Grave of the Fireflies

"Isao Takahata’s powerful antiwar film has been praised by critics wherever it has been screened around the world. When their mother is killed in the firebombing of Tokyo near the end of World War II, teenage Seita and his little sister Setsuko are left on their own: their father is away, serving in the Imperial Navy. The two children initially stay with an aunt, but she has little affection for them and resents the time and money they require. The two children set up housekeeping in a cave by a stream, but their meager resources are quickly exhausted, and Seita is reduced to stealing to feed his sister." (text taken from Amazon)
Year Released
Running Time
88 min
Central Park Media
Average: 4.2 (13 votes)


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Movie Review: Grave of the Fireflies

Field of Interest/Specialty: Art
Posted On: 01/07/2019

This was my very first antiwar film experience. If you have never watched an antiwar film, this would be an excellent starting place.
The anime film takes place in Tokyo during World War II. The story begins with the firebombing death of a mother with two surviving children. The children Seita; 14 and Setsuko; 4 are left to fend for themselves after an emotional stay with an aunt who treats them badly. The children hide out in a cave near a stream, where finding food is a struggle. Seita resorts to daredevil stealing to provide for his younger sister. Coupled with Seita’s lack of survival knowledge and the lack of resources in the war-torn area; Setsuko’s health begins to fail. The tragic ending will bring one to tears with newfound knowledge about how children suffer in times of war.
This would be an excellent film for Middle School Students. In today’s media led world, many children have become desensitized to empathy. This film would be a good way to portray the effect of war on everyday people and evoke empathy.

M. Curtiss review of Grave of the Fireflies

Field of Interest/Specialty: Art pk-Adult
Posted On: 01/05/2019

Michael Curtiss, I teach Art grades Kindergarten through 8th grade at Harts Pk-8 in Lincoln county.
The Grave of the Fireflies is a very moving film. In my opinion the film is for no younger than eighth grade if they a mature group, but mostly it should be for High school. The film shows the story of two Japanese children that have be left orphan do to the war. Their mother was killed in a bombing and fire of their village. Their father was severing in the military. They moved in with their aunt and her family but she did not want them are the extra responsibility of having them there. Cause the two children to run away and take shelter in the old bomb shelter. It shows the means of what the older brother would do to keep his little sister alive, from stealing food and other items to just giving her false hope about their mother and the war.
The movie itself shows great animation skills and use of visual cues to represent life in the war torn parts of Japan. Highlighting the struggles of what people went through to survive. Even how different people look at the war and how everyone contributed in different ways.
I could use this in my Art class with a lesson visual animation. Showing the steps, it takes to make the movie or if finding the visual cues that are placed in the movie to represent different things at the time the film was meant to take place. This could be done by taking stills of the different parts of the film, instead of showing the whole film. That way you are able to control what the student sees.
This would also be good to work with the Social Studies class to help inforce the effects of war on different areas of the world.

Grave of the Fireflies

Field of Interest/Specialty: literature/social studies
Posted On: 01/11/2018

Grade 6
Mother of Sorrows
Movie Review
Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies, directed by Isao Takahata, is a 1988 Japanese anime film about two children struggling to survive during World War II. It is based on the semi-autobiographical short story of Akiyuki Nosaka from the 1960's. This is an emotionally moving movie that hits an emotional chord from the very first scene in the movie. Throughout the entire movie, you will find yourself relating to the feelings of the siblings and the hardships they endure while trying to survive on their own during the hardships of war without their parents to help them.
The movie, created in anime, is effective in illustrating the realities of wartime in Japan. The artistic beauty and innocence of the anime add to the powerful message that the story is trying to convey. The characters' emotions and struggles become the forefront of the movie instead of the costuming or actors that a real-life movie might have shown. The message of the story is particularly compelling through the artwork of this film. The children cope with the realities of war such as the air raids, death of family, losing their home and losing their way of life. Grave of the Fireflies creates an awareness that teaches the lesson that "war not only affects those soldiers engaged in combat, but also shows how far reaching consequences that one may not be able to imagine". After watching the film, you may ask questions such as, "How many families are torn apart by war?" or "How many children die due to the effects of war?" Watching the film creates an emotional feeling of turmoil because of the stress and sadness the characters face throughout their story.
The film is a thought-provoking depiction of the effect of war on human lives that would be appropriate to show middle school students who are studying social studies or history. It would be a captivating supplement to a unit about World War II and about how war can have detrimental effects on all those involved regardless of what side one is fighting for in a conflict. The film is an excellent way to use to teach about empathy and about the human element that is central to war. In addition to the facts that are taught about war, this film is about the reality of war and its authentic effect on real people. Students will be able to put themselves in the place of the characters and discussions about the characters or writing assignments could be used to complement the watching of the film. It is a "must-see" movie for anyone learning about the war or anyone teaching about war. It will change how you teach about war and it will speak to your heart.

Characteristics of Anime Used in "The Grave of the Fireflies"

Field of Interest/Specialty: Math
Posted On: 11/18/2017

“The Grave of the Fireflies” is an anime film directed by Isao Takahata, copyright 1988, produced in English in 1992 and reproduced in 1998. In keeping with the fine characteristics of anime, the producer presents the final months of two young children trying to survive in the final U.S. bombings on the mainland of Japan near the conclusion of World War II. The writers and director use the basic tools of anime expertly to create an emotional connection and empathy with the children and to leave an impression of Japan’s innocent victims during the war.
The film starts, oddly enough, with wa, or the conclusion of the conflicts that will inevitably exist in the movie, with all issues resolved in harmony. In the opening scenes, the main character, Seita, dies all alone in a busy, urban train station. Even in death, no sympathy is shown for him or the others who are nearby. He and the others, all children, have sat in the train station until death has taken them, unaided by any passersby, and then left to a sanitation workers who throw their possessions to the wind, and presumably take less care than that with their bodies. The worker throws a can that Seita had outside, and it lands in a field near Setsuko, his little sister who is playing with fireflies in the field. Seita, dressed differently, comes and joins his sister in the field, and they walk away among the fireflies, hand in hand. They are at peace, together, in a magical type ending, which is revealed in the opening minutes of the film.
The film demonstrates mono no aware, or the very transitory nature of life as the producer uses an extensive flashback throughout the rest of the film to reveal the final months of the children’s struggle to survive. As the flashback starts, Seita seems to be burying the family food and valuable possessions. He playfully takes time from his chore to interact with his sister, Setsuko, in a loving and caring way. He talks with him mom about normal everyday things. Then an air raid warning helps the viewer realize why he was burying their things, and the mother sends the children off together to go to the shelter. The mom puts a great deal of responsibility on the boy who only moments before had seemed so young in his actions with his sister. As the napalm bombings create an inferno in the town, Seita makes very adult decisions and is able to avoid the fires and dangers. He protects himself and his sister. He comforts her when she is scared, as a parent would. In very short order, their entire lives are changed forever.
The anime characteristic of amae, or care for those who cannot care for themselves, is also presented to the viewer. Setsuko is so young. She is potty-trained, but still so small that Seita carries her with a strap on his back. Seita assumes the role of caregiver, finds them rations, housing, a relative to live with, then makes a decision to set up their own housing. He steals food for them when they are desperate. He bathes her and tends to her wounds. He tries to keep her under the mosquito nets. He takes her to the doctor. All the while, he also is her playmate, find ways to keep life cheerful for her, protecting her innocence.
Hanne and tatemae, or maintaining face, is evident many times during the film. The viewer finds out that Seita has known all along that his mother died after the bombings and never left the village. In another embedded flashback, he recalls her body being thrown on the pile of other victims to be burned. The viewer does not see him mourn outright for his mom. He seems to have accepted the given reality, and it’s revealed later as something he has known all along. Additionally, he stares without a hateful response to his aunt’s accusations as she scorns the burden of the children and tells Seita that he is lazy and not contributing to the household; this after she has enjoyed the food that trade of Seita’s family possessions has provided.
But Seita is not wholly without flaw. He is represented as an ordinary older boy, perhaps around age 14, with strengths and flaws, or Yujo doryoku shori. He is an average person who does incredible things because circumstance brings that out of him. Certainly, the viewer of the film will see a strength of character in the care he gives to his sister and the effort he makes to maintain a happy environment for her. But the viewer may also see pride as one of his flaws, when he decides to move out of his aunt’s house because of her scorn. By doing so, he cuts off his ability to get food rations, he moves Setsuko and himself into a cave structure along a river that helps keep them safe, provides fish for food, but also may have led to some more physical problems as they get jungle rot and more mosquito bites. The producer wrote into the film a secondary character who even tells Seita to humble himself and move back in with his aunt.
I believe that this film could be used in a middle school classroom as a very relevant tool for helping students develop sympathy for the awful plight of children who have always been victims in times of war. Time and attention might need to be given to have students discuss their perceptions of identifying with the hardships of the characters being hungry daily or by the perception in the film of the children being marginalized by the adults around them who fail to provide care. With discussion, the students may be able conclude that the adults in the film are also traumatized by the extremes of the conditions in which they are living. As the editorial review stated on one Amazon listing, “…in a world that lacks not the care to shelter them, but simply the resources,” (no author, The effects of war certainly include personal physical and as well as psychological trauma which would impact people’s affect (emotional appearance, or flatness) when they are faced, in this case, which starving and sick children and the choice to disregard them so that they can personally still survive and care for their own children with the limited resources. I believe middle school children could also participate research through the internet to find first person accounts about the war with Japan. There are many resources which could supplement the student experience of this film. I also believe that a middle school teacher could help the students take a look at anime as a popular entertainment tool with significant cultural meanings embedded by the developers, so that the students learn the primary characteristics of the art and the value of those as tools in forming public opinions.
For older students who are in high school, the film could lead to discussions about the bombers actions, the military’s objectives, orders that led to civilian casualties, the decision of Japan to continue to participate in the war at the cost of civilian lives. Extended time and attention could be given to actual research regarding the actual historical accounts of World War II’s Pacific Theater, including the declaration of war, the possible causes of the war, other significant military actions including the nuclear bombings, as well as the conclusion of the war which include the establishment of an Allied Occupation Force which provided aid to Japan as they re-established their infrastructure and the decisions of the International Military Tribunal of the Far East and the Allied International Military Tribunals which tried individuals for war crimes after the war’s conclusions. Research could also be completed to show the regions of the world which were involved in the Pacific Theater of World War II, the casualties of the participants, the costs of recovery to Japan and the Allies, and lastly any significant Treaties or United Nations decrees that might have come about as a result of lessons learned from this War.

Grave of the Fireflies

Field of Interest/Specialty: Early Childhood
Posted On: 01/01/2015

Kayla Anthony
Early Childhood (Pre-K-4th Grade)
The movie begins with a boy dying from malnutrition in what looks like a subway station. Then we see the boy as a ghost with a little girl. After we are taken back in time to learn what has happened to the boy. The boy (Seita) is with his mother and little sister (Setsuko) preparing to go into the meadow and a shelter to hide from bombs during World War II. Seita and Setsuko’s father is fighting for Japan’s navy in the war. After the bombing, they find their mother has been injured in the shelter. She dies, leaving Seita to take care of his sister. They are sent to live with their aunt, uncle, and cousin. Seita and Setsuko are treated poorly by the aunt because they are extra mouths to feed and cannot help provide for the table. Everything is limited and rationed because of the war. Seita takes his sister to live in an old abandoned mine. Here they are safe from the bombs and can live on their own. Seita proceeds to take money from his mom’s bank account to pay for food. For a while they are fine and find fun games to play and occupy the time. When the money is gone he trades items to get food. Then, he starts stealing food and other materials to trade for food. His sister starts getting sick from malnutrition. Seita finds out the war has ended and Setsuko is able to get food. That night his sister passes away. Seita is left to care for his sister’s body. The movie ends with Seita and Setsuko, reunited as ghosts, looking at the lights of the new city.
This movie would be appropriate for high school students. Since it is about World War II, it would be good to use in a social studies class. This could be shown to help students see what went on in Japan during the war. It could help show even though Japan was on one side, they still suffered. This would help show what the Japanese people felt everyday with the threat of bombing. The movie shows the caring and love of siblings and how they can stick together and care for one another in a difficult time.

The effects of war on the survivors

Field of Interest/Specialty: Art
Posted On: 11/19/2014

"Grave of the Fireflies" is based on the true story by Akiyuki Nosaka - who lost his little sister during WWII in Japan to malnutrition and is said to have blamed himself for her death. This story is set during the time of the firebombings of Kobe, Japan by US military trying to bring an end to the war. The war is a backdrop in this survival account which does not address a specific enemy but addresses the effect of war on innocent civilians, including the children. The film shows how the war changes the face of the people,initially many are kind but as the war continues, the survivors begin to lack empathy for neighbors and become numb and even hostile to the dead, dying and the suffering. The only hope is found in the relationship between a brother Sieta,14 and a young sister, Setsuko 4 who exemplify care, love, loyalty and the ability to find joy in simple things. Warm moments are shared throughout the film as the two enjoy the beach, walking in the rain and the fireflies at night. Their kindness in contrast to the way they are treated by others punctuates our need in this world to care for each other. I teach middle school art and would recommend this movie to be used to help students come to their own conclusions about war and hope for humanity with guided and thoughtful questions.

Grave of the Fireflies: An emotionally, powerful teaching tool about the aftermath of WWII.

Field of Interest/Specialty: ancient civilization and geography
Posted On: 10/27/2014

This movie tells the story of the tragedies suffered by those who survived in Japan during WWII. The main characters, Seita and his younger sister Setsuko, are orphaned after an air raid. He carries her on his back wherever he goes. She loves to be close to him because he makes her feel safe.
They go to live with an aunt while waiting to hear about their mother who went to a shelter during the raid. Their belongings are delivered to the Aunt’s house and she makes a comment in reference to the fact they (the children) are lucky to have this delivered because their father is in the navy. He continuously writes letters to his father telling him of their situation, to no avail. The aunt sells their mother’s kimono’s to buy rice to feed them. But she resents that they are there and Seita is not in school or even working.
On the other hand Seita feels totally responsible for the care and well-being of Setsuko. He plays with her, takes her to the beach, tells her stories and chase fireflies together. He goes to visit his mother in the hospital and finds that she is dying from her injuries during the air raid. He refuses to tell Setusko. Once his Aunt finds out his mother has died, she lets them know they are an even heavier burden to her family.
He goes to the bank to get money from his mothers’ account and overhears conversation that the Japanese surrendered. He is shocked that the strong Japanese would do such a thing. He asks about the navy and when they will return. He then learns that no one survived. He is angry and collapses in the street.
He has to survive. . He buys a small stove and rice so he and his sister can no longer be a burden. He buys his sister a tin with sugar drops, which she loves. Each time she has one her facial expressions change. The fear and sadness leave and she is full of hope and wonder.
Their fight for survival shows a side that I, for one, never considered. Their loneliness, hunger, and desperateness is evident as more raids occur and even their extended family thinks they are a burden.
As they try to survive on their own in a bomb shelter by the water, Setsuko grows weaker. Seita’s perseverance and desperation is shown as he runs in the opposite direction during air raids to “raid” empty houses of their food to feed his sister. Their relationship is of true sibling love for each other is utterly moving. He takes Setsuko to a doctor who tells him she is suffering from malnutrition and just needs food. She is so sick and he just wants the doctor to make her better. He can understand how he is going to get food for her. He is so helpless in his fight to keep her alive that he loots empty houses and steal potatoes resulting in getting beaten for his actions.
Setsuko finally succumbs and he must dispose of her body using the proper customs. He buys charcoal and lovingly places her body and prized possessions in the basket with her. He lights the fire and stays with her until the sun goes down and the fireflies come out.
The movie closes with the opening scene where Seita is dying from starvation. He and Setsuko are reunited in afterlife. He shows her tin that held the sugar candy she so loved. He opens it and fireflies emerge and they sit together once again as look over the new city below.
This is an emotionally powerful film. I also enjoyed the second DVD with the interview that provided the insightful background to the film. I would recommend it for junior high and high school students. It can be a powerful teaching tool.

Review for Grave of the Fireflies

Field of Interest/Specialty: East Asia
Posted On: 02/24/2013

A Japanese boy cares for his little sister when their mother is lost in a Tokyo bombing during World War II. Once their mother dies, a mean aunt takes the two children in but then lets them leave as she is tired of caring for them. The boy’s father is on a ship that is part of the Imperial Army fleet and does not reply to any of his letters. The content is heavy and some of the scenes of sick or dead bodies and sickness from malnourishment are graphic and harsh for elementary school age children. In the end, everyone in the boy’s family dies. Although it is an animated movie, I would not watch it in school with my fourth and fifth graders, but maybe with my more mature sixth-grade students, with plans for heavy discussion during viewing breaks. This movie would be good for middle or high school students and allow for much discussion on multiple topics that could be taken from this movie including air raids, rationing, war-time hospital care, guilt, Japanese military, family honor and tradition, and failing to meet expectations. This DVD is accompanied by a Bonus DVD with interesting interviews and commentary that give more insight into the history.

Grave of the Fireflies: Victims of War Artfully Considered

Field of Interest/Specialty: History
Posted On: 07/16/2012

Review by Tim Jekel
High School History
World History I & II, Western Civilization, AP US History, AP European History
West Shore Christian Academy
Cartoons, or rather ‘graphic novels’ along with anime and manga play a larger role in Japanese life than in American life. This statement is especially true as it markets to adults. While many Americans may be familiar with The Simpsons, few American adults regularly turn to animation for entertainment – especially not for dealing with important and adult issues. The Grave of the Fireflies, therefore, treats Americans to a sample of animated film being pressed into the role of considering major and important issues in society.
The plot of Grave of the Fireflies centers around one Japanese family’s experience during World War II. Early in the film we learn that the father is overseas as a soldier, and mother dies as a result of wounds sustained during a fire bombing by the Americans. The city in question is apparently Kobe, but this could by any major city during the war and the children’s experience played itself out numerous times in the lives of many families. Thus, the bulk of the film centers on how the two orphaned children will cope by themselves during the war. Their situation gradually disintegrates. Initially, the family goes to stay with relatives, but the Aunt becomes increasingly irritated with the presence of the two children, and eventually, the boy decides they will set out on their own. Since the boy is about 13 and the girl is about 6, fending for themselves is no small task.
Seito, the boy, tries his best to care for his little sister, Setsuko. He shows compassion and understanding for her which forms the emotional core of the film. Eventually, he will be unable to care for her. Unable to locate other relatives, and with the growing realization that his father has died in the war, Seito finds a cave outside of his city and makes that their home. While living in the cave, life is initially simple and pleasant, but before long, they run out of food. Fireflies play a symbolic role in the film. While in the cave, Seito and Setsuko capture enough of them to light their cave at night. Setsuko is distraught to find them all dead the next morning and seriously prepares a grave and burial for them. Later, as Seito dies of starvation in Sannomiya station, his spirit and his sisters are carried to the spirit world by a host of fireflies.
Another symbol in the film is a small tin of fruit drops. This clearly represents hope as it always brings Setsuko back to good spirits to shake the tin and hear the sweet candy rattling around. Seito uses the tin sparingly and strategically to manage Setsuko’s childhood moods and the very real loss of her mother. Even after the tin is empty, Seito keeps it to store items of value. It is this tin that releases the spirits after he dies.
I find this film very helpful in bringing a different perspective to students – especially after studying Japan’s impact on Korea during occupation. After reading Lost Names, students come away seeing Japan as the bad guy. While Japanese aggression must be dealt with, it is important to also see the many in Japan itself who were victimized by the war. The death of Setsuko near the end of the story hit many students hard as they have come to love her during the film. Her declining health and eventual death give students serious pause. Although it does deal with the seriousness of death, I find the film appropriate in dealing with these issues carefully.
There are other scenes that will trouble the squeamish. After the firebombing, the mother is shown wrapped head to foot in bandages. When she dies, maggots are seen crawling from beneath the bandages. The pain caused by war on both sides is evident, and nowhere does the film go out of its way to blame the Americans for their part in the war. If anything, the blame is placed on the heartless Japanese who would not help the children, first the relatives, then the acquaintances, then the passersby in the train station who simply stepped over the dead and dying bodies of children who were starving to death.
Despite being an animated film, this is no children’s film, and I would not recommend showing it to any grade younger than high school. Many children get jaded by much more graphic films at a younger age, but many are protected from such films and so this film should be shown carefully only to make the important points in the film. As a work of art, the film may be the best animated film I have seen. I highly recommend it for use in a unit on Modern Japan, World War II, or any other subject where it is appropriate to address the suffering of Japanese civilians during and after World War II.

Grave of the Fireflies

Field of Interest/Specialty: Ceramics
Posted On: 05/22/2011

Malia Bennett
Trinity Area High School
Ceramics 9-12
‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is a powerful antiwar film made by Isao Takahata. Although this is an animated film, I must stress that it is not for young children. The themes addressed in this film; war, death, humanity/inhumanity and the loss of a nations identity would most likely confuse students younger than 7-8th grade. That being said, for those students in late middle school or early high school, this film could be an excellent and powerful teaching tool. The film deals with a 13 year old boy named Seita and his little sister, four year old Setsuko, who are caught up in the events of World War II in Japan. At the beginning of the film, their mother is killed in an attack while their father is away, serving in the Japanese Navy. The children spend some time living with an aunt, but this situation soon sours. The children decide they cannot accept their aunts’ greedy and demeaning treatment anymore and move to a cave near a lake. Here at the cave they experience a brief period of happiness before food becomes short and the children start to starve. Seita suffers a shock when he hears that Japan has lost the war, and that the entire Japanese Navy has been destroyed. His father is also dead, he realizes. Soon after his little sister Setsuko dies of malnutrition and he cremates her alone on a hill. Seita himself dies alone and unrecognized in a train station. Not exactly light viewing! But there are opportunities here to start meaningful discussions with students. The obvious theme is war and the idea that one side has the right and that the other side is ‘the bad guy’. Things are rarely so black and white. Other discussions could revolve around the responsibility of society to care for the less fortunate, especially in time of turmoil, and the loss of national identity that Seita expresses when he hears that Japan has been defeated. This film could be used as a powerful addition to a unit on World War II or Japan in general to bring a sense of humanity to a time and side of history that the students usually just see as words on a page.