“Grave of the Fireflies:” The Most Compelling War Movie Ever Made

Explore the heartbreaking true story of a boy and his little sister during World War II.


George Townley

“Grave of the Fireflies” is a must-watch that astoundingly depicts the effects of war. The protagonists are ones you can’t help but grow fond of and the story is one that’ll stay in your heart for a long time. You can watch it now on Hulu.

Anastasia Gobot, Staff Writer

Studio Ghibli, a well-known Japanese animation studio, released a movie in the early 90s much darker than their usual lighthearted, more popular movies. “Grave of the Fireflies,” though much more underrated compared to its siblings, still contains that element of magic very familiar to all Studio Ghibli fans.

The movie follows Seita and his little sister Setsuko as they undertake the challenge of simply surviving as continuous air raids set fire to everything around them during World War II. Their relationship is portrayed through numerous heartwarming scenes that almost make you forget about the war they are caught in. As the story progresses, the true cost of war is slowly revealed to us.

In the beginning, Seita is introduced to us most unconventionally: with his death at a train station. This lifeless scene is heavily contrasted by the one that follows it, with a switch to a warm color palette, glowing fireflies, gentle music, and Setsuko. Juxtaposition is used consistently throughout the movie, whether it be in the situation, the musical score, the color scheme, the pacing, and various other elements. These changes happen quickly, imitating the way violence and conflict create instability. The use of contrast also adds to the emotional aspect of the movie. By witnessing the stark differences between wholesome scenes and the jarring effects of war, the emotions felt watching each scene become enhanced and the viewing experience becomes even more memorable.

Why must fireflies die so young?”

— Setsuko, Grave of the Fireflies

The plot itself is beautifully simple. Oftentimes, movies about war contain lots of action. “Grave of the Fireflies” does the opposite; it only weaves short images of destruction into the animation and focuses on what happens in between. Scenes of familial love, nature’s beauty, humanity and everything in between is portrayed in replace of bloodbaths and gunshots. They make up the reality of those who are caught in the crossfire. They make you grow fond of the protagonists and ask why they had to suffer.

If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that bugs have a great significance in storytelling. You might be able to figure out the ending if you take note of them. As the movie plays, you may notice that flies and fireflies show up throughout the animation. They act as a tool of foreshadowing and they represent different things. Flies seem to represent death and fireflies seem to represent happiness and hope (though ever so fragile and finite).

Expected of Studio Ghibli, the animation is wonderfully made. Contrasting colors, gorgeously detailed backgrounds, and thoughtful perspectives make it feel like you are observing Seita and Setsuko in the shadows of their world. It almost feels comforting.

“Grave of the Fireflies” is indeed a bewitching experience and arguably the best war movie to come alive. The lessons it teaches are up to interpretation but without a doubt universal. It’s perfect for every audience. Don’t just read about it here in The Talon … go indulge in it yourself.