Hotaru no haka [Grave of the Fireflies] (1988)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Hotaru no haka</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">Grave of the Fireflies</strong>] (1988)

(Youtube Streaming, November 2018) It’s a good thing that I approached Grave of the Fireflies knowing all about its punchline (which, to be fair, is telegraphed in the opening moment of the film) and its reputation as the saddest movie ever made. Otherwise, I would have ended the movie as a bawling mess. As it is, I was about to keep it together at watery eyes and a lump in my throat. Considering that I’m not usually given to emotional reactions and that I knew nearly everything that was going to happen in the film, I’d classify Grave of the Fireflies as an emotional nuclear bomb, intense and devastating. Don’t approach it as mindless evening entertainment. The opening sequence says it all, as the protagonist announces his death as a voice-over, and we see him rejoin the ghost of his younger sister. Then it’s a flashback to the WW2 firebombing of Kobe and how their mother dies while their home is destroyed. Things get, much, much, much worse from that point on, despite occasional lighter moments that are instantly undercut by what we know will happen to them. It’s a terrifyingly efficient film, with director Isao Takahata using the medium of animation to show things that would be either impossible to shoot or far less effective as live-action. The control over the tone of the film is masterful even as it goes from drama to comedy to extremely bleak tragedy. As I said—no viewer escapes the ending without crying, and it may be even worse if—say—you spent the previous weekend babysitting your niece and your daughter, both of them roughly the same age as one of the doomed protagonists. Ooof. If there are nitpicks to be said about Grave of the Fireflies, it’s that the story isn’t a story as much as a long preordained execution … but really, the point of the film is you make you cry, and it’s so good at fulfilling its intentions that it becomes difficult to recommend it. In an ideal world, there would be heavy-duty warnings shrink-wrapped around every copy of the film—don’t watch this unless you’re willing to mope for days afterwards. Don’t start wars. Hug your kids. Count your blessings.

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