Grave Of The Fireflies Review

film review on the 1988, Studio Ghibli film, Grave Of The Fireflies.

Grave Of The Fireflies Review

Film title: Grave of the Fireflies.

Director: Isao Takahata

Country: Japan

Year: 1988

Grave Of The Fireflies is a Japanese anime war film made in 1988, directed by Isao Takahata.

This movie takes place during WW2 after an American firebombing. Seita and his younger sister Setsuko were forced apart from their mother who was fatally injured after the bombing, and had to make their own way in life.

This movie follows a circular narrative, opening with the death of the main character Seita, succumbs to starvation at a train station on the 21st of September 1945 “...that was the night I died”. A janitor, curious to see if the boy is dead, discovers a dirty sweets tin tucked under his vest. After asking his colleague what to do with it, it is discarded outside causing the lit to pop off, spewing pieces of bone and ashes on the floor. We soon discover that those were the ashes of a young girl, who appears in a sort of ghost form from the place the tin was dropped, surrounded by fireflies, soon approached from behind by Seita, healthy looking and dressed well.


This movie is very much recognisable as a Studio Ghibli movie because of the unique character design and overall animation style. From the environments created to the heart wrenching scores composed by Michio Mamiya that accompanies the saddest moments in the film, this movie is easily the best studio Ghibli film in my opinion.

The animation in this film is slightly different from other Ghibli films/anime in general. The reason it is different is because instead of outlining the characters in black they were outlined in brown to give the film a ‘softer feel’, black outlines were only used when absolutely necessary. This technique was never used in anime before Grave Of The Fireflies. Colour coordinator Michiyo Yasuda said that it was done on a challenge because brown doesn't contrast as well as black.

Because this movie came out in the 80’s it was most likely made with the ‘Cel’ process which means it is all hand drawn on paper then photographed.


This movie mostly takes place in Kobe city, Japan, during WW2. The two main characters remain in the same outfits for much of the movie to perhaps show their lack of wealth to buy new clothes, but also commonly in anime, this is used to make the characters easily recognizable to the audience. 

A very important aspect of this movie is a sweets tin, which carries a lot of meaning by the end of the film, this is seen in a lot of shots getting dirtier and older as the movie progresses.

Studio Ghibli is commonly known for its light hearted/happy ending children's movie like the 2004 Howl's Moving Castle or the 2001 Spirited Away, however this movie is an exception to that rule, as it shows the gory and heart-breaking details of war and the overwhelming unfairness that is life. I'd say that this movie is targeted more towards teenagers and above, about a 12 certificate, but I feel only more matured individuals would really feel the emotional depth in this movie. 

My opinion on the film is that it was a painfully realistic depiction of a true story. The characters Seita and Setsuko have such an unbreakable bond and love for each other even when they are living in an old cave surviving on scraps. This bond that's developed between the characters makes Setsuko's fate and the effort that Seita is putting in to avoid said fate so much more painful to watch. Overall I would give this movie a 10/10, I can not pick any faults with it, the mixture of beautiful and aesthetic animation mixed with the heart-breaking story makes this movie unforgettable.

Studio Ghibli movies have always been of interest to me, that's one of the main reasons i chose to watch this film, however war is not a genre i usually enjoy because i feel that there is a finite amount of originality that comes from movies based around war, so i tend to find them boring. However this film focuses more on anti-war, and shows war from the perspective of someone who is simply just a bystander trying to move on with life. I found the concept of this movie incredibly interesting and wouldn't be opposed to watching more like it.

If you haven't yet seen this movie, I highly recommend it. It is a deep, emotional tale that is guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye, even if you are not so fond of animation.

Header Image Credit: Studio Ghibli


Emily Wood

Emily Wood

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