Why “Grave of the Fireflies” is an Important Film


Shaunak Patil

Grave of the Fireflies custom graphic depicting planes in the sky and two people standing in a field

Shaunak Patil

The horrors of WWII have been studied for decades. Every textbook, archival footage, and article describes the war in a different way. However, only a handful of media fully explores the worst part of the war and its impact on innocent lives.

“Grave of the Fireflies” is a 1988 Japanese animated war tragedy directed by the genius himself Isao Takahata. It tells the tale of a brother, Seita, aged 14, and sister, Setsuko, aged 4, who are forced to endure the horrific war firsthand alone.

The anime doesn’t censor or soften any aspect of the war. Each aspect of the anime is displayed in a heartbreaking but realistic fashion.

From the beginning of the anime to the end, a grim tale is told that doesn’t shy away from death, starvation and abuse. This was the life for many children during that time. The team behind the anime knew this and used it to convey an important message.

What makes the anime even more impactful, however, is how it’s presented. With a masterful production behind the scenes, it’s no surprise almost every frame was careful plotted to make the story feel more real.

Unlike traditional American animated films that rely mainly on action and fast cuts, this anime utilizes a much more slow and steady pace that keeps the story alive throughout its entirety. From long shots of a neighborhood in flames, to rain droplets on vegetation, to a scene where the main characters just talk to each other, each scene builds the story and gives it the perspective that lacks in today’s generation.

Photo of acclaimed Japanese director and animator Isao Takahata giving a speech (Wikimedia Commons)

Prioritizing a much more story driven narrative, the film captivates emotions and makes the audience look at the characters as someone they have known their entire lives.

The anime’s origins stretch back well before the initial release. “Grave of the Fireflies” is also a book which was published nearly 21 years before the anime’s release. It was written by Akiyuka Nosaka who based it off his own personal experiences as a young teenager during the time.

Similar to the anime, Nosaka had a younger sister and lived a life filled with loss growing up due to war. His own sorrows and guilt were poured into this book which in turn were poured into the anime as well.

Studio Ghibli picked up on the story and reworked certain portions but still kept the sorrow and grief the same in order to impart the same message to the audience. “Grave of the Fireflies” is important. As we progress further and further away from the event, we must never forget the sacrifices that millions of people had to endure.

The anime emphasizes how those numbers on a screen or on a page were indeed people. They had brothers, sisters, likes and wants. People whose dreams never came true, people who wanted nothing more than a simple life to live and people who were destined for greatness but were never given the chance.

This anime tells that story. It gives a voice to the millions of people who wanted to tell their stories but never got a chance.

As the anime grows older the stories become more and more forgotten, it’s our duty to keep it alive—keep the voices alive and keep their sacrifices alive.

Without spoiling much I can say without a doubt that this anime is heartbreaking, sad and even disgusting in some ways, but it’s also the truth. It should make you question how an event of this magnitude was even allowed to happen, especially to those who have no involvement in it. This anime is important and must be seen.