Tag Archives: Studio Ghibli

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

firefliesI start this with the same proviso as my The Wind Rises review. I, generally speaking do not like Studio Ghibli films. One day when I have seen the last few that have never passed before my eyes I will explain in more detail why. However, for now, I decided to watch Grave of the Fireflies. Grave of the Fireflies is one of the Ghibli films not directed by Hayao Miyazaki but rather Isao Takahata which, given how people talk, one would assume is a rare breed – not so, only half of the Studio Ghibli films were ever directed by Miyazaki, yet somehow he gets all the glory and is almost synonymous with the production house name.

Anyway, Grave of the Fireflies certainly has a different flavour to the happy-go-lucky Ghibli films one hears most about. Based on the autobiographical short story from Akiyuki Nosaka, Grave of the Fireflies tells the story of two orphans, brother and sister after the bombing of their hometown in the Second World War. It’s not what one expects when you throw an animated film into the DVD player, but then neither is Waltz with Bashir and that’s a fascinating film. In fact, Waltz with Bashir is about the closest I’ve seen to an equivalent film, animation certainly not meant for children and set in a warzone.

Grave of the Fireflies has come under attack precisely for its war-time setting. Many say that it’s an anti-war film, showing the tragedy that young people have to live through as a result of a war they have no part in. Certainly this idea crops up as adults try to force Seita to help the war effort rather than feed and protect his sister, as if the fighting were not only his fault, but his responsibility. Yet more than anything else Grave of the Fireflies seems to entirely ignore the war, letting it just be a backdrop and excuse for the shelter-dwelling existence of these children. The morality of the war, those fighting in it and the concept at large is reduced to a strange juxtaposition that never gets resolved: the war is the source of all their problems and the eventual death of these two children, yet at various intervals the army is portrayed as a glorious institution and Seita is oddly distraught at the defeat of the Japanese army, when that very defeat was his only way out of the wartime famine he’d been living through.

Undeniably there are moments when this film is absolutely beautiful. The first scene where Seita and Setsuko release the fireflies in their home is a wonderful depiction of the innocence of childhood and the joy of small pleasures while living through hell. However, this restrained and elegant mood doesn’t last – the method of animating tears is so jarringly ugly that it breaks you out of the film every time, and these kids do a lot of crying. Yet quite apart from that, the film seems to be created solely to make an audience cry, not necessarily to move them or inspire dialogue about the horrors of war, but just to pull at the heartstrings in a clumsy way. Undoubtedly, you will find yourself crying at the end of it. Undeniably it is very very sad, but this emotion doesn’t come from any great filmmaking prowess. Any film about a five year old dying will make you cry, and most of them don’t need to show you a cutesy montage of said five year old happily enjoying the life she just lost to ram the message home. At best it’s a hamfisted approach to a delicate subject, at worst it’s a manipulative and cynical film that refuses to engage with either the tragedy of war, or the problem of making children believe in the glory of war on any serious level.

  • Entertainment: 4/5
  • Artistic:             2/5
  • Intellectual:      2/5

The Wind Rises – 2014

TheWindRises_UKTrailerThe Wind Rises was blown in from Japan with cries of the sad end of an era, this being Hayao Miyazaki’s last film. I myself was not a fan of the Studio Ghibli films and while this may seem both unlikely and shockingly close to heresy for someone who loves animation as a genre I stand by my opinion. In fact what interested me most about this film was the disappointment I heard from long-time Ghibli fans about the lack of whimsy and magic – precisely something that had always bothered me about Ghibli.

It’s true, The Wind Rises is an historical drama and not at all the cutesy fairytale fare the studio has been peddling recently. It’s as if Miyazaki finally had the freedom to make a true, serious film after a life confined to the kids’ table. Elements of this fantasy style remain in dream sequences but the pastel-coloured madness is confined and contrasted to a much bleaker story of Japan in crisis. There’s a subtlety in this film that has seemed absent from some of the more recent Ghibli films like Ponyo and Arrietty. Even the skill of the animation to portray shortsightedness onscreen is laudable.

Miyazaki does well to distance himself from the politics of the situation, after all this could be seen as a war film, with the majority of the action taking place around the design of the Japanese fighter planes. Furthermore he places his protagonists in the Great Kanto Earthquake and the tuberculosis epidemic. It’s hard to imagine how a film can remain neutral and universally acceptable with these reference points. However Miyazaki’s angle is far more from the aesthetic and technical perspective. Better yet he stays in an individual and human experience, a human who has a higher purpose than to involve himself in such issues too deeply. Through Jiro Miyazaki explores the difficulty of genius, the art of mathematics and the eternal obsession that ambition creates. After all, if, as the film proclaims, you only have ten years of creativity, what is the sense in spending it doing anything but creating? There are moments where the film gets bogged down in a little too much technical detail for those of us who are unfamiliar and indifferent to riveting techniques but these are few and far between. The rest of the film leaves no room for boredom with its swells of music and elegant animation.

The title is taken from a poem by Paul Valery, a call to arms to live, to create in the face of death. The film also delivers just that with great aplomb. It’s a love story, but in the end the love of earthly things, even his wife is not enough for Jiro, an aeronautical engineer. His calling is creation and the immortality that comes with creating beauty. He neglects his sister throughout his whole life and, despite being a kind and generous man, never ceases to spend more time with his aeroplanes than with his dying wife. For Jiro everything in life fades, the cities can be destroyed, peace and war circle on and those you love die. The only constant is the dream that he tries to live, since the only time when the dreams can fade away is when the dreamer is no longer around to dream them.

  • Entertainment: 4/5
  • Artistic:             5/5
  • Intellectual:      4/5