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Grave of the Fireflies

(1988, Takahata)
An animated film

"Why do fireflies have to die so soon?"

Fireflies have an approximate lifespan of a couple of weeks once they break from the pupa. By human standards, this is a short time to "live", which is why little Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi) asks the above question. How is it possible that these creatures that are so beautiful and bring so much joy and light to her life "have to die so soon"? This film transposes that question to the human condition in the midst of World War II.

Grave of the Fireflies, which is the second film from acclaimed Studio Ghibli, follows teenage boy Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi) and her little sister Setsuko as they struggle to survive during the final months of the war. Orphaned, rejected, abandoned, and starved, both siblings have to rely and care for each other to overcome conditions that no human should live through.

I know it might sound naive, but I'm firmly against any war of any kind. Particularly if those affected are innocent civilians, and not necessarily the ones that are ultimately responsible for the conflict. Which is why the bleakness of this film hit me so hard. We see the two young children fall victims not necessarily to "enemy fire", but rather to the conditions in the aftermath of various fierce bombings. Houses are destroyed, hospitals and schools are inoperable, food is being rationed, how can they survive? But that is what war does. It smothers you till you can't breathe anymore.

Despite the subject matter, the film shies away from any overt political stance, which I think was a good choice. We get no glimpse of the "enemy", other than the sight of planes flying in the sky, and we get no glimpse of the local government or superiors; we hardly see any soldier, actually. What we see is people, old and young, live and dead, men and women, all at the mercy of forces they can't control.

The overall animation is pretty much flawless, but the real beauty and tragedy of the film lies in the relationship between these two siblings, which is one of undeniable love, support, and care. A snapshot of the millions of children from all "sides" that died during World War II. Beautiful creatures that brought joy and light to each other, for however long or short their lives were. Why did they have to die so soon?