Folks, this is the power of well-constructed fiction. Grave of the Fireflies is an astonishingly powerful animated film about a Japanese brother and sister orphaned during a firebombing in WWII. It’s a film to move you to tears, and feel that frustratingly ironic anger at evil folks who drop bombs on innocents. The characters are so well focused they just draw you into the story, and I found it easy to ride the emotional rollercoaster the entire way. The younger sister (Setsuko) is perfectly honed to behave the way a young child might in such upsetting circumstances, and the older brother (Seita) makes promises he cannot keep, and suffers accordingly.
The film is well-executed, particularly in the scenes where it really matters. Using animation for such a serious subject isn’t common, but it doesn’t detract at all from the themes: the suspension-of-disbelief in this film is just magnetic. The anime is above average, and particularly well-lit in the firefly scenes of the title, although it isn’t to the standard of some of the Hayao Miyazaki films I have mentioned before. This is probably almost fortunate, because (at least at first) it helps insulate one from the horrors of what’s depicted. I turned the English dubbing off, because it seemed that having American voices playing Japanese people in such a film was wholly inappropriate. (Incidentally, for a historical perspective from the other side, see the excellent documentary Fog of War).
I agree wholeheartedly with Roger Ebert’s sentiment that Grave of the Fireflies is probably one of the most powerful anti-war films of all time (my other favourite is Dr. Strangelove, which is easier to watch). It’s not something to see when you want cheering up or a light-hearted evening, but if you are looking for a well-crafted film that portrays a loving relationship in a time of strife, this is it.