Recently during my script writing class I read a text about the elements of drama and starting out writing a script, one of the main themes was ”Films must make the audience feel something, whether it be through a comedy or a drama, the worst thing for a person is to watch a movie and feel nothing. If the latter happens then you are not doing your job as a script writer”. Which is very true, when you watch a movie you want to carry that movie in your mind all day or all week, maybe even forever, in your mind and your heart because it meant something to you. Sort of like the ending to the last Toy Story movie, that one hurt us former kids who grew up with the franchise and even made us hug some of our old toys. The following movie is no exception, I don’t know how they do it but a lot of anime films just know how to stab you right in the sensitive feels of your heart guts. I didn’t necessarily cry, it was sad I’m not going to lie but I’m just one of those people that doesn’t cry easily, but I did feel mad and in denial of how it all ended and my eyes watered a bit. The story is very touching and in a way realistic when you think of the era it all took place, how everyone struggle to survive with the little they had, watching their loved ones die of starvation or general diseases, having to sell priced possessions for a bowl of rice. Wartime may not be affecting us directly but it has affected our history, our elders and all of those people from far off countries who try to survive each day from all the disaster happening around them. While were here with our nice houses, cars, expensive clothing, bountiful food and good education, there’s other places in the world where kids don’t even have a pair of shoes to walk in. Also we should have more respect for all of our elders who went through such terrible times of war, went through the Great Depression, live with permanent traumas, or even lost some part of themselves along the way. Please remember that and don’t take it for granted. Which is basically what the director of this movie intended, even though many people think it is just an anti-war film it also tries to make teens and young adults feel sympathy and respect their elders for living through such a rough period in history.

This drama (based on a 1967 semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Aikiyuki Nosaka) revolves around the lives a young boy named Seita and his younger sister Setsuko during World War II in Japan, their own struggle of survival in a time where resources became very scarce and everyone tried to survive with what little they could find, many dying every day. Hiding in shelters became a routine, fear was the common emotion, and hunger never ended. In the beginning we see Seita telling the audience the date he had died and we watch how, then he guides us through his story in retrospect through his spirit. It all begins during the bombings in Kobe, where everyone was instructed to head out to the shelters. The siblings take what they can and escape along with the rest of the people when they are under attack by torpedos falling from the sky, while their mother stays behind. After hiding from the attack the siblings then head on towards the shelter only to discover the neighborhood they knew is gone, no houses left at all. When they arrive at the school shelter a neighbor tells Seita his mother has been gravely injured, after a few days she dies and they burn the body along with other corpses; we get a glimpse of what death looks like when we see his mother’s corpse covered in maggots (which is a thought that gives me goosebumps). While Seita is on the train we see him holding a box with his mother’s ashes

Seita and Setsuko go live with an aunt from their dad’s side (who is fighting in the war and is someone Seita very much looks up to, hoping that he will win against the enemy troops). Initially he lies about his mother’s death, claiming that she was transferred to a nearby hospital instead, in order to protect Setsuko but eventually he comes clean to his aunt. At first their aunt was very helpful with their situation, cooking for them and giving them her roof but later on she doesn’t treat them very nicely. She keeps scolding them about being greedy or how they refuse to share their rice and want more of hers and stuff like that. So after a while they decide to leave, planning to live in this abandoned little shelter/cave next to a lake. They manage to sustain themselves at first by asking farmers for food and trading, but after a while rations were low and they sometimes went hungry. Seat even tried to rob a farmer in order to help Setsuko.

As time passes Setsuko gets weaker from malnutrition and Seita later finds out that Japan lost the war, meaning his father was dead as well. When he arrived to the cave he saw Setsuko losing her touch with reality (she tried offering Seita a rock claiming it to be a rice ball). He feeds her a piece of watermelon and then goes outside to cook a decent meal for her, when he comes back she never woke up. Seita then puts her body in a large box along with all her things (except for the fruit drop can they shared so much). The movie ends watching both of their spirits together watching over modern Japan.

What I love about this movie was how even though things got tough the siblings tried to be happy: playing games, collecting fireflies, sharing fruit drops, singing, helping set up their new home, etc. The war was always on their back, it was something that never went away especially when rations got lower and they were all alone. Even so they try to create some sort of haven for themselves away from all of the suffering. Sadly, just like the fireflies they collected, they will shine brightly in their own world but eventually will die quickly when all of the bad things catch up to them. On the other hand when they died they managed to be bright for as long as they wanted. This is a story that reminds us of our own mortality, of caring for other people during hard times and never abandon them, how in a moment the life we knew could disappear in an instant as if it never happened, and so forth. Director Isao Takahata managed to portray this story in a way that just made you feel for the characters and touched your heart strings when you got very worried for them, you even felt mad at the aunt for making them want to leave. Many criticize that it was her fault that both kids died, but in a way it isn’t because in those times it’s very hard to take care of your family let alone distant relatives when there wasn’t enough to go around. There’s really no one to blame but the war, it’s inevitable to suffer during those times. It is very well made film in terms of the symbolic aspects that surround it (the fireflies, the war, the fruit drop can, etc), really made me sad to the point I felt like a depressive zombie that couldn’t understand life anymore. That bad. Also makes you think about how sometimes you have to figure things out on your own if you want to live, it’s hard but not impossible.

The movie won three well-deserved awards: The Special Award from the Blue Ribbon Award, along with two awards from the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival    (Animation Jury Award and the Rights of the Child Award).

Hope you guys find the time to watch this and have a tissue box next to you. And for those that can’t get into the story, please just find a quiet time of the day, forget everything for a few hours and lose yourself in it in order to fully understand and appreciate this amazing film.

I rate this movie 7.7/5.0 fruit drop cans