"Whilst this movie would have been better if it was acted by real people, animation itself may have lessened the impact of the war."
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
Hotaru no haka
Why such an English title?
I suspect it has to do with one scene where if I remember correctly Setsuko buried the dead fireflies into a small makeshift grave in honour of her dead mother.
Rhoda Chrosite .... Setsuko (voice: English version)
Shannon Conley .... Additional Voices (voice: English version)
Crispin Freeman .... Additional Voices (voice: English version)
Dan Green .... Additional Voices (voice: English version)
Amy Jones .... Aunt (voice: English version)
George Leaver .... Additional Voices (voice: English version)
J. Robert Spencer .... Seita (voice: English version)
Nick Sullivan .... Additional Voices (voice: English version)
Veronica Taylor .... Mother (voice: English version)
Taken from imdb.com
Seita and Setsuko are brother and sister living in wartime Japan. After their mother is killed in an air raid they found a temporary home with relatives. Having quarreled with their aunt they left the city and made their home in an abandoned bomb shelter. While their father's destiny who was a soldier is unknown the two must depend on each other to somehow keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. When everything was in short supply, they gradually succumb to hunger and their only entertainment was the light of the fireflies.
This movie is depressing. Because you know the ending even before it began. The very first words uttered by the young teenage, Seita was that on a certain date in 1945 he died. We also know his sister, Setsuko died as well as the very first scene was him lying in a modern looking facility, dirty and in rags and dying of hunger. The next scene was his sister and himself reunited by a small tin container that used to contain his beloved sister's beloved fruit drops. It's a tragedy and the story is not interested in telling you how they died as we know by hunger or even when they died although we know this was set during WWII but why they died. The why is pretty grim and what is good about this story is it is pretty honest. Told through the eyes of the young children, the story takes a poignant and sad turn as we watch how the children slowly succumb to death.
There are several scenes in this movie that will definitely tug your hearts. Their mother's burnt body, as she laid dying possibly in lots of pain, the way the flies were flying all over her, the maggots, etc. Whilst the children were sent to live with their relative, an aunt who herself is married with teenaged children, they were very warmly welcomed and well fed. But once the aunt knew the mother had died and the fate of the father (who was in the navy) unknown, she turned nasty. Perhaps this is even more real than most depicted in movies because I believe in real life people, even relatives can be that cold hearted. She began to nag and said things that no child could understand. She blamed Seita for not working and contributing, calling him lazy and all sorts of name but in a very subdued way, not all out screaming. Even her husband seemed fed up with their presence although the daughter was more tolerant. Much later she conned Seita to handover his mother's expensive kimonos, she bartered them for rice which was a precious commodity and in a very hypocritical way generously gave them less than half which prompted Setsuko to say "But it is our rice ..." which had her launching her into lectures about how ungrateful the children were. Even adults conned children in times of desparation. Further scenes has the children finally moving out after Seita could no longer take her criticism and a happy Setsuko happily following her brother but that was the first step towards doom. Seita didn't have the heart to tell Setsuko that their mother died but Setsuko knew because the mean aunt told her and she took it like a mature adult would. Anyway, they basically died of malnutrition as rashes covered their bodies and Setsuko growing weaker and weaker by the day. Advice to Seita to swallow his pride and return to his aunt fell to deaf ears, desperation turned Seita into a petty criminal but in the end Setsuko died in her sleep. I think when Setsuko died, it was very sad because moments before she offered mudballs to Seita saying their were rice balls and when Seita refused she could not understand why he refused. Hunger by that time was playing tricks on her mind and after her death, scenes of a very active and happy Setsuko playing around the bomb shelter will sure tug at your hearts. In the end even Seita perished.
Whilst this movie would have been better if it was acted by real people, animation itself may have lessened the impact of the war. Imagine if you see a real child covered with rashed and only skin and bones, surely that would cause an outcry. But because of that, the animation seems distant to me, unable to draw me in except as a spectator. I once also foolishly mentioned that some may not be drawn into the story because it was about the Japanese during WWII. I remember when I was watching this movie and I was almost in tears, my sisters were unmoved. Reasons need not be stated, just suffice to say we are Chinese. But I remember telling them, this is about children and war, the most universal suffering one can see and it does not matter if they were Japanese or Iraqis, they're children, pure, simple and innocent victims of the foolishness of adults. In a way this movie depicted just that and more. What I like about it is it did not attempt to show the adults in a good light. Most of the adults in here are selfish, uncaring and unmoved by the children's plight, probably because there were million others. Even the children made mistake, in an attempt to strike it out on their own, they did not realise the gravity of their action. It is a very harsh look at the results of war in the eyes of the children and luckily it is animation, because like I said if it was a real movie acted by real people, it would be a very difficult movie to watch.
But yet I am not entirely moved by their plight, again caused by my own foolishness. In a way and I shall confess, when Seita said "the Great Emperor lost?" in total disbelief, I was rather annoyed. History is the reason why I did not like this movie as much as I should. Animation wise, it is passable but considering it was made in 1988, and not by the famed Hayao Miyazaki although I was told by the same studio, colours didn't get much prominence. in here. They're mostly black or brown, rather dreary. I didn't think it was beautifully animated, eventhough the firefly scene was nice. Worse still is the voice casting. I watched the English version and I disliked the voices, too high pitch, too cartoonish, too plain.
But the story itself is universal. It can happen anywhere and it can happen in any century for as long as there is war, the victims, most likely children and adults alike would have gone through what Seita and Setsuko went through.
In what I believe is a brilliant ending scene to a rather dreary looking animation with a heavy theme, we see a healthy looking Seita telling a healthy looking Setsuko to lie on his lap and sleep whilst sitting on a bench. The camera then zoom away to their back, where they were on a hill facing a very beautiful night view of tall modern buildings with very beautiful bright lights. If I am not mistaken, they were seeing modern Japan and surely looking still as young, they're both very dead. It was a poignant end. They were suffering in life but in death they were united and time stood still for them in terms of looks but Japan has moved on. It would have been even better if we get to see their parents joining them.
All in all, a very sad movie indeed, and moving but not the movie that I would declare as making the most impact on my senses. I felt the movie was a tad too long. I wouldn't dare call it entertaining because how can watching 2 children die be called entertaining? How shall I term it? Stark reality perhaps?
Story wise a good watch but depending on how you view animation showcasing pain and suffering, get ready to be surprised or even shocked at the children's plight and the adults' indifference.