Krystal Nguyen, Jonathan Huteson, Daniel Davis
• Directed by Isao Takakhata
• Written by Akiyuki
Nosaka (Novel) and Isao
• Japanese Culture
• Video Clip
• Animation/Style/Film Type
• Discussion Questions
How did it end?
While the basic purpose of
most children animation is to
entertain, Grave of The
Fireflies bears many
devastating events and a
tragic ending that evoke
strong emotions and add to
the impact of the film.
Because these sad endings are the
last moments of a film that the
audience sees, they often leave
Unlike stories with happy
endings, sad endings are usually
more memorable, meaningful,
captivating, educational, and
resonate with people for a longer
period of time.
These reactions often encourage
people to evaluate their dreams,
needs, values, and morals in their
When people are sad, they try to
alter these unpleasant feelings
through understanding, self-
analysis, and evaluation, often
followed by changes in attitudes or
From the opening scene of the animated
film Grave of the Fireflies, it is clear that
this movie is going to end tragically. The
remainder of the movie depicts one
tragedy after another.
Many of the sad moments during the
film were drawn-out with silence,
allowing the audience the time to
further analyze the effects of each
Many who watch this film will not
only be emotionally captivated from
the first scene to the last, but also long
Sad stories such as Grave of the Fireflies
inspire people to search for a greater
meaning in their own lives.
Grave of the Fireflies (1988) is a Japanese
animated film written and directed by Isao
Takahata. The Japanese title is Hotaru no
The film is based on the semi-
autobiographical novel also called Hotaru no
Haka written by Akiyuki Nosaka.
It is not an entirely true autobiography
because while it is based on a part of his life,
it does not portray all the events accurately.
However, Nosaka and his sister did live in
Kobe, Japan, during the World War II air
His sister died during that time from
malnutrition and the author blamed
himself for her death.
Throughout his life, the author has
suffered from a deep guilt for his
sister’s death. He would often eat first
leaving his sister without enough food
for herself, resulting in his survival and
Akiyuki Nosaka wrote this story as
an apology to his sister.
Start at 5:22
Watch 5 minutes
The video shows the
beginning of the
movie as the city of
Kobe is bombed by
Grave of the Fireflies is set in Kobe,
Hyogo Prefecture, Japan during WWII in
At the time Kobe was the sixth largest
city in Japan with about 1 million
Kobe was Japan’s largest port and thus an
important city for business and
An active part of the war effort
In 1945 Japan’s war industry was
centered mostly in six cities: Tokyo,
Yokohama, Kawasaki, Nagoya,
Osaka, and Kobe
The United States planned to bomb
all six cities with precision bombs
over the span of a few weeks, later
adding incendiary bombs
Kobe was firebombed using 331 US B-
29s on the night of March 16
Two B-29 bombers dropping their deadly payload
8,841 Kobe residents killed in
the raid and resulting firestorms
650,000 lost their homes
21% of Kobe’s urban area
The City of Kobe after the March 16 air raid
Seita and Setsuko's mother is a middle age women with dark eyes and dark long hair made into
a bun behind her head. She has short bangs that hang in strands and fall half way down her
forehead. You can only see the bangs in the close up shots of her. She has a heart condition and
she has to consume medication for it.
She appears to be genuinely concerned for the well being of her children. While Seita is burying
the food supplies to save them from the air attack his mother finishes dressing Setsuko. She tells
her to be a good girl and be patient. Setsuko quickly runs towards her brother and her mother
reaches out towards her looking sad and scared. She announces that she is leaving for the bomb
shelter but takes the time to give a few words of advice to both her children. She is probably
leaving to the bomb shelter before her children because she is weak from her heart condition
and needs more time. She tells Seita to be careful and get to the shelter as soon as possible and
she tells Setsuko once again to be a good girl adding that she needed to listen to her brother.
Seita tells her not to worry about him and his sister and reminds her to leave to the shelter so
On her way to the shelter she was badly wounded and burned all over her body from the fire
bombings. Seita hears that his mother is being kept in a school with other wounded. When he
finds her the top half of her body is covered with bandages including her face. She is
unconscious and when Seita speaks to her she does not respond. The next time Seita visits his
mother she is dead. Her body is crawling with maggots and flies. Two men remove her body
and take her to be burned with the other dead. Seita watches the burning of his mother and the
other victims of war.
Seita is the 14 year old brother of Setsuko. He has short dark hair and dark eyes. He displays slightly
misguided parental behavior towards his sister throughout the film. He is proud and can be
stubborn. His father is away with the navy and he has assumed responsibility for taking care of his
mom and sister. When his village is attacked by fire bombings the family home is destroyed and his
mother is injured badly. Seita takes his sister to live with there aunt out of necessity. Early during the
siblings stay with there aunt, Seita goes to visit his injured mother only to find she has recently died.
He watches her corpse burned with a number of other casualties. When he returns to his aunts he
fails to inform his sister or aunt of his mothers passing.
Seita is treated badly by his aunt. She scorns him for not having a job or going to school even though
his school has been destroyed and work does not exist. Setsuko decides that he and his sister should
move to a cave/bomb shelter that is located by the ocean. He borrows a cart and moves all there stuff
to the shelter. During the siblings stay in the cave Seita frequently leaves in search of food. He finds
stealing to be the only way to find food and is one time badly beaten by a angry farmer.
When his sister develops a nasty rash, Seita takes her to the doctor and discovers it is from
malnutrition. She continues getting more sick for the rest of the film. Finally after finding his sister
weak and delirious Seita withdraws money from his fathers account to buy the girl much needed
food. At the bank he hears his father has died along with the rest of the naval forces. His spirit is
crushed but he hurries back to prepare food for his sister. He finds his way to the shelter and begins
cooking but by the time he is completed his sister has already passed away.
Seita buys charcoal and burns his sisters dead body as a ritual. In a short period of time Seita has
witnessed the deaths of both his mom and sister as well as learning that his father has died. He never
returned to the shelter. He died homeless living in the underground train station shortly after. His
death was probably caused by malnutrition.
Setsuko is the four year old sister of Seita. She has shortish dark hair and dark eyes. The young girl
is curious and lacks understanding of the world around her. Setsuko regulary throws crying fits.
She is fond of multicolored candy drops that are contained in a rectangular metal tin. Seita brought
them for her when he retrieved the food he stashed before the bombing. It almost always brings
Setsuko joy and calm when she sucks on a candy drop.
Early in the film Setsuko is upset that she has been separated from her mother. Her and her brother
go to live with there aunt because there mom is dead, there father is at war, and there home is
destroyed. Sieta withholds the information of there mothers death from Setsuko. Her aunt later
informs her that her mother has died but it is only later in the film that Setsuko lets her brother
know that she is aware of the passing.
The children are treated poorly by there aunt. Setsuko is very upset when there aunt forces the
siblings to sell there mothers clothing. The continued abuse leads Seita to move him and Setsuko
into a cave/bomb shelter located by a body of water. It is at this place that things go completely
downhill for Setsuko. The lack of food her brother is able to get for her causes Setsuko to suffer
from extreme malnutrition. She develops a rash and starts hallucinating. She is left alone for long
periods at a time while her brother searches for food.
Her condition worsens until one day her brother returns to find her unconscious on the ground
outside the cave. Setsuko begs her brother not to leave again but he convinces her to let him so he
can bring her much needed food. He leaves to drain his fathers bank account and buy food for his
dying sister. When he returns with food he finds Setsuko hallucinating badly. She is sucking on
what she thinks is a candy drop but it is actually a small stone. She acts very calm and positive
despite her condition. Seite goes outside the shelter to cook Setsuko food. By the time he has
finished the food for Setsuko she is already dead. Seita burns her body on a hill.
After Seita and Setsuko's mother is injured they go to live with there Aunt and her
family. Their aunt is a middle aged women with brown eyes and long brown hair
made into a bun behind her head. From the beginning she has little to no
sympathy for the siblings. When the children bring the food Seita had stashed at
there now destroyed house to there aunt she shows jealousy towards them because
food of that quality was hard to come by unless you were a military family.
She forces Seita to allow her to sell his mothers clothing so she can buy rice and
then only gives Seita a small portion and refuses to share any of her other food
with the boy and his sister. The Aunt scorns Seita for not going to school or
working even though his school has been destroyed and there is no work available.
When she finds out that the children's mother is dead she hardly seems affected
and once again gives no sympathy to Sieta and Setsuko. When the children decide
to cook for themselves the aunt is relieved that she will not have to share with
them anymore. When Seita decides that he and his sister should leave to live on
there own she does nothing to stop them and even slightly encourages the
behavior. Even though Seita is encouraged to move back with his aunt he refuses
because he is to proud to move back into the abusive situation that his aunt created
for him and his sister.
The movie theme covers important
social issues: war, orphans and hunger.
The film takes place during World War
II. All the events occurring in the film
are the product of the air raids on Kobe,
Japan. There are many scenes showing
the cities in fire, kamikaze planes
dropping bombs and people running
away trying to reach the bomb shelters.
The chaos gives a live action feeling of
what it would be like to be living in war
zone, as well as the pain of losing both
parents to war.
The mother dies from bombing injury
and the father sacrifices his life to fight
for the country. The children are then
left orphaned with no one in the
community able to take care of them.
After the children become
orphaned, hunger comes
The issue begins with the
two children being forced
to sell their mothers
clothing for rice. Then they
try living off the isolated
land with lake water and
When everything is sold and hunger starts to take
control over common sense, the older sibling begins
to steal food and brings troubles to himself.
From this part onwards, the film
expends its focus on not only the
children, but also the harsh reality of
humanity during war time.
Their aunt eventually gives up on
them, the villagers refuse to spare
food, and finally the doctor refuses to
give the malnutritioned sister
When the children are living off near
to nothing, the film ends with both
children dying from lack of nutrition.
Many viewers have considered the film an anti-war film. However, director Takahata
repeatedly denied, and, in his own words, explained that the film intended to reflect the failed
life of the siblings due to isolation from society, in order to provoke sympathy from people
who are particularly in their teens and twenties to strengthen up and respect their elders for
the suffering they have experienced during the darkest point in Japanese history.
Grave of the Fireflies, set in Kobe in 1945, begins with the image of a
young teen boy dying from starvation in a busy train station. A man
finds a tin on his body which contains ashes and bones inside. He throws
the tin away and the spirits of Seita, the boy, and his younger sister
Seksuko come from the tin.
The story then flashes back to earlier in
the year. Seita and his sister Setsuko here
air raid sirens and prepare their house for
the raid while their mother goes to the
bomb shelter. The air raid starts before
they are able to reach the shelter as
hundred of incendiary bombs begin to
rain down and light the town on fire.
While Seita and Setsuko escape
unharmed, their mother is horribly
burned. She dies soon after the siblings
see her for the last time in a makeshift
Death in the Family
The siblings, with their father away at war and their
mother dead, go to live with their aunt. She convinces
Seita to sell his mother’s kimonos for rice. Seita does so
reluctantly. He digs up supplies that he buried before
the raid and gives them to his aunt, save for a small tin
of fruit drops. As their food rations begin to dwindle,
the aunt become increasingly and openly resentful
toward Seita and Setsuko. Seita decides to move out
with Setsuko and they go to live on their own in the
underground bomb shelter. They collect and free
fireflies in the shelter for light, but the next morning
they have all died. Upset, Setsuko digs them a grave
and asks her brother, “why must fireflies die so
young?” She also asks why her mother had to die.
As their food supply begins to run low, the siblings
start to become sick from malnutrition. In
desperation as Setsuko becomes increasingly sick,
Seita steals food from local farmers during air raids.
He takes his now seriously malnourished sister to a
doctor who informs him that she will die from
starvation. Seita hastily withdraws all the money
from his mother’s bank account and buys food. He
overhears that Japan has surrendered to the Allied
forces and all of Japan’s navy has been destroyed.
This means his father, a Captain in the Navy, is
almost certainly dead. When Seita returns to Setsuko
with food she is minutes from death and dies soon
after. Seita cremates her body and places the ashes in
the fruit drop tin. He dies weeks later in the train
In the final scene we see Seita and Setsuko, sitting happy and healthy, surrounded by fireflies, looking
down on the city of Kobe.
Grave of the Fireflies is a 1988 Japanese animated film. It was written and
directed by Isao Takahata. The film was animated by Studio Ghibli. Grave
of the Fireflies is based on a 1967 semi-autobiographical novel of the same
name by Akiyuki Nosaka.
The illustration outlines for grave of the fireflies were done in brown. Most
illustration outlines in Japanese animation are done in black. The films
color coordinator Michiya Hoda said in a interview with Animerica
magazine that '' The reason it was done in brown was to give a softer
feeling to the screen. It was a technique unused in anime at that time and it
was done as a challenge.'' Brown is difficult to use as an outline color
because it does not contrast as well as black. Black was used sparingly in
the outline process when it was absolutely necessary.
The fruit drops symbolizes hope
and helps preserve Setsuko’s and
Seita’s childhood by giving them
moments of sweetness in the harsh
world they lived in.
The Kamikaze planes passing by
and the bombs reminds Setsuko of
fireflies as they fell through the
The short life spans of fireflies
resembles the untimely deaths of
Seita, Setsuko and their mother.
Since the 8th century, fireflies have
been favored in Japanese literature as
a metaphor for impassioned love. In
this film, they are seen as the souls of
whom have died in war.
The human soul was represented
through the floating and
The film portraits family structure true
to Japanese culture. Older siblings are
expected to have part of the parenting
responsibility, while the younger ones
assist in housework.
Seita shows the role of caretaker as he
struggles to put food on the table and
Setsuko shows herself as a supportive
sister (saving up coins).
Through hardship, the siblings still
naturally settle into these expected
norms of their culture.
Sakuma drops is a famous Japanese
candy sold in iconic tin cans that have
been around since 1908.
The candies became very popular after
they were featured in Grave of the
Fireflies and were such an important
emblem throughout the film.
The film inspired Sakuma Candy Co. to
make their own special edition featuring
Setsuko on the cover and are sold
worldwide for about $5.
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1143-186. JSTOR. Web. 1 Aug. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3396966>.
“Film and Video Programs.” MoMA 2.7 (September, 1999): 15-30.
Grave of the Fireflies, Dir. Isao Takahata. Perf. Tsutomu Tatsumi and Ayano Shiraishi. Studio Ghibli, 1988. DVD.
Greenberg, Raz. “The Animated Text: Definition.” Journal of Film and Video 63.2 (Summer, 2011): 3-10.
Hotaru no Haka, dir. Takahata Isao (1988); translated as Grave of the Fireflies, subtitled DVD (Central Park Media, 2002).
Imamura, Taihei. “Japanese Art and the Animated Cartoon.” The Quarterly of Film, Radio and Television 7.3 (Spring, 1953): 217-222.
Newitz, Annalee. “Magical Girls and Atomic Bomb Sperm: Japanese Animation in America.” Film Quarterly 49.1 (Autumn, 1995): 2-15.
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Oxford, 2000), 86–87.
Roger Ebert on why anime was an effective choice for the film version of Grave of the Fireflies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yU3mZT0a9Rw
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(2002): 103-33. JSTOR. Web. 1 Aug. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2677346>.
Wendy Goldberg. “Transcending the Victim’s History: Takahata Isao’s Grave of the Fireflies”. 2009 Mechademia Vol 4 Project