Grave of the fireflies — why watching it is so suffering?

Before any anime movie, I always feel at ease because I know a peaceful and relaxing time is ahead. Simple but meaningful stories, innocent characters, beautiful drawings, slow and silent shots…

However, while still owning all those factors, why Grave of the fireflies is such a suffering experience for me?

Grave of the fireflies is a story about two kids in Japan having to suffer after their mother died in a firebombing of World War II. “It tells a simple story of survival,” displaying the harshness of war from kids’ point of view. It is an anti-war movie. The subject and storyline absolutely ensure a sadness. But to make the audience burst in tears and even cry a river, we must talk about the way this story is told.

Firstly, it is on how the film opens.

September 21, 1945… that was the night I died.

That is the movie’s first line. We see a boy collapsing in somewhere like a train station and his ghost. Very soon later his sister appears with him so we can easily guess their fate: They will both die. This opening is a successful and powerful one because what it reveals, according to a critic in Rotten Tomatoes, lacing the entire rest of the film with a sense of fatalism. Because we all know that these two kids are going to die! Since that point, every second of the rest I was in pain. My heart felt broken in both sad scenes and happy shots because I, automatically and unconsciously, remembered that they are all going to die in the end.

Secondly, the sorrowfulness is partly made by happy moments allocated very regularly. Seita and Setsuko play happily in the bathtub. The two kids are under a rain and a tattered umbrella, together singing a happy song. The beautiful night of fireflies. All of those happy and beautiful moments and Setsuko’s innocent laughter and their attachment… all of those just duplicate the hear-break.

The audience while watching those scenes at the same time bearing the thought that this is war, their mother has just died, they are also going to die just sooner or later. The director is intelligent and cruel as well when torturing the audience’s heart in the entire film by this way.

I did not cry a river during and after watching Grave of fireflies. But the sadness it brings about is real and somehow, could not be descried right after the film ends. What I point out above, some are from my own thinking after watching it twice and some are collected from Rotten Tomatoes, perhaps has not included enough causes of this sad effect. Maybe each person will find different reasons for themselves to feel sad, even mournful with this anime.

The film critic Roger Ebert talked about Grave of fireflies as 
 “an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation.” The message and feeling we receive from this film is far beyond our common perception at animation work. As mentioned above, this is an anti-war film told from kids’ point of view. With this subject and the way this story is told, what Grave of fireflies strengthens is more powerful than a ton of adult drama. So exceptional!

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