made the mistakes of showing Grave of the Fireflies in class today. I’ve shown three WWII- related films–McCarthur’s Children, 24 Eyes and Black Rain, so I didn’t need to show another one. But I wanted to show at least one animation, and decided on Fireflies.
The story is about a teenage boy and his four year old sister trying to survive on their own during the air raids of Osaka in WWII. Their father is at war in the navy. In an air raid in the beginning of the film their house is burned down and their mother dies. Seita doesn’t tell his sister, and struggles to deal with the death by himself. He takes his sister to their aunts place in the suburbs of Osaka, where they are initially welcomed, but soon treated as a burden–two extra mouths to feed during at time when food is severely rationed. The aunt welcomes the bartering goods that come with taking care of Seita and Setsuko: their connections as the offspring of a naval officer and their mothers silk kimonos. But once rations are depleted and there are no more kimono to trade for food, they are treated as parasites. Seita is a proud boy, willing to try to live by himself and his sister. He is not about to put up with the insults and frigidity of his aunt.
So Seita and Setsuko find an old, deserted storeroom dug into a knoll next to rice fields. There they initially eat the rice they brought and buy what they can with the money left to them by their mother, but they soon start scooping field snails (田螺) from the rice fields and search for nuts and berries in an attempt to survive. But life is hard. Seita even begins to cheer air raids because he can loot the houses of people who have fled to bomb shelters. Still, the food is scarce, and little Setsuko gets weaker and weaker.
I won’t spoil the ending, but the story avoids even a tinge of sentimentality. It is hardcore story telling about how difficult it is for children caught in the middle of a war waged by adults. It is a fantastic movie and NONE of my students left the room. There are usually a few who sneak out during the middle, but no one left this time. At the end of the movie, my eyes started tearing up–man, this story is so freakin’ sad! Ah shit, I CAN’T let my students see me all misty-eyed! So I started taking deep breaths, trying to hold back the tears. I stretched my arms above me, squeezing some composure back into myself. Damn, I shoulda left and gone to my office! But behind me, I heard a bunch of different people sniffling. When the film ended and I turned on the lights, a number of people had reddish eyes. I had to laugh.
“I’m glad I’m not the only one crying,” I squealed, as I whisked away the moisture from the corner of my eyes with my fingers.
They had to laugh, too.