Grave of the Firefly DVD (Isao Takahata, 1988)

(Plot discussed in close detail)

Looked at the DVD of Grave of the Fireflies. Decent enough dub (as if I was paying it much attention); no extras. Annoying '1/2' symbol hanging about on the upper right hand corner that I have no idea how to get rid of.

On umpteenth viewing, noticed how use of music was very spare--most of the film, and most of the moments that you'd consider the dramatic highpoints go on unemphasized, even casually tossed off (I'm thinking of the mother's death, shown only by a quick shot of maggots and the body being carried off) and Setsuko's (just a flat statement: "she never woke up again.").

Of course, Setsuko's gets the full treatment after the fact--flashbacks to her playing during their time in the shelter, and the final incineration--but it's difficult to imagine how else to treat this sort of thing, and when you think about it, there's a psychological basis for dwelling on her passing; Seita's remembering her when she was alive.

Outrageously repulsive moment: when the janitors find Seita's body, one of them picks up the fruit drop tin, opens it, tastes what's inside. Later we find out what the contents were.

It's possible to read Grave as a cautionary tale about the dangers of living outside of traditional society, of leading a nonconformist lifestyle; in a way the aunt represents the voice of wartime Japan, quietly supportive of the war effort, yet callous in the way she expresses that support--in the way she expresses sensible advice. You're against her the same time you know she's right; you're with the kids, the same time you know they're being very foolish. It's not so simple and straightforward a film as you'd think (tho I'm sure the dynamics of all this were found in the novel). They go off on their own, live (for a while anyway) a romantically free life, and because a war's going on, no one notices, or cares.

When things start to go bad, and even money can't buy food--this part is the most difficult for me to watch--Seita stubbornly sticks to their plan. Are we still with them? We are, emotionally, but now different feelings intrude--why don't they go back and apologize (and in fact someone says that very thing out loud)? Why don't they seek help from the government--at the very least, from the cityofficials? Your pity is alloyed with exasperation, perhaps a little anger. Why do they wilfully do this? Their excuses start to ring a little hollow--the school and factory where they lived burned down, they don't know where their other relatives are, and (most common excuse) their father's going to help them somehow. When that final crutch is taken away (the father's revealed to have died), they're left with a handful of half-assed excuses and a desperate situation incarnated in Setsuko's severely starved body.

Is it a great film? I think so. Strangely, crying in this picture is something people admit to all the time, some of them constantly, but I don't think any brimming over of the cup is requested by Takahata except on one particular occasion, the final incineration, and even there, I don't feel Takahata actually demands anything; it feels like it just happens, of its own will.

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