Ghibli’s Children of War


I have been meaning to sit down and write about Grave of the Fireflies for a long time. The movie made by the famous Japanese animation house, Studio Ghibli, is a masterpiece. Released in 1988, the movie is sad with heart-breaking realistic animations of every aspect of war and centers in a war-torn Japan. It is anything but glorious. I urge people to watch this movie before reading the book.  If you’re torn between watching the movie or reading the book, do read.

Grave of the Fireflies is not just anti-war as many presume it to be (because of the depiction of a war-torn family), rather, it is everything that happened before, during and after war.  

It is a story about the lives of a brother and a sister –  kids who are pushed into the world to fend for themselves – struggling to survive the second World War in Kobe, Japan.
The story may sound very simple, but it deals with themes such as war and death relationships very gracefully, and the two prevalent themes of the movie that stuck with me are abandonment and pride.

Somewhere in the beginning of the movie, the children are left behind by their mother who runs to the shelter first.  Soon the kids are taken in by their aunt who is abusive and manipulative, and take advantages of the children’s money to feed her own family. The children leave her house to live in a cave by themselves where society lets the children down multiple times; by a farmer who wouldn’t help the starving children or the doctor who willingly ignored the malnourished children.

Children are said to be the first victims in war and this was shown vividly in the movie. Thousands of children are abandoned or displaced in war-torn counties today and are going through immense violence in many ways. Exploitation, fear, loss, physical harm are among the atrocious things that innocent children experience daily.

Being children in a society that takes immense pride in self-reliability became a heavy disadvantage. The brother does not accept help from anyone and moves out of his aunt’s house with his sister. Even after struggling to survive outdoors, he refused to return and turned to unethical ways to feed his sister and himself. It might feel infuriating to watch and one might question why he hasn’t gone back to his aunt. The psychology of child is not easy to understand especially in times of war. I look back to the movie and every time ask myself what [or if] I would have done differently. It is not an easy question to answer.

It is important to remember that having his father as the captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy, might be one of the reasons why the boy refused help and wanted to survive by his own means. Rationality is something that people gain or lose during war.
Instead of giving the audience a happy story with the children miraculously saving themselves by working hard, we get a picture of what happens when children are left alone with nothing much but their pride to hold on to.  A pride inherited from the family or gained perhaps during the hardships they faced.

Grave of the Fireflies is heart-breaking and will put you in a melancholy mood but watch it because of how relevant it is today. It will bring you to face reality and draw correlations with what happened in the past and what’s happening in the present.

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