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Grave of the Fireflies from the Expat's Point of View
I first saw "Grave of the Fireflies" when I was a teenager. When I saw it again--as an Army veteran and an expat in Japan--it had a completely different effect on me.
"Grave of the Fireflies" is an animated film directed by Isao Takahata, based on a novel of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka. It was released by Studio Ghibli in 1988. It tells the story about an adolescent boy (Seita) and his younger sister (Setsuko) in World War II Japan. They are orphaned after an Allied air raid and must survive on their own. Survival gets more difficult towards the end of the war as Allied fire-bombing intensifies.
Despite being an anime movie, it is still celebrated for the strong emotions it stirs in the viewer. It is clear throughout "Grave of the Fireflies" that war is a tragedy, especially for civilians caught in the middle. Unlike most other war movies, it's not crammed full of blood and guts and violence. At the same time, the movie does not turn away from it. Isao shows us that death is part of Seita's and Setsuko's experience during their struggle.
I didn't see it this way at first. I mean, I did, but I saw something else as well. I thought Setsuko was spoiled and annoying even though she was only four years old. I thought Seita was needlessly stubborn and his idea of supporting himself and his sister on his own as unrealistic.
The second time was only a few days ago. I was with my girlfriend. She told me that "Grave of the Fireflies" takes place in Nishinomiya and Sannomiya. I've been to both places many times so the movie and the experiences of the children seemed real to me. I've included photos below and it's easy to see that both places are now modernized and prosperous.
Towards the end of the movie Japanese civilians acknowledge defeat and start to rebuild their communities. Seita and Setsuko are left behind from this recovery because they turned away from the system earlier. Although independence and self-reliance are highly valued in other cultures, it was not practical during wartime for children so young.
Since watching "Grave of the Fireflies," everywhere I go, I realize that Japan has recovered from the war. It has learned the lesson of war's destruction and that Japan is now a democracy dedicated to peace.
Film critic Roger Ebert talks about "Grave of the Fireflies" and Japanese anime