Grave of the Fireflies

I may end up offending some people here with my review, and if I do I apolgize.

The story is about Seita and Setsuko, a brother and sister in World War II Japan whose mother is killed during one of the firebombings. They go to live with an aunt but things don't work out at all there and so they move into an abandoned air raid shelter.

From the viewpoint of showing the suffering that occurred during the war in Japan, from a Japanese viewpoint, the film is very good. The firebombings of Japanese cities were horribly effective. More people died in the firebombings than in the explosions of the atomic bombs. Most of the houses at the time were basic wooden structures and once a major fire started the entire area was in danger of being destroyed.

From the viewpoint of other things, though, I didn't care for the film. It starts off with an opening that very strongly implies that the two main characters are dead. I personally don't like any film that starts off this way because you already know that things will not work out.

I did feel sorry for Setsuko. She was very, very young, totally innocent and suffered terribly. I don't feel sorry at all for her brother, Seita, however, and I feel that her death is his responsibility.

After the death of their mother they move in with an aunt. In all the time they are there, however, Seita makes no effort at all to help with anything. He does no housework; he doesn't help in the village; he doesn't try to get a job. The factory he had been working at was destroyed, true, but I think there would have been something he could have done somewhere to earn some money.

Once they leave the aunt's house they move into an abandoned air raid shelter but even then he makes no effort to find some type of work to do. Even after Setsuko becomes ill he still seems to believe that they can make it on their own.

He eventually turns to stealing things from houses abandoned during air raids but eventually gets caught and beat up quite badly. This happens after has has promised Setsuko that he will not leave her alone.

In Western culture the boy might get some praise for trying to make it on his own initiative, but this is a film about Japanese culture and the boy does not follow the principle of the "group." In Japanese culture there is great emphasis on doing things in a group and for the group, including responsibility to the community that you live in. By his complete refusal to help the community in any way or get a job of any kind Seita is basically turning his back on his own culture. Unfortunately, it's his sister that pays the price for his laziness/defiance/whatever.

This is a very upsetting movie in my opinion. It is well done, but still very upsetting.

I found out some interesting tidbits about the movie from the book by Peter Carey, Wrong About Japan: A Father's Journey with his Son, 2004.

1. The director was Isao Takahata.

2. The person who wrote the story was actually evacuated to Kobe during the war. His sister stayed in Tokyo and was killed in the fire-bombing.

A person they talked to (not involved directly with the movie) was 12 at the time of the fire-bombings. He was staying at Tokyo and during one of the fire-bombings some 120,000 people were killed in one raid. He went to work at a elsewhere at a factory and that was attacked, although this time by low-flying fighter planes that were strafing the workers as they ran away.

His parents sent him to Kofu, a place near Mt. Fuji, thinking he would be safer there. A fire-bombing there killed 100,000 people out of a population of 300,000. Thus, the deadly effects of the fire-bombing as seen in the movie were quite realistic and definitely based on actual history.

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