I watched this film when I was young and this movie scarred me for life as one of the most depressing animated movie; genres relating to war especially those relating to civilians getting murdered or bombed etc. have not being the kindest to me.
Some background; the show is an adaptation of a book by the same name by Japanese author Akiyuki Nosaka. It is based on his experience during the firebombing of Kobe in 1945 where his adoptive father died during the firebombing, one of his sister who died due to sickness and his younger adoptive sister dying of malnutrition. The difference was that in the film, both the main character dies.
From the film, we see that both Seita and Setsuko were orphaned at a really young age; Setia at around 14 and Setsuko around 5. Many of the choices made were mostly made by Seita himself. And I believe, that due to his young age, he was unable to make a right and sound decision.
For instance; due to the unkindness of his aunt, he decides to make the decision to leave the house and seek a life with Setsuko in a nearby bomb shelter. And we end up realising that due to his incapability, he ends up “killing” both himself and his sister.
The understanding of the war effort
When Seita and Setsuko moved to their aunt’s house, from an audience perspective, we believe that all will be well especially since a relative is taking them in. However, throughout the scenes, we see his aunt scolding him for not helping in the war effort. In Seita’s view, there is no way he could help in any way as the steel factory which he once was working for burned down. And instead spend his days idling and having fun with his sister.
We have to put ourselves into the scenario of that period; the war is still on-going (but ending), supplies are scarce and grown men are sent to the battlefields. At the same time, with a sense of nationalism and love for country;
propaganda, everyone must and should chip in to the effort regardless of how young or old you are. We see this in a scene where his aunt suggested he help the local community but he instead decides not to and makes another decision. We might however consider that Seita might be loafing around is instead to keep his sister company and does not want to leave her alone especially since there is no other next-of-kin.
Some may argue that it is not fair that the aunt mistreats them by not providing them with better food and frequently scolds them, however as mentioned above, we would need to consider the situation at that time; every individual is important.
However, I do believe that it was not fair of the aunt to use supplies which was for Seita and Setsuko to her own advantage. We identify this in two scenes:
- When their mother’s kimono was traded, his aunt did not give them all the rice but instead used it for her family as well. In this scene, we see the ghost of Seita covering his ears; perhaps he is in deep regret for making this decision. We also see her cooking porridge for them instead of making rice balls which she provided for the family as they did not contribute to the war efforts.
- When the navy sent supplies for both Seita and Setsuko, his aunt used it as well. We see this when he questioned his aunt where the supplies went to and she said that they have been used up. In some form or another, this indicated that both Seita and Setsuko had no control of their own supply.
In these scenarios, some might argue that it is better that an adult handles the supplies especially since it is during a war and there is a scarcity of food; it is better to survive than to indulge. However, I believe that his aunt should instead teach him how to manage the supply and notify him of it. Only then will he understand the importance of food and in the future, if a situation such as this happen (which we would talk about later), he would be able to cope with it. In some sort, it was negligence of his aunt to not teach him, leading to his demise.
The issue on pride
This scene can be expressed when we see Seita and Setsuko suffering and are on their own at the bomb shelter.
Some believe that Seita could have apologised to his aunt and eventually they might have been taken back in. However, Seita does not do that. May I consider this as an undesirable Asian trait which explained in mandarin “死还要面自” meaning even in death, my face value is still important. And I believe that Seita did not make this decision despite their desperateness because he does not want to do it and would rather seek other means.
An act of desperation
Around ¾ of the film, we see Seita acting in desperation in order to help his sister; he steals produce from the farms to feed Setsuko which however he gets caught, he goes into houses and loot during an air-raid and when the doctor did not prescribe medication for his sister, he shouts at the doctor for a solution.
We could understand that morally, Seita probably felt that it was wrong for him to do it but in an act of desperation for food and to provide for his sister which he loves, he decided to do it as from the start, we do not see him do any of these acts. He was doing it out of the need to survive.
It is depressing to see, while Seita is out looting or stealing, we see Setsuko playing and meddling around the bomb shelter alone.
Leaving it all behind
From the start, we do know that both characters have passed.
However, towards the end, we see the shelter which Seita and Setsuko was staying at was abandoned after Setsuko passed. And before the camera angle moves to the bomb shelter, we see a family returning possibly overseas due to their outfits and realising that everything they left behind is still intact.
In some way, it portrays a disparity for those who are luckier and are able to escape the realities of the war while throughout the film we see those who are not able to avoid this situation has to face the consequences and suffer due to the consequences of war.
Grave of the Fireflies paints the real truth of war, that war is not always glorious and honourable. Especially on the losing side. And eventually, those who suffer the most can be your average citizen; powerless individuals who sometimes just want it all to end (perhaps).
In a way or another, seeing both Seita and Setsuko united together felt calming, knowing that they are finally reunited after all the ups and downs and are finally released from a world of endless suffering.
There are other themes which can be inferred from this beautiful film and I may I suggest these websites.