Axis powers as the bad guys that a lot of World War II films do. The film portrays both sides as terrible. The film criticizes Shōwa Japan for starting this war and neglecting the lives of their own people, but the film also criticizes the US for stooping down to their level when they killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians, especially when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If the US sincerely cared about spreading democracy and providing freedom, equality, and happiness to everyone, then they would not have killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians. Takahata criticizes Shōwa Japan a lot in this film, but he criticizes the US more because of their extreme hypocrisy. Action makes louder than words. If the US wants to be the "Land of the Free", then they need to learn from their mistakes and make amends with the people that they oppressed.

Graves of the Fireflies is a creative, insightful anti-war masterpiece. It is easily Studio Ghibli's darkest and most pessimistic film. As an American, this film was a challenging and thought-provoking experience. Between Grave of the Fireflies, Princess Mononoke, The Human Condition Trilogy, and Ran, all I am going to say is that Japanese cinema has a lot of amazing anti-war films from fantastic filmmakers.

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