LIFF25: Grave Of The Fireflies - Cinema Review

'just as with almost every bit of Anime I've seen there's an adjustment required to the jumpy movements of the characters'

Grave Of The Fireflies, Isao Takahata's well-respected (its in the IMDb Top 250) 1988 Anime, sparkles and dances with beautifully drawn imagery for a tight and well-composed eighty-nine minutes, which takes you through a gamut of emotions, from child-like delight to crushing despair. A traditional meditation on the effects of war, the film follows children Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi) and Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi) as they are forced out of their bombed city and into the Japanese countryside.

The art of Grave Of The Fireflies occasionally makes you stop to catch your breath, particularly during any segment showing a night scene. The lighting effects put in place by the artists are effective and contain the film's best moments; fireflies dancing over fields, bombs reigning down on cities. The mixture of night and light for good and bad is stunningly realised.

Anime though has always had a problem with fluidity (yes, I can hear the cries of angry Anime fans already). Compare this to the two Disney works that came out closest to it (Oliver And Company and The Little Mermaid) and the relative smoothness of the animation and depth of movement created just don't compete. Yes, Grave Of The Fireflies has some beautiful art, which looks fantastic on the big screen, but just as with almost every bit of Anime I've seen there's an adjustment required to the jumpy movements of the characters before you can comfortably settle into it.

Plotting-wise too there's a flaw in Takahata's self-penned script. If this is a meditation on the effects of war, then why do the kids ultimately have such a hand in their own fate? They could return to the home they leave at about the midway point. The only reason given for not doing so seems to be pride.

These are fairly minor quibbles but quibbles nonetheless. Grave Of The Fireflies is by turns a lovely and devastating film but perfection? It's at least an animation-smoothing process away.

Look further...

'There are no forest spirits or impossible flying machines in Fireflies, but still, some of the same Ghibli magic is there.' - Stomp Tokyo


  1. Marvelous film I feel, depressing but hauntingly authentic in some way. I think it definitely outstrips Pixar's/American animation in terms of emotional depth (although a direct comparison would be folly). It's a fantastic example of what animation can do and that it can tackle more adult themes with success.

    I never noticed to jumpy movement, what do mean by it (it's been a while since I last saw the film!)

  2. By the jumpy movement I just mean that the animation isn't as smooth as others of around a similar time. Characters 'skip' from one place to another. I'm no animation technician but I can only imagine it is because there aren't as many cells being drawn as there are in the the Disney cartoons, thus you get 'jumpier' movement.

    It was a fantastic example of how animation can deal with grown-up themes, something which it did incredibly well and with a lot of emotional depth.

  3. I don't remember choppy animation either. However, I've always thought '80s anime was weighed down a bit by a potentially off putting style. Especially once you get outside the comfort zone of Studio Ghibli.

    There's no doubt in my mind that this film really drives you to the point of madness seeing Seita continually make the wrong decision. But I think that's part of the point. It's not just "oh look at those poor kids" for two hours, which they could have easily done.

  4. Quick example of what I'm on about -

    At 19 seconds, Seita turns his head to look at the sky. It happens in three quite jerky movements, rather than a fluid turning of the head.
    41 seconds, climbing up the ladder, similar thing.

    Contrast to this - 24 seconds, Ariel's backflip happens in one fluid motion. It just seems more refined to me.

    It's a good point. War has led them to the situation they're in and because they're children they don't make the right decisions. It does all filter back.