Asian animation for the ages
This week sees the releases of two sublime 1988 masterpieces from Japan
away, the spirits of Seita and Setsuko, his sister, rise to lead us through the main body of the film. It is a grim tale. When their mother is killed in an air raid, they move in with an unsympathetic aunt and ultimately end up foraging for food in the unwelcoming wasteland.
Films about children in war have rarely been so ruthless to their subjects. Fireflies is, of course, given its genre, a great deal more lyrical and at home to mysticism than a withering masterpiece such as Elem Kimov’s Come and See. The hints of an afterlife allow a smidgeon of hope that the Russian picture could never contemplate.
And yet it is, in its way, every bit as savage. We have become so used to animation being used to sentimental ends that, a quarter of a century after its first release, Grave of the Fireflies still manages to sideswipe your expectations.
Takahata claims the film has “no message”. With respect to the director, the film does have a message, but it is so pure and uncomplicated you could easily take it for granted: we really should be nicer to one another. A film for the ages.
A war of children: Grave of the Fireflies
Child’s play: My Neighbour Totoro