Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Grave of the Fireflies

1988, Japan, directed by Isao Takahata

A war film that focuses almost exclusively on the the civilian experience of war, Isao Takahata's film follows two orphaned children in 1945 Japan, with an older boy (Seita) desperately trying to care for his young sister (Setsuko) in a situation where adults are either absent or are unable to see beyond their own straitened circumstances to take the children in. What gives the film much of its power is Seita's attempts, despite his own terrible experiences, to create a protective cocoon in which his sister can still have some semblance of a normal routine and even hints of a childhood notwithstanding the fires and deaths that have destroyed the city.

There's great power in Takahata's resolutely unsentimental evocation of a country slipping deeper into privation, where food and money are desperately scarce, and the normal care systems - both governmental and familial - have been strained to breaking point and beyond. As the film notes, wartime ultimately shreds the social fabric, with individual family members looking only to their own instances, and generosity the rarest commodity of all.

While civilian suffering in the war was undoubtedly terrible, and is given deeply affecting expression here, I do wonder if the choice of child protagonists allows the film to skirt some of the issues of adult responsibility that have proved so difficult to navigate in postwar Japan. It's instructive to contrast the film with Kazuo Hara's extraordinary, taboo-breaking documentary The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, released just a year before, which confronts the wartime roles of the military and political systems that ultimately created the conditions in which civilians suffered terrible fates.

No comments:


List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States