(The Disneycember logo is shown, before showing clips from Grave of the Fireflies)
Doug (vo): Whenever there's a discussion about the most powerful animated films, like no fairy tales, no magic, just pure raw, adult emotion, Grave of the Fireflies is usually brought up. A lot of people consider it a good segue who see animation as just kids' stuff, something that can't be taken seriously by adults. So when I heard that, I got really excited, and I sort of got this idea of what it was gonna be like and what it was gonna be about. I saw this film around the same time I saw Saving Private Ryan on the big screen, and I had an idea of what it was gonna be; "Oh, war is bad, people throwing up their hands saying, 'Why?' Oh, the no good of violence", and so on and so forth. But what I got was something very, very different. I knew it was gonna be more focused on the family end, but, not quite in the way they depicted it. I don't even see it as really a war movie. I see it more as a battle between pride and sanity, between love and self-preservation. So it kind of confused me when I was younger, because I kept thinking I was gonna see some sort of anti-war film and I thought that's not really what I got. I didn't dislike it, I knew it was good, I just didn't quite know what to clarify it as, what to accept it as. Now that I'm older, that's one of the things I like the most about it.
Doug (vo): It doesn't seem anti-war or pro-war, it's just a boy and his sister trying to figure out what's the most important. You know the film's gonna be grim when you see the death of our main character, being reunited with the spirit of his younger sister. Well, we know this doesn't end happily. We can only go up from here. The two have a flashback as they roam the spirit world of how they got to where they are. The boy's name is Seita, and the girl is Setsuko. They're in the final days of World War II, but you wouldn't know it with all the bombings that are still going on. Their father is in the war, and their mother is suddenly killed from one of the bombings. The two decide to go live with a distant aunt, but she starts to get a little on their nerves, claiming they aren't working hard enough for the food that she's preparing, and having a pretty understandable breakdown every once in a while for the situation that she's been put in. Unsatisfied with the living situation, Seita decides to take his sister and live on their own, believing he's totally capable of doing so. Trying to claim his independence, slowly but surely, he discovers that they can't survive on their own, but he's too proud and too determined to see the truth and lives in a horrible state of denial, thinking that if he tries harder and sticks to his independence, they can come out of this okay. But reality starts to set in, and options start to become fewer and fewer. Always thinking salvation is just a day away, he continues to try his best living on his own while his world crumbles.
Doug (vo): The artistic style of this movie is not trying to be so much pretty or showing off as much as trying to be more realistic. They still move like anime characters, but it's not trying to do any big kicks or flips or any weird angles. Most of the shots keep very still and just let the emotion of the animation carry it through, as well as the voice acting, which is dubbed over pretty well. I personally grew up with the subtitled version and prefer that one a bit more, but the dub is still very well done.
[Footage mainly focusing on the main characters is shown]
Doug (vo): There's a lot of different ways you can look at this movie. On the one hand, you can see the boy is a terrible character. Not only is he letting himself starve to death, but he's letting his sister starve to death as well. But I think because they choose to do this age, it makes us suddenly understand what he's trying to accomplish. I think a lot of growing people at that age can become incredibly delusional. And that may be part of the focus of the story; it's not to try and grow up too fast, and to appreciate what you have and who you have while you still have them. While many people see it as an anti-war film, and I suppose you can see it as that way, my thought is that this can take place over any disaster. It could happen after a tornado, a tsunami, an earthquake, or, yes, even a war. The focus is on the boy who doesn't realize how far he's being pushed, and that there's no crime and accepting failure or asking for help. Part of what makes it work is that the boy himself is not a mean character. A lot of people that have a lot of pride, they're usually just thrown into the jerk category. "Oh, there's nothing good about them, they're just too full of themselves and think they can do stuff that's totally delusional." But this kid's a likeable kid. His dad is a fighter and he wants to do the same thing, he wants to be the big supporter. A lot of young people were under that disillusion during World War II. If you're failing, it just means you're not trying hard enough. Fight harder, fight harder. I think there's this sense of losing one's honor if you accept defeat, which is fitting as we see Seita witness the surrender of Japan. And he's furious by it, he doesn't care that the war is over, he's just torn apart that they actually lost. It's a film that takes an angle that many films like this don't take. Not the family element, there's a lot of movies that do that, but the coming-of-age element of knowing when to declare your independence and when not to, and that the consequences can be greater than you ever could've imagined.
Doug (vo): For someone who was expecting more of the Saving Private Ryan route where there was gonna be a lot of dead bodies and a lot of gore and a lot of obvious symbolism, I was really blown away that the emotionally gripping and tormenting parts of this movie are the simple choices that they make, and how easily things could have been fixed if he'd just swallowed his pride. As a young man watching this, I don't know if I was really ready to accept that, or at least, I didn't know how to accept it. Maybe in that way, it was more ahead of its time and adult than I thought. You have to have a real understanding of what misguided pride can do and what the non-acceptance of failure can be capable of. The honorable route is not always the winning route, and that's a tough thing, not just for people growing up to learn, but for straight-up grown-ups to learn. It gets a little better and a little more heartbreaking every single time I see it. And maybe that's because I feel like I understand it a bit more every time I see it. But again, one of the great things is, you could look at it in a totally different way. Maybe it's about respecting your elders, maybe there is no right or wrong, maybe it's all about the war, maybe it's all about the consequences of war. Anyone can look at it and drawn their own conclusion. What is concrete about the film is that you look at these two characters and want them to make it through, even though you're told at the very beginning that they're not going to make it through. This makes it all the more heartbreaking as you watch. Whatever age you are, it's an important film to check out. It's unlike any other film of its kind, and deserves all the praise that it gets.
(Final scene of Seita and Setsuko's spirits looking over the modern Japan skyline is shown.)