To be completely transparent, I can't say that I "enjoyed" watching Grave of the Fireflies. The first line in the movie spells out exactly what's going to happen. In World War II Japan, two gentle, sweet, and loving siblings are going to wind up dead. There isn't a second of hopeful yearning in the movie. We dread the eventual outcome from the very first scene. So, as I said, I didn't particularly enjoy myself while watching this movie. But there are some times when you don't watch a movie to be entertained. There are times when you watch a movie because it tells a story entirely worth telling. There are times when you appreciate a movie for every reason other than enjoyment. Grave of the Fireflies is just such a movie.
There's no real need to get into the story. I've already explained all you really need to know.
What makes the movie so brilliant is how incredibly well made it is. How unexpected it is. How heartbreakingly beautiful it is. It's like 90 minutes of "lows." Usually, a film travels through highs and lows, sometimes from scene to scene. Grave of the Fireflies can't help but exist in a state of constant dread. Sure there are joyful scenes, in fact, there are quite a few of them. But every time we're shown a scene of Seita and Setsuko being what they are, cheerful young children, we know that they will, eventually, die. There's no spoiler in writing that last sentence. Still, the movie does have it's moments of light. The film shows Seita and Setsuko living out substantial days ... pleasurable days. But at the end of the road, we know exactly where our two main characters will wind up. This makes every other scene that much more tragic. It's incredibly done.
Rarely do you see a movie deliver a message as powerfully as Grave of the Fireflies manages to deliver its own. The film shows a side of war that we never think of. Nowadays, next to no one in America is remotely proud of the fact that we spent parts of 1944 and 1945 dropping incendiary bombs on Japan. We aren't too fond of that fact, but then again, we don't really think about it much. Grave of the Fireflies shows you a snippet of that pain and suffering, and in its 90 minute run-time, sends an irrefutable antiwar message. But this isn't like a Miyazaki movie message. It isn't some fantasy world where the character tell us why war is so horrible. In fact, in Grave of the Fireflies, the filmmakers' never once utter an antiwar statement. But the film doesn't have to. It just shows us, with every frame, that war is undeniably awful.
And it does all this without ever pulling back from its core story. We never have to see the "big picture." The movie never shows us anything other than the story of our two main characters. And yet, the film is still able to be one of the most devastating war films ever. Because we know that Seita and Setsuko aren't the only young people in war-time to have gone through something as appalling. This movie does a cataclysmic job of reminding audiences of something they don't often/choose not to think about.
The two main characters are just a bit too upbeat to be true. That's one of my few nitpicks with this movie. Seita never breaks from being a perfectly pleasant young man. He's tragically gentle and kind. Setsuko does have moments that remind us that she's still a 4 year old. But for the most part, she is uncommonly happy. Still, it's only the slightest of flaws.
The animation isn't anything surprising or groundbreaking, per se. It is really touching and beautiful on multiple occasions. It's a movie about unspeakable tragedy that is as moving as you would expect it to be. The animation, like the movie, is very subtle and very lovely. It's odd, because the movie is set absolutely in the real world, but it does have moments that are strangely magical. It can't really be described, it has to be experienced.
Grave of the Fireflies does something that is absolutely never seen in the animation genre. It is a film that is in no way suitable for children. It's a story where every member of a tender-hearted family winds up dead. It's a movie where grief and tragedy are seamlessly intermingled with beauty and kindness. I can't say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself while watching this film. And if I were to rate this film on entertainment value, it probably wouldn't score higher than a 7.5/10. But this movie exists on a different level. It's a film that boasts a higher calling than to simply entertain you. With that in mind, it deserves nothing less than a perfect score.
"Why must fireflies die so young?" 10/10