So. It’s been awhile.
Yes, I realize this is an understatement.
But when it comes to wondering why it looked like I’d fallen off the face of the planet, you can either place the blame on my graduate thesis and full-time job — or the fact that the next movie in this countdown left me a crumpled heap of sadness, a blob of inactivity lurching its way through the holiday season and fighting the urge to live in a glass case of emotion. I hope you choose the latter.
Of course, I’m talking about the 1988 film “Grave of the Fireflies” or “Hotaru no haka.” This has everything you need for a good night in of just you, a box of tissues, and a tub of whatever ice cream you prefer, which you will immediately regret consuming throughout the course of this film.
This Isao Takahata tragedy opens in September of 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, and a crippled Japan is trying its hardest to survive. The film opens at the ending, so be prepared for a giant sorrow punch to the gut. We meet the deliverer or said punch, 14-year-old Seita who is dying of starvation at Sannomiya Station, main railway terminal for Kobe. When Seita succumbs and dies, a janitor removes his body and finds a candy tin, which the janitor throws away into a nearby field. From the tin springs the spirit of Seita’s younger sister, Setsuko. And boom, you feel another immediate gut punch as the two spirits reunite and Seita beings to narrate their backstory, beginning with the firebombing of the city of Kobe in March of 1945, where they lose their mother.
Seriously — minutes in and you already feel a little bit of your soul being consumed by the sheer amount of sad.
But oh wait, on the horizon there’s an entire mountain of sad for you get over. Because though the two siblings manage go to live with their Aunt, she becomes increasingly bitter due to the hardships brought on by the war and the quickly thinning food rations. She becomes so bitter towards the two that Seita decides to leave with Setsuko and care for her on his own. They find refuge inside an abandoned bomb shelter and release fireflies within for light.
And I’m going to leave it off here. Any more spoilers at this point would either cause you to feel so depressed about pushing this animation through your eyeholes that you’d rather not press play in the first place.
And I sincerely hope you don’t feel that way.
Because yes, Grave of the Fireflies is sad — it’s supposed to be sad, and the animators at Studio Ghibli knew what they were out to convey with this film. They do a stellar job of making you care about these two kids, which makes their hardships all the more hard to watch. Every scene is there for a reason, every decision the characters make is a real one that they turn to for extremely believable reasons, and the ending will make this film one you cannot forget — for both exciting and horrifying reasons. The animation is gorgeous, but depicts two very brutal, heartbreaking lives; the medium isn’t “real,” but brings out emotions and problems that are so real.
War is a real thing, starvation is a real thing, things experienced by children and adults today all over the globe — and this film will make you think about those things. So, go watch it, and think about some uncomfortable things for awhile. And though I know the holiday season is over, maybe think about bringing about some change when it comes to ending world hunger too. If you like, take a look at two sites that I’d really recommend: Bread for the World , a religious organization that focuses on feeding the hungry through legislation and boots-on-the-ground type work. Or, if you’d prefer an organization without any affiliation, check out The Hunger Project — both sites let you donate any amount you feel comfortable with, or maybe just read up on what world hunger looks like and educate yourself.
Or hey, maybe watch “Grave of the Fireflies” first and join me in my cave of sadness — there’s plenty of room.