Grave of the Fireflies; a “Holocaust Movie”.

Grave of the Fireflies

I’ve watched Grave of the Fireflies a couple of years ago, and to be honest, I totally didn’t expect what I got. I was watching it with a friend with whom I’d been watching a movie every two weeks, I had this anime movie DVD at home, so I brought it along. What I received was a heavy story, a depressing story, in anime form.

For those who do not know, I hail from Israel, and the state religion is Judaism. One of the dates commemorated in Israel is the Holocaust (and Bravery) Memorial Day, which is held each year a week before Independence Day. As a student in the Israeli school system, we’d get taught over the issue every year, at least during our younger years, and talk of the Holocaust permeated much of the public discussion in Israel, always in the background.

More than that, aside from the memorial day, when all TV broadcast were dedicated to the issue, we’d get films related to the issue at other times of the year. As such, when I say “Holocaust movie”, there’s a certain meaning to it.

Yesterday I’ve happened to watch a documentary film about the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki‘s atomic bombing, but this post was coming for some time anyway.

When I call Grave of the Fireflies a Holocaust movie, I take it to mean that it has certain qualities, and if I spoil the movie a bit, then at least you’ll be prepared for what you will come to face in it.

This is not a war story, but a story about the indirect casaulties of war, it is a story of oppression, of children who lose their parents and must make do, in a society that does not have the resources to take care of them. You are faced with the seeming cruelty of their relatives, but you are forced to consider whether they are truly inhuman, or merely are trying to do their best in an impossible situation where their best, or anyone’s, is far from enough.

You will see children die, and it will be obvious to you that had someone made some sort of compromise, in attitude, in honour, some sort of compromise, they would have survived. It would be obvious to you but it would not necessarily be true.

This is a “Holocaust Movie”, even though you do not have some third party who is oppressing the characters directly, robbing them of their faculties. This is a “Holocaust Movie”, even though it does not take part in Europe and that the characters are not Jewish. This is a Holocaust Movie in its feel, in its gravitas. This is a Holocaust movie in the same way that The Pianist is, and Roberto Benigni‘s Life is Beautiful are; they do not focus on the war, but on abject poverty, despair, and the smaller people’s attempts to live in such a climate.

I wonder if any movies were made about the great exodus people had made during The Great Depression in the United States, and how similar a story that would be. Minus the war-torn bodies, of course.

A note, I am not sure if this is how it was originally made, or if the DVD was reconstructed from quite an old VHS Tape, but the animation quality in the movie is quite sub-par, though it may be a conscious choice.

I will not grade this movie, I’ll just tell you that it is good, and that you shouldn’t watch it unless you come prepared for a heavy, somber film. Forget that it’s anime, because that’d just throw you off.

Edit: I am not willing to entertain political discussions here, especially not ones where hate speech of pseudo hate-speech is uttered against any group. The reason I brought back my upbringing is because I wanted to give context to my experience watching this film, and my experience with “Holocaust movies”, which do not have to deal with the Holocaust, per se. I reserve the right to remove and modify any and all offending comments, and if that makes me a fascist dictator, well, it’s my blog.

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23 comments on “Grave of the Fireflies; a “Holocaust Movie”.

  1. Karry says:

    Speaking of holocaust, jews are idiots.
    Lets see, so some fanatic killed millions of jews all over europe, so what did the jews do ? They all gathered in one nice small spot, so they would be easier to finish off, should someone want that in the future. Also they became evil nazi murderers themselves, so people who want to kill jews would actually have a perfectly good reason to do so.
    Meh, its your funeral.

    • Guy says:

      A comment such as this has no room on my blog. Readers, many of you like posting in a semi-trollish way, because that’s your writing style, and it is cute. There are places where I won’t accept it. Real-world (ethnic, religious, etc.) groups hate-screeds, well, that won’t fly.

      Also, try not to speak in slogans, it paints you as boorish and unsophisticated. And this movie is all about the gamut of grey in the world, as some other commentators had rightly pointed out as well.

  2. Domfree says:

    Yeah but those people will have to be space people cause Israel got enough nucks to wipe all of humanity out of the face of the earth…

    Every big nation is a evil nazi murderer. or at the very least if you invest a couple of billions on making the media promote that image they will be.

    Its not like too many wars are really waged over humanitarian reasons anyway.
    the only real drives for war are fear and money.

    Anyway thanks for the review i’ll make watch this movie when i’ll get the chance.

  3. Dan says:

    Excellent review, I’ve linked to it from our Top 10 anime feature.

    • Guy says:

      Thanks, I’ll comment on your post later, but while Akira is great, especially as a story, I’m not sure the anime had done the original manga much justice.

      I do agree on the number one choice, as Princess Mononoke is actually one of my three favourite films of all times.

  4. enrius says:

    I happened to watch this movie when my coursemate asked me to download it for him. And when I did, I immediately hailed it as one of the greatest story ever told in anime.

    In the end, it’s telling us there is no war of absolute righteousness. Whatever remnant of it is agony.

    By the way, the live action movie of Hotaru no haka is also quite nice. Do watch it if you have the time. ^^

    • Guy says:

      I’ll look into it, “Hotaru no Haka” that is, I’m not sure I’ve heard the name before.

      Is Grave of the Fireflies a great story? I don’t think it is, even if it’s a great movie. A movie is a piece of art where the greatness comes both from the story, and from how the story is delivered. I think the story in Grave of the Fireflies is one of the most basic that there are, but it still hits hard, and I’m not sure if it’s because of how the movie delivers it, or just because it’s such a raw subject.

      • enrius says:

        Urm, it is exactly Grave of the Fireflies in Japanese. ^^

        I see your point on whether the story is great or not, it’s basic, down to earth style and it is exactly that plus well delivered let me suggest it was a great story. They didn’t need a totally fictitious background (I.E. sci-fi) to make the story shine. ^^

    • Guy says:

      Yeah, the “Hana” got confused in my mind for a moment. Dunno why, but for some reason instead of “Hotaru” I’ve read “Hanataro”, like the Shinigami.

      You know, sometimes we use sci-fi not so the story will shine, but so it won’t hurt as bad. Some people can accept stories of racism and evil, so long they’re not about their culture.

  5. […] News Network – the internet’s number one resource for all anime news Anime History Grave of the Fireflies November 23rd, 2009 | Tags: akira, anime, barefoot gen, castle in the sky, ghost in the shell, […]

  6. Canne says:

    The first time I watched this movie, I was still very young (6-7 years old). I remembered that I didn’t like it at all because it made me sad. I didn’t fully understand the context behind WWII but I could very well understand the suffering of Setsuko and her brother. Thinking about that time, it’s quite surprising that despite the bad feeling I had, I still watched it till the end. That’s quite unusual for children. Surely, this is one of the best anime ever made.

    • Guy says:

      If the goal of art is to make us feel, and the measure of greatness of art is how strongly it makes us feel, and think, and question, and that is certainly a view I subscribe to (though I also subscribe to other viewpoints, which lead to a more nuanced judgment), then yes, this film is surely one of the greatest pieces of anime produced.

  7. This has been on my “to watch” list for a while, as I’m always interested in stories about how humans fail each other in small ways, how those lead to larger problems, and how very human those sorts of things make us. Because it reminds me how much better we can do.

    (And, man, this sure brought the fucking neo-Nazi idiots out of the woodwork, eh?)

    • Guy says:

      Hm, how does it remind you how much better we can do? But definitely, if you want a movie about stories in how humans fail, in very human ways, then this is the movie for you.

      And I don’t think that specific term applies to them.

  8. Hirobot says:

    Oh my. There will be children dying? I got this on DVD but haven’t watched it yet. When I do get around to watching it I’ll be better prepared.

    Good luck with Nano!

    • Guy says:

      Thanks for the well-wishes, but it’s not going to happen. I didn’t update the counter, and it’s obviously not that bad, but I’m far from it. Sometimes when I set myself too strict a goal, it backfires.

  9. lovelyduckie says:

    Grave of the Fireflies wasn’t the movie for me, I don’t like sad movies in general. I prefer a movie be bittersweet at most (ex: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time). I’m fine with plots with sad moments, but I can’t stand movies where the entire thing is just nothing but sadness. I had to watch Death of a Salesman for school recently, and I felt utterly miserable after. Watching movies like these effect me too much.

    • Guy says:

      Death of a Salesman wasn’t too bad, it was a bit dull though. I’ve watched it in high school, since we’ve read it for our Literature final.

      And well, as I pointed out above, I’m A-ok with sad and emotional fiction, but I need to be prepared for it. Holocaust movies usually get filmed on Holocaust Memorial Day, and you go in knowing what you’re going to get. This movie came totally out of left field, into my unprotected belly, yeah, it was sort of rough. We were kind of stunned and silent for 5 minutes after it ended, not knowing what to say. Then we chuckled nervously and said, “Ok, that was not what we expected…”, heh.

      • lovelyduckie says:

        I watched it after seeing Spirited Away and other positive films by this director. It’s hard for me to have a proper opinion on this movie because I went into this movie wanting something else. It was mismatched for what I wanted to see at the time.

  10. Q says:

    It’s been some time since I last heard somebody talking about this film. I can understand that you’ve drawn connections between Holocaust and this, though it’s not something I would normally link the two.

    Quite a strong film I’d say, starting with the main character dying and him narrating that he died in 1945, then brings you back to how it all started and how it slowly went from bad to worse. Ordinary civillians and children dying from wars and starvation – not something one normally sees in a film, especially when it’s animated. The atmosphere feels very hopeless, especially towards the end of the movie. It’s a very profound title I must say, but perhaps so profound that I have not planned to rewatch it again all time, it’s been over 10 years since I’ve first watched it.

    • Guy says:

      I don’t think it’s anyone’s first thought, this is also why this is posted under “Geekulture”, in a way I am discussing what makes for a “Holocaust Movie” and using this film as my case study.

      And I totally dig what you’re saying, just yesterday I told my girlfriend I can loan the movie to her, but that there is no way I’m watching it with her. And no, it’s not because it’s a “bad movie”.

  11. Tommy says:

    Ah, a classic. That was the golden age of Japanese anime (movies and series’), we just don’t see these kinds of breakthrough stories any more. Stories that actually have meaning to it.

    Heh, I wonder what happened to their creativity…

    • Guy says:

      Well, aside from catering to a wilder audience, if we look at “Good art” as “Art that makes one feel”, it sometimes feels like “Aww” and “funny” are the only feelings still allowed to be expressed.

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