Plot: I can spoil as much as I want, because the movie starts with the ending, and the rest is a flashback to explain how the ending came about. In short, the main character and his sister are sent to live with their aunt, due to the fact that their mother died in a firebombing. They cannot stand living with their aunt, so they run away. Unlike every other series and movie where the power of love and friendship would save them, reality intervenes and the rest of the movie is spent watching two children starve to death.
This isn’t just a dose or a shot of reality, it’s drinking the whole bottle and drowning yourself in the brewery of reality. This movie is emotionally like a dominatrix who ‘forgot’ the safeword. It’s several other amusing metaphors and similes that I forgot to write down and thus cannot tell you.
Due to the deaths of the children and the horrible deaths of other people, this movie is frequently used as an anti-war movie. However, it seems that that is happenstance and not an intention of the movie. The movie is apparently based off of a semi-autobiographical book of the same name written by author Akiyuki Nosaka, who is essentially Seita. The comparisons run close-Akiyuki Nosaka even lost a younger sister to malnutrition. The story thus seems to be, and according to some people, is supposed to be an apology by Nosaka to his sister for what he feels is his failure to properly take care of her. That little tidbit serves to make the movie more powerful: the movie is no longer just a sad tale, it IS the failings of not just society, but of individuals as well.
The biggest failure and the reason why Seita could not stand their aunt, and thus had them run away, was not the fault of his aunt, but his pride that he would not swallow and allow himself to survive. Even when they have the chance to return to their aunt, which would have ensured their survival, Seita nixes that due to his pride, dooming them.
If anything, Seita is Howard Roark.Seita is also (probably) John Galt, depending on which book you read. Let me explain: Ayn Rand is a love or hate with no grey area author. Grave of the Fireflies is a love or hate movie with no grey area.
For a comparison that is not so weak, the main characters in all of those are perfect to a fault. Ayn Rand makes characters that will never sacrifice their ideals, and Seita never sacrifices his pride. In both cases, characters will not sacrifice their ideals, even if doing so would spare their life. A vegetarian in the Ayn Rand universe would starve to death locked in a room with only meats, as they would not eat meat, even to save their life. In the same vein, Seita can’t or wont swallow his pride so that he may live. The difference is that Ayn Rand usually has her protagonist succeed at the end, usually with a very long winded speech, while Seita has the realistic ending, and his pride and refusal to sacrifice any of that pride leads to his death, instead of a long speech and glory.
Beyond the Ayn Rand note, I have nothing else of worth to say that has not already been said a thousand times. That fact alone is really saddening, as such a good movie deserves more than I could give it. However, even though I watched it this year, that more than I gave it likely does not include an OVA/animated movie of the year award from me.
Score: 4/5 very good
Pros: It is a simply amazing story, heartwrenching, saddening, and all that other good stuff
Cons: Only good for one watch-it is the greatest movie you will never want to see again. Essentially an Ayn Rand story with realism thrown in. The use of the ending to start the movie means that any surprise is lost, and probably some emotional power, as you already know how it will end.
Thoughts: Barefoot Gen is supposedly the only movie that is greater than Grave of the Fireflies, and supposedly also the hardest movie to sit through, and even more emotionally powerful. I highly suggest watching Grave of the Fireflies, but keep the much more cheerful My Neighbor Totoro nearby so you can ease the depression.