by Jürgen Fauth
Without a doubt one of the best movies I have seen this year, or any other year, this animated Japanese classic tells the story of a pair of orphans following the firebombing of Kobe at the end of World War II. It is also a wonderful demonstration of the potential of anime-a serious art form that is at least as versatile as live action, and equally capable of telling true, touching human stories.
The film opens with a ghostly montage that hints at the fate of the teenage Seita and his younger sister Setsuko, before an extended sequence showing an American attack on their home town. The wooden buildings catch fire from a myriad of phospherous canisters dropped from planes in an eeriely beautiful firestorm. The two find out that their mother didn't survive the attack and leave for their aunt's home. When things don't work out, they take up refuge in an abandoned bomb shelter.
Based on the novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, "Grave of the Fireflies" takes tremendous care to illustrate the everyday details of life during war time. It is an interesting paradox of animation that in the right hands, it can be more realistic than life action: the sparsity of the images heighten certain details-the cooking of rice, a bubble caught in the clothes of a little girl in a bathtub, the candy drops rattling in their metal container.
"Grave of the Fireflies" is certain to elicit tears from just about anybody. With the careful, quiet deliberation of the best Italilan neo-realism, it lays out its heartbreaking story. Never resorting to sentimentality or manipulative tricks, the film instills achingly real sorrow for the orphans' fate.
I should underline that "Grave of the Fireflies" is certainly
not recommended for younger viewers. It doesn't avert its gaze from the
bloody stumps and burnt-out eyes of the childrens' mother, or a little
girl's last, laboured breaths.
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