Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies ★★★★

Don’t mind me. Just picking up the millions of little pieces of my heart off the ground. Grave of the Fireflies fills you with a very particular kind of distress. It’s an anguish that gets you right where it hurts, honing in on all of the little buttons needed to cut deep and going ham on the keyboard to your compassion centre. These out of the way little empathy boxes you didn’t even know you had in you. It’s that same numbing sadness that makes waves through your body, your heart weeping and bones stinging heavy with the pounding boulder of grief. Yet, it never has to beg for it. 

Thematically, Grave bears a lot of similarities to its Ghibli neighbour, Totoro. And like Miyazaki, Takahata never feels the need to stoop low enough to over-sentimentality or fetishisation of the siblings suffering to get his points across. Still, rotting corpses linger in full eyeshot. And death rears its ugly head around every forlorn corner. Familial bonds and neighbourly niceties exist only as nostalgic fantasy of days gone by. Typically, the emotional cruxes would be used as anchors around which the emotive core of the film would be propelled. But Takahata doesn’t care to dwell. Single sentences are afforded to fragile goodbyes, before we move on. Because we have to. Because in life, you rarely have a choice.

There’s a lot to be said here about the ugly treatment of one another during turbulent times and the price tag placed on poor decisions. But mostly, I can’t help but question what I’d do in Seita’s shoes. As an (overly) protective brother of an equally delightful little sister, it’s a tough question to have to ask myself if my 14 year old self would’ve known any better.

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