Grave of the Fireflies

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Grave of the Fireflies Movie Poster Image
Japanimation WWII tragedy the saddest. Cartoon. Ever.
  • NR
  • 1988
  • 77 minutes
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 10 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 39 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Melancholy message is about civilians -- especially orphaned children -- being the most helpless and overlooked victims in the chaos of wartime, and the way the two in the story manage to construct a fragile, two-person society all by themselves, out of sibling love, sharing, and innocence. But it doesn't save them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Seita's existence (once his parents are lost) seems to revolve around his little sister, but he does show signs of irresponsibility and dangerous inattention, and he turns into a thief and looter to feed the two of them. His aunt scolds Seita for laziness and not doing his share, and she may be right. Other adults seem numbed into states of semi-indifference.

Violence

Aerial incendiary barrage kills civilians and leaves charred, dead/dying bodies, bloody wounds, and burns. A fighter plane strafes villages with bullets. Flies buzz around a covered corpse. Seita is beaten.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

A brand of Japanese hard candy will go unrecognized by most English-speaking viewers.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that fans of Japanese animation -- heck, fans of all animation -- pretty much agree, this is the saddest cartoon of all time, a potentially traumatic viewing experience. Two sympathetic children sicken and slowly die (and their mother is hideously wounded before her own demise), with the only balm being that the kids' spirits have a tender afterlife reunion. There is a beating, wartime aerial bombardment and gunfire, and other dead bodies are shown, both soldiers and civilians. The larger issues of WWII (like why Americans might be incinerating Japanese villagers) are never discussed. A few minor plot details are best comprehended with a knowledge of Japanese custom and culture (especially funerals!).

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bywhiskeytango September 29, 2011

This the best war movie ever made. I don't mean that in the usual way.

This is not a happy film at all. But it's one that children absolutely must see. The beauty of Grave of the Fireflies is that it drives home the human cost... Continue reading
Parent Written byRob S. August 18, 2017

Very powerful & very sad movie

You need to be emotionally prepared to experience this movie set in wartime Japan. You don't watch it, you experience it. It is incredibly good in that i... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bySamurai 2.0 May 6, 2011

Sad, graphic family film.

Keep a tissue box next to you. It's likely you will be brought to tears by this film. It includes death and bombings, and both are the main tear jerkers. Y... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old December 23, 2010

*sniffles* definately most saddest movie. EVER.

It is the most depressing, saddest movie. I almost cried (i never cry in movies) My mom burst in HUGE tears just when the mom got bombed. My sis was just playin... Continue reading

What's the story?

In a Japanese train station in September 1945, a ragged, starved, homeless youth dies, barely noticed by the cleanup crew getting set for the arriving, victorious American WWII forces. The boy's spirit unites with a little girl, and in a flashback we learn that they are a brother, Seita, and his small sister, Setsuko. With Seita's father serving in the Japanese Imperial Navy and their mother ailing, Seita spends most of his time looking lovingly after Setsuko. When American bombardment destroys their home and kills their mother, the two children move in with an unwelcoming aunt, Seito keeping the awful truth from Setsuko as best he can. Unable to tolerate his aunt's insults, Seita leaves with Setsuko to live by themselves in a disused bomb shelter, catching fireflies for illumination and stealing food. But malnutrition and illness ruins Setsuko's health. As Japan surrenders, Setsuko dies, and a heartbroken Seita (resigned that his father is also likely dead) cremates his little sister shortly before his own end.

Is it any good?

Even seen-it-all critics such as Roger Ebert admit to having been moved to tears by this stirring and memorable film -- which is based on actual events. Though the author of the 1967 novel, who lost his kid sister during the war, obviously lived to write ruefully about it afterwards, one gets a tragic sense from this material of witnessing a story that comes from directly the voiceless, the countless unnamed, unknown child casualties of war and government violence, not necessarily in WWII but everywhere.

The visually beautiful but realistic animation offers no fantasy heroics, no talking-animal sidekicks, and only the merest comfort (actually a whole new level of poignancy all by itself) when the deceased brother and sister meet again as spirits. There are far more violent WWII films -- and anime -- but this doesn't need graphic bloodshed for devastating impact, and it should be watched with the same caution that some parents might reserve for Schindler's List.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way the characters react to the strife of wartime. What might you have done in Seita's place?

  • Why does Seita make the calamitous decision to try and live with Setsuko all on his own?

  • Would this story have been equally as affecting if it had been told using live-action, not animation? What if characters had been grownups, not kids?

Movie details

For kids who love weepy stuff

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