Anime is often thought as trivial, childish fare by the outsider, but anyone who has actually watched some good anime films will know that the best anime are more realistic, more complex and have more adult-like themes than the vast majority of mediocre real-life fares.
And one of the most humane of them all happens also to be one of the saddest films that you would ever see: the Ghibli classic “Grave of the Fireflies”.
Grave of the Fireflies is situated in Kobe, Japan during the last summer of World War Two. It tells us the story of a teenager Seita and his 4-year-old sister Setsuko. At that point of time, American forces have begun their aggressive air-bombing campaign in Japanese civil populations. Their mother fell victim to an air bomb, and also destroyed their house, forcing the siblings to seek shelter from their distant aunt.
Their aunt took them in, but as food rations grew thinner and life became harder, their aunt began to show irritation towards the siblings for inconveniencing her family. Finally, made intolerant of his aunt’s unkind treatment, Seita took his sister out of the house and occupied a nearby abandoned bomb shelter instead. But for both of them trying to survive became a tremendously difficult task, so Seita was forced to steal food and loot houses. His sister ended up getting diagnosed with malnutrition and died shortly after, followed by Seita’s own demise a few days later after the American occupation came into place.
The film is described as one of the greatest anti-war films ever made, though the filmmaker and some perceptive audience members may feel that being anti-war was never the outward intent of the film. It was more of a social commentary of the fragility of human relationships during times of trouble, and how the isolation of the helpless led to the demise of the helpless.
Since the release of the film, television stations had often made it an annual tradition to show a screening of the film on August 15, which is the day where Imperial Japan surrendered to Allied forces. The film is a powerful reminder of not just Japanese suffering in the war (which is still a sensitive topic), but also the real effects of war on humanity. Wretchedness can come in mundane forms, which is one theme of this story.