Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka) was released by Studio Ghibli as their third film in 1988. It is based on the semi-autobiographical novel written by Akiyuki Nosaka. The film’s director, Isao Takahata, has become known for the elegance and strong emotion that this movie portrays. It has been called one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever made by famed film commentator Roger Ebert.
Grave of the Fireflies is a story of two children, Seita, who is fifteen, and Setsuko, who is four. Their mother died during the bombing of Kobe, and their father perished while working for the military. Seita and Setsuko become orphans, and it seems as if no one will take them in. An aunt eventually takes them in and seems warm and caring at first. As the time passes she becomes cruel and the two siblings wind up living in a bomb shelter. They catch fireflies in a glass jar in order to light the shelter at night, and Seita buries the remaining bodies every morning, which is where the title gets its name.
Seita ends up having to steal food to keep the two of them alive, and gives his all to his sister. In the beginning he does his best to hide the fact that their mother has died from her, and does everything he can throughout the film to keep her healthy and well. Eventually the two start to have health problems, and Setsuko, suffering from malnutrition, goes to a doctor, who can not help her. Things come to a tragic, and yet somehow happy, end that leaves most viewers in tears. It has been, at times, called “the best movie I never want to see again”.
Unlike most anime movies, this one did not start out as a manga. Instead it was adapted from a semi-autobiographical novel written by Akiyuki Nosaka. Nosaka lost his sister in 1945, when war struck Japan. He states that he always felt responsible for her death, and his writing the novel was a way to apologize to his deceased sister. Nosaka has also said that his writing the novel helped him to finally come to terms with his sister’s passing.
Most Studio Ghibli films have been released in the United States by Disney, Grave of the Fireflies, however, was not. It was released by Central Park Media and held both the English version, and the Japanese version.
A live-action version of the novel was also made and released in Japan. The studio timed it to be released in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of WWII in 2005. It is different than the movie and the book, though, because it focuses on the Aunt’s point of view, instead of the children’s.
While the movie has gone on to win the respect of critics world wide, it was a box-office flop. It was originally marketed that the movie was a wonderful film for parents and children to see together, and most came away from it disheartened and upset that their children has seen it.