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Movie “Grave of the Fireflies” Essay

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Updated: Jun 18th, 2019

Grave of the Fireflies (1988) is the Japanese animated film directed by Isao Takahata, and it is a vivid example of the Japanese anime on the topic of the war. The young boy Seita and his younger sister Setsuko are the main characters who are depicted living in Japan during World War II.

The fate of the children’s father, an officer in the Imperial Navy, is unknown, and the children’s mother died from injuries received during the firebombing. The first scenes of the anime present Seita dying from malnutrition. Seita’s spirit meets the spirit of the dead sister in the form of fireflies released from the tin of drops.

The audience can follow the children’s story presented in flashbacks from the moment of firebombing, when children loose their mother. Then, Seita and Setsuko come to their aunt who is rather sympathetic, but she is sure that children should work to receive food.

The children leave the aunt’s house to find the shelter where they release the cloud of fireflies, but these fireflies die shortly, making Setsuko ask about the nature of death. Although Seita and Setsuko strive to survive, they die from malnutrition (“Grave of the Fireflies”).

However, the final scenes of the anime represent the happy children rounded by fireflies, making the end rather open.

Thus, the main topics discussed in the anime are the war, firebombing, individual sufferings, struggle, and death; and the director achieves the necessary dramatic effect with the focus on such symbolic images and icons as fireflies and the tin of fruit drops.

Grave of the Fireflies can be considered as one of the popular Japanese animated films discussing the problem of war which are characteristic for the post-war period.

This period in Japan resulted in the focus of the Japanese culture and art on the problems of the war as the most significant ones to explain the issues observed in the modern Japanese society.

In spite of the fact that the topic of the war is significant for anime, Grave of the Fireflies is rather unique in presenting the aspects of the war because of focusing not on general issues, but on the role of the war for persons’ fates.

Thus, Grave of the Fireflies demonstrates how the life of the whole family is destroyed due to the war because the mother dies as a result of firebombing, the fate of the father is unknown, and two young children die from malnutrition (“Grave of the Fireflies”).

The film’s authors focus much on providing the vivid graphic depictions of the war realities in order to create the necessary atmosphere, but more attention is paid to represent the individual characters of Seita and Setsuko who are depicted as innocent victims of the dramatic situation.

The graphic descriptions made in such animated films as Grave of the Fireflies are effective to create the detailed images because of the anime’s focus on flexibility and creativity.

The film presents the individual story of Seita and Setsuko’s suffering from the oppressive conditions as the story influenced by the terrible war. From this point, Takahata goes far beyond the discussion of the war horrors as the social evil and focuses on the tragedy in the life of two young children.

The goal of Grave of the Fireflies is not to present the horrors of the war with the help of demonstrating the firebombing and the struggle of the soldiers, but to focus on the people’s emotions and perceptions because of the necessity to struggle for survival.

Seita and Setsuko are represented as the victims of the war because they need to struggle with the oppressive conditions each day of their life.

These children do not want to wait for the social assistance because the society is depicted as rather indifferent in relation to Seita and Setsuko’s problems. For instance, the children’s aunt cannot provide them with the feeling of security, and they have to go to find the better life.

To shift the focus of the film from the war and its catastrophic consequences for the society to the individual characters of Seita and Setsuko, the film’s authors refer to such devices as the use of symbols and icons.

Referring to the symbol of fireflies, it is possible to represent the power of the children’s spirit and their hope for the better life as well as their connection with the protective ancestors (“Grave of the Fireflies”).

As a result, the social critique reflected in the anime acquires its metaphorical and symbolic meaning, and it is perceived by the audience through the depictions of the animated film’s characters and descriptions of their individual fate.

Thus, manipulating the topic of the war and representing its dramatic consequences in the anime, the authors of the film choose to present the problem with the help of using the flexible and creative techniques of anime where it is possible to accentuate the necessary images and to emphasize the important symbols with the vivid graphics.

Works Cited

Grave of the Fireflies. 1988. Video file. Web.

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