Powerful and engaging, Grave of the Fireflies is that true rare classic that transcends the medium.
What They Say
When their mother is killed in the firebombing of Tokyo near the end of World War II, teenage Seita and his little sister Setsuko are left on their own: their father is away, serving in the Imperial Navy. The two children initially stay with an aunt, but she has little affection for them and resents the time and money they require. The two children set up housekeeping in a cave by a stream, but their meager resources are quickly exhausted, and Seita is reduced to stealing to feed his sister.
The ADV Films presentation of Grave of the Fireflies retains the two original stereo tracks that we had on previous editions, both of which are encoded at 224kbps. With the connection we have with this film, it really can only be listened to in Japanese and that track is pretty good considering the way the material is itself. The audio for this track is a pretty decent stereo mix that has a few moments of good directionality, but the bulk of this film is dialogue or music, so it’s not a major problem. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout with no noticeable distortions or dropouts.
Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen sets, this uses what I believe is the transfer that Central Park Media had back in 2002 but newly encoded by ADV Films. Using the newer master provided by Japan back then, the look of the print here is just nothing short of stunning. Having gone from a VHS copy to laserdisc and then to the initial region 1 release and then to the region 2 release, I think this is one of those pinnacle moments where I can’t imagine it looking any better for home video. Colors are just fantastic looking through, particularly areas such as the skies and the opening segment in the field of fireflies with the oranges and reds. Looking through the DVNR segment where they have before and after shots just really shows how much of a difference this process made.
There are times when I wonder if a new piece of artwork for the cover of this release would be good, but in the end I come back to the simple idea that this is a perfect piece for the film. Though it’s soft and murky, it provides such a strong visual of the two lead characters and the kind of hardship they’re living through. There’s also something to be said for the familiarity of it all. The back cover is well laid out where it has some good quotes along the top along with the award it won. A few images from the show and a very good shot of the leads flesh it out a bit more alongside a brief but appropriate summary of the film. The discs special features are clearly listed and the remainder is given voer to the production credits and a solid technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reverse side cover.
The main menu is a brief bit of happiness as it features the two sitting on a bench with smiles on their faces with a dark sky behind them as it plays a brief piece of soft music. It’s a very subtle menu overall, but works very nicely. Moving to submenus is nice and fast and access times are good. The second disc has a single static image for its main menu and provides quick access to the extras located throughout it.
There’s a substantial amount of extras included here, especially when you add in the fact that the entire movie is provided in storyboard form and anamorphic at that for the storyboard version. That alone provides so much material for those who are looking for anything new with this film and for those who want to see how a movie is blocked out in its entirety. That’s the only extra provided on the first disc though, leaving the second disc to make up the bulk of the material.
And the second disc provides perfectly. A twelve minute interview piece with Roger Ebert kicks things off, and while he does indicate he’s not extremely knowledgeable about anime, he does provide a filmmakers view and decades of critique to the field and this gives us some new insights into how other people see our favorite medium. Added to his experience of dealing with a variety of Japanese live action movies over the years as well, he has some additional insights that I hadn’t realized before, such as the pillow transition information, which is something we see in a lot of anime. I’m quite glad he provided at least this much.
An interview with Isao Takahata is here, and I swear, that man looks fantastic for being sixty seven years old. This new interview runs about seventeen minutes in length and brings a number of interesting things to light, such as how Ayano was chosen to voice Setsuko and the lengths they went to make sure her lines came out perfect for the animation. I would have loved to have seen a present day interview with her to see what she thinks of the film she may not have understood fully as a child. Takahata talks a good deal about the production issues surrounding the film and the way everything sort of just fell into his lap as a once in a lifetime chance. This was definitely worth the price of admission alone for me.
Another piece provides a six minute pre-release video from the original theatrical run and has the original novel author, Akiyuki Nosaka, talking about his thoughts on his novel becoming a film and his expectations of it. Also provided here is a brief biography of his work and Takahata’s work and the original Japanese theatrical trailer.
The DVNR restoration segment shows the work that went into fixing up the materials for a much fresher and vibrant print, as well as what it took to remove the reel change marks and to synch up the audio tracks. The before and after shots throughout this are simply amazing. Another section provides close to ten storyboard sequences that were drawn up but never animated, which is the closest I think we’ll ever see to deleted scenes for this movie. There’s also a twelve minute Historical Perspective discussion with two professors where they talk about things related to the film and what certain pieces of it means, as well as going into detail about the air raids and what was done in real life about them, as well as how people in Japan were dealing with the war.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When ADV Films announced they had taken over the film from Central Park Media for release, I was really wary of watching it again as it felt like it was just yesterday that I saw it. When I realized it’s been nearly seven years since I saw the Collector’s Series release from CPM, it reminded me just how powerful the film is as it haunts me still all these years later. As I had said in that review, it seems like every few years a new release somewhere comes up with this film, and then there’s always a theatrical showing that I force myself to go see, as it must be seen on a big screen. This is a film that, whether you like it or not, I think must be seen at least once. The simple ideas and concepts it presents are so pure and universal that they can and often do affect everyone who sees it.
Grave of the Fireflies is a movie... no, a film, which you cannot watch often. This is something that you keep on your shelf, and you know that it's there. Once every few years, you get the courage and the strength to watch it again. And no matter how many times you've seen it, it has the same effect on you. It tears you down and makes you weep. Not the button pushing feel of Titanic, but the honest to goodness humanity within you feels for this film.
The beginning of it starts with the ending, and it in no way helps. Its a few weeks before the Americans land in Japan. In one of the rail stations, young Seita leans against a column dying. Hours later, a janitor comes across him, sighs about it, and tosses an empty can of fruit drops into a field, causing fireflies to flutter about.
From there, we see the journey of Seita and his younger sister Setsuko from several weeks (2 months?) before through the eyes of the now deceased Seita. We watch as he relives the last weeks of his life throughout the film, the decisions he made, the small amounts of happiness he manages for his sister, and more.
When I first sat my mother down to watch this, she wasn't sure what to expect. She was a big Lum fun, loves Orange Road, and thinks Robotech was a great show for what it was. She watched Grave of the Fireflies quietly in its entirety. She cried at the end, quite unlike I've heard with anything else. For weeks afterwards, she would say, "Why did he do this, or that" to me, and we'd talk about it.
For me, this movie will likely never become easier to watch, but will always serve as a reminder of just how precious life is. It is one of a handful of movies that have affected me down to my core and will be with me for years and years to come. It’s been nearly seven years since my mother has seen this movie, but with her just seeing the cover for it while visiting, the imagery from the film sprang to her mind and almost had her in tears from the memories. This is a powerful piece of work that can really affect people. It is the one movie I recommend to everyone as a must without any reservation.
With many anime movies, live action movies and TV series across both mediums, I usually find that there’s a lot to say, good show or bad show. But Grave of the Fireflies really leaves me somewhat speechless. It’s not a film that I find myself able to convey easily in words, rather it’s one that needs something more visual in order to get across the intense feelings about it. Taking it again now, at a time when my children are older, it still has an even stronger connection for me because I wonder what they would be like in this situation. This is a film where your views on it are likely the same once you reach a certain age, but your interpretations of parts of it do change because of your life experiences that shape and color everything. Seeing it every few years is a hard thing to do. After finishing it, I mentioned it to my mother, now just into her seventies, that I had seen it again. Just the memory of it made her tear up slightly because it has left such a lasting impression on her. Few movies have that effect on people and those that do must be treasured.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.