Grave of the Fireflies – DVD Review

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: $19.98 US
Running Time: 89 minutes
Genre: Drama
Rating: TV PG
Release Date: Available Now

Some masterpieces are meant to be revisited and this is definitely one of them.

If you asked me then I would have completely denied it but now that I’m older I can admit now that when I first saw Grave of the Fireflies so long ago I cried to the point that my parents actually had to stop the movie. So powerful was the impact of this animated classic film that it never left mind even now as Sentai Filmworks releases the remastered edition on DVD. Believe me when I say that this is one of those truly unforgettable films that should be experienced at least once.

It is September 21, 1945 when we first meet a young man by the name of Seita who closes his eyes for the final time as he dies of hunger in a train station. He’s not alone either as a police officer walking a beat discovers the body of another young man not far away. As one officer discards an old tin can that once held candy inside, Seita’s spirit is reunited with that of the spirit of a child who just so happens to have been his little sister named Setsuko. Their heartbreaking story – a reflection of Nosaka Akiyuki’s own real-life story – is told in a flashback as they look back on the events that lead to their tragic deaths.

In the final months of the war, Kobe finds itself under attack by Allied bombers and both Seita and Setsuko are caught in a series of bombings that set not only their house on fire but the entire surrounding area. Both siblings are witnesses to the devastating and horrific aftermath of the bombing. As the survivors gather at a local school, Seita makes a startling discovery about their mother.

With no choice but to go live with a distant aunt, the pair finds out that their aunt on their father’s side is a difficult woman who begins to wear Seita down with her constant complaints that he isn’t contributing to the war effort. When she begins to hold back food, however, Seita decides to take his little sister with him to live on their own in an abandoned shelter. While they live the way they want, including trips to the beach, resources quickly become scarce.

With no food, Seita tries selling off his mother’s kimonos for good and even steals from a local farmer but it becomes clear that supplies have become very limited for all of Japan. Even at the end of the war, when Japan surrendered, there’s very little in terms of medicine as well. Unfortunately, Setsuko starts feeling the effects of malnutrition and Seita isn’t able to help his little sister as things start getting worst for both. What happens next unravels in a painful manner that you can’t help but feel the desperation Seita feels as he comes to the realization that he failed to carry out his mother’s final wishes.

As painful as it is to watch the tragic final moments of Setsuko, it is even more painful to see Seita realize his mistakes and a country that didn’t coldly turn their backs on them but just didn’t have the resources to help them. Director Iaso Takahata (who, together with Hayao Miyazaki, is the co-founder of Studio Ghibli) made good use of Studio Ghibli’s animation team to create a visually impressive film whether it’s the expressive characters or the stunning backdrops. Takahata easily evokes emotion in every scene wither its watching a firefly die or the casual manner in which he displays charred bodies.

Never coming off as preachy, the film presents the tragedy of war’s aftermath the way it was seen through the eyes of those that suffered through it. Yet in-between the tragedy there are moments of beauty such as when Seita catches fireflies for his sister and the calm day they spend on the beach together. It isn’t until their deaths that brother and sister find the peace they didn’t have in a time when the world was tossed in chaos. Even the significance of the tin can has so much meaning as we come to realize why.

Sentai Filmworks doesn’t bring out the extras in this release but the Remastered Edition makes up for it in quality. The animation has been cleaned up to the point that it looks amazing and the original voice cast is intact (and that also includes the English dub).

Grave of the Fireflies is a powerfully emotional animated film that is as timeless as any other cinematic masterpiece and while its content is heartbreakingly depressing it still manages to be so overwhelmingly compelling that you cannot look away. Without a doubt, this beautiful and haunting film stands as one of the most poignant stories of war’s horrific aftermath that it will resonate now and in years to come. I cannot recommend this movie enough and, if you have never seen it, I highly suggest you pick this one up right away. Some movies really do NEED to be seen.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A+
In the last remaining months of the war, Kobe is set aflame by Allied bombers as a young man named Seita and his little sister, Setsuko, find themselves homeless and orphans. Suddenly, the young siblings find themselves turning to a distant aunt and finally on their own as food become scarce and things start going from bad to tragic.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The animation in this feature film is simply stunning even several years after its first release but then again it’s exactly what you might expect from Studio Ghibli. This remastered edition looks even better than past re-releases and that is a very good thing.

AUDIO QUALITY: A
Accompanying the beautiful animation is an equally beautiful original score by Michio Mamiya that does not fail to make each scene all the more powerful and emotional. The English dub cast is the same from past releases and it’s still good but it doesn’t come close to the amazing original Japanese performances that include Tsutomu Tatsumi as Seita.

EXTRAS: D
Unfortunately, there are no real extras in this release other than a few Sentai Filmworks trailers. We would have loved the extras from a previous release that brought out some juicy featurettes.

OVERALL: A+
A heartbreaking, unforgettable and inspiring film that transcends time, Grave of the Fireflies is an animated classic that should be among everyone’s film collection. An anti-war movie if ever there was one, this film has us witness war’s cruel aftermath but also the true strength of human love. Simply put, Grave of the Fireflies is a movie you really do need to see right away.

Review copy provided by Sentai Filmworks

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