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Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, this Studio Ghibli film tells the story of two children, 14-year-old Seita (J. Robert Spencer) and his four-year-old sister Setsuko (Rhoda Chrosite), who are struggling to survive in 1940s war-torn Japan where bombings by American warplanes are an almost daily occurrence.

 Grave of the Fireflies
When their mother is killed in an air raid and the fate of their Naval officer father remains unknown, the children are left to fend for themselves. After a brief and uncomfortable stay with a cold and distant aunt, who makes it clear that she doesn't want to be burdened with them, they run away and set up home in an abandoned bomb shelter. For a while they find some happiness living on their own with a field of fireflies to keep them company but as the rationing of food grows more unbearable, Seita finds it an increasing struggle to keep himself and Setsuko alive.

The day to day turmoil of war on the people who live in the attacked towns and villages is chronicled in this extremely real world Ghibli film. Despite the bombings, life goes on and the struggles to find food, work and continue with education are always an issue. Strains on relationships, how to generate income or how to live as simply as possible in a devastated society is a pressure that young people such as the characters here should never have to deal with. Given the worldwide destruction generated from World War II it’s always saddening to see any people affected by the conflict but Grave of the Fireflies does such a good job of distancing itself from the nitty gritty of the actual battles and instead chooses to focus on a brother and sister doing their best in an impossible situation.

 Grave of the Fireflies
To many animation is not the always the place to delve into subjects such as war, starvation and human drama. Grave of the Fireflies is about as bleak and heartbreaking as any live action war story but with the magic of Ghibli behind it, their extra slice of wonder in the tale plucks the heart strings in ways rather unique to animation. Seita and Setsuko feel young and vulnerable and set adrift from the struggling society around them. Because of the more restrained animation style, these two central characters always feel utterly human and full of real emotion. Simple lines of dialogue resonate because of the absolutely genuine connection between this brother and sister and when things begin to look bleak for the pair you really feel the slow steps as we head towards the sadder elements of the film.

 Grave of the Fireflies

Video


The image here is yet another great looking 2D presentation for a Studio Ghibli film, Colours are slightly muted when compared to more recent Ghibli films but I'd say this one is a little sharper than some of the other Ghibli titles from the 80s that have arrived on Blu-ray. The colour scheme here, made up of a lot of beiges and smokey greys look great with some solid edges and there's a real HD boost to the overall look to the hand drawn animation.  Of course there’s still some stronger colours within some of the costumes and the glow of the many elements of fire is very impressive, as are the fireworks at the brief naval review element of the film.
 
The use of lighting across the entire film is moodier than many Ghibli films with a darker tone and how the shadowing is used along with the beautiful backgrounds and visuals of devastated cities provides a very filmic landscape for these animated characters to live in. Daytime scenes come with bright blue skies and its really only here that you’ll ever see grain but even then only if you really go looking for it. Grave of the Fireflies is often shown on Film 4 but I always found it to be a dark grubby looking  presentation, that’s just not the case here. The artistry in Grave of the Fireflies is has never looked better and this is should really please fans fo the film.

 Grave of the Fireflies

Audio


Immediately, you’ll notice the small things such as everyday sound effects are very strong here. Scuffling of shoes on wood floors, clicking and chirping of bugs and cracking of burning wood, it’s all solid. Dialogue sits well in the stereo track and the differences between central dialogue and the muttering of crowds talking behind them in scenes shows off the layers to the track and its fairly good use of depth for a stereo track.

Flyovers from planes and bomb drops build very well volume wise, and while it never feels all that dynamic, it comes with just the right amount of power. The score is heartbreaking and every bit the reason you feel the emotion the film generates and that too is placed very well in the mix, with the strings feeling crisp and impressive.

 Grave of the Fireflies

Extras


First up we get the always amazing storyboards for the entire film that runs along side the film if you so choose.

The ‘Interview with Director Isao Takahata’ (17:39 SD) explains the love of the story and his approach to the film and the ‘Japanese Release Promo’ (06:06 SD) begins with author Akiyuki Nosaka and it goes a bit deeper into the unexpected Ghibli take on the story.

The ‘Historical Perspective Documentary’ (12:25 SD) talks of the times the story is based on and the ‘Interview with Film Critic Roger Ebert’ (12:07 SD)  has the much respected reviewer talking about how moved her was by the film and how it being produced in animation is so unique and special

Last up we have a deleted scene storyboard some bonus storyboards and some more Ghibli trailers.

 Grave of the Fireflies

Overall


Grave of the Fireflies is a rather unique Ghibli experience. It has all of their usual beautiful artwork and their same much loved character richness but given the real world setting here and the only magic coming from the two main characters’ view of the collapsing war torn world around them, this one takes its audience into the darker sides of life, as opposed to anywhere full of wonder.

The disc looks and sounds great and has a good chunk of extra features that fit the mood of the film well. This one might not be one for the really young kids out there but it’s certainly a good entry point for parents who want to show their children the side of war that isn't usually the focus.


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