Grave of The Fireflies - Emotional Torture

There's nothing like a sad film to help you out when you're feeling down. That's how it works right? You feel bad, so you listen to music or watch media that is also about being sad. Well, I was feeling down, so I decided to watch Grave of the Fireflies. A classic film, that I for some reason had never seen before.

The film picks up in World War II where Seita, his younger sister Setsuko and their mother are evacuating their home due to incoming firebombs. After the bombs land Seita learns that his mother has been injured and eventually dies, although he hides this from Setsuko. The two are taken in by a cold aunt who suggests that they contact their father who is the armed forces. When their father never contacts them back, the aunt begins to grow cold towards the children. This leads to Seita and Setsuko leaving on their own where they decide to live in an old bomb shelter. 

We watch as Seita tries to provide enough nourishment for Setsuko by any means necessary. He begins to break into homes when bombs drop to steal food. Setsuko begins to have hallucinations and Seita considers going back to his aunt after getting advice from a farmer, but chooses not to when he learns she told Setsuko of their mother's death. Eventually he's caught and beaten by a different farmer for stealing crops. He's beaten so badly the police allow him to leave without charges. Seita suddenly remembers that his parents have money in the bank and rushes out to buy food, only to learn Setsuko is barely hanging on. He gives her a piece of watermelon, says it's good and dies.

The animation style is interesting. It has touches of the Ghibli style we've all come to love over the years, but there are some differences. The small changes make it a visually interesting film. Ghibli always seems to make food look amazing, but this time around, it all looked bland. Watching Setsuko crave what appeared to be poor quality rice balls helped understand the changes. It was indeed a war when everyone in the country is on rations.

Before you get your pitchforks, hear me out. I don't think it was a good movie. I think there were some beautifully animated moments. There were some scenes that would have made nice shorts, but overall, the movie wasn't stellar. Sure, there were plenty of moments that got emotional responses. Setsuko's reactions to selling their mother's kimonos. Watching Seita get beaten when he was trying to steal food for his starving sister. I can't even call it an emotional roller coaster. The entire thing was emotionally downhill.

Grave of The Fireflies is what I like to call Emotional Torture Cinema. Usually, when I use this term it is in relation to films about slavery. Films that serve no purpose other than to evoke emotional responses. We already know that slavery was bad and we already know World War II was bad. For some people, these films can truly be eye opening to the horrors of the world, but most of us already know. These films exist just to make people sad. One of the seven basic types of story is a tragedy. In a tragedy, we follow as the protagonist goes from the good life to despair. However, there is no good life in Emotional Torture Cinema.

We start the film, and they're evacuating their home because bombs will drop soon. Then their mother dies. An aunt takes them in, but in the same breath says they can't stay for long. On the second day there, she asks why their father hasn't come to get them yet. She treats them like trash, which isn't shocking. The kids made it longer than I thought it would, but we knew they were dead in the first three minutes. As the film continued to add sadness to the narrative, I tuned out. If you check some of my tweets from when I was watching, I started laughing at silly things like how the kids were dirty, even in flashbacks and family photos. 

The film also does a lot to place blame on Seita for everything. If he had hurried up with the yard work, he could have helped his mom get to the shelter sooner. If he had gone to fight or find work his aunt could take care of Setsuko. He bought a fancy stove burner to spite his aunt who was giving him a place to live. He thought living in a bomb shelter was better than apologizing to her. Seita waited until Setsuko was non responsive to see a doctor. It just seemed odd to me, until I learned the book, of the same name, that the film is based on is autobiographical and Seita survived. The book is written as an apology to his two sisters that died, as well as the father he lost during the fire bombing.

After some more research I leaned audiences were split on Seita as well. While Japanese audiences valued his pride and found it admirable American and Australian audiences thought he was stupid. Admittedly, I was the stereotypical American and thought he was stupid at times, especially with his aunt. His aunt was a jerk, don't get me wrong, we all have family like her. Still, he seemed to poke the bear repeatedly. Not just with the stove either. Telling Setsuko she didn't manners because they were in charge now, while still living under her roof comes to mind first. However, that was probably the last straw. Their aunt was selling her kimonos for rice, the man and her daughter were both out working. Seita was taking beach trips and bubble baths, not even offering to do chores around the house. He had a job in a munitions factory before his home was bombed so it isn't like there was no work for young men who couldn't go to war. There were people who lived in shelters run by the government, he had options. It isn't as if he was depicted as a stupid child either, just stubborn and prideful.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think it was a bad film. But ETC is not for me, I could just reflect on my own life if I wanted to emotionally torture myself. For some people, they'll cry at the end of the film because it's heart wrenching. For me, I just couldn't find myself caring. I'll give it credit, for painting a picture of how terrible war is that didn't involve some nice kid getting shot in a battle. It did a great job depicting the horrors of war that people experience in their daily lives. Yet, for some reason the film just felt hollow for me. It could have been a strong anti-war film, but it never really went far enough. Sure the film depicts how war is on civilians, but everyone in the film is still talking about the war as a good thing, even when Japan has lost, the empire was invincible. This is a case of recognizing good quality, but understanding that it isn't for me. 

You can check out some of my short stories at 12 AM Fiction or if you like vampires follow my web serial Exsanguinate and of course hear me on the Powerbomb Jutsu podcast if you enjoy pro wrestling.

Grave of The Fireflies - Emotional Torture Grave of The Fireflies - Emotional Torture Reviewed by Darrell S. on Friday, January 08, 2021 Rating: 5

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