Realism and Maturity in Animation: “Grave of the Fireflies”

GraveoftheFirefliesGrave of the Fireflies is a 1988 Japanese animated film directed by Isao Takahata, who recently directed the Oscar-nominated animated film The Tale of The Princess Kaguya. Fireflies tells the story of a boy (Seita) and his younger sister (Setsuko) trying to survive in Japan during World War II. They must contend with air raids, starvation, moral decisions, and even death. It’s a beautiful film that carries with it a great emotional core. Watching it was the equivalent of a punch to the gut, which was likely exacerbated by the fact that I had just finished watching “The Thin Red Line.” It does not shy away from the harsh realities of war. Yes, you read correctly. There is an animated film out there that unflinchingly tackles most grim of topics – the impact of war.

This film did not leave me in hysterics, but it still had a powerful impact. I have believed that animation as a medium is powerful, and that it should not be relegated to the corner as “children’s entertainment.” To me, this film validated that hunch.

What is so impressive about Grave of the Fireflies is that Takahata succeeds in conveying a sense of realism in a hand-drawn animated film. Sure, there are some more surrealist elements to it, but overall this movie is a far cry from the American conception of “animation.” What comes to mind is not heart-breaking World War II drama, but fun adventures starring zany, big-eyed characters.

Why do I make this point?

Back in 2013, director Brad Bird raised a question that has resonated with me: “Where’s the Francis Ford Coppola or the Alfonso Cuaron of the field?…Why can’t there be an Annie Hall? Why does it always have to be cute?” (Baum and Ginsberg, 2013) In regards to American animation, I am inclined to ask the same question.

True, there are some American animated movies that take risks by including dark messages and themes (the two “How to Train Your Dragon” films – two of my favorite films of all time – and 90’s Disney are examples of this), but in general it is still a rarity that I would love to see more of.

As someone who loves animation and writing, I hope that one day I can perhaps lend a hand to breaking the mold, and write screenplays for animated films that are more mature and less “cute” as Bird would say. Of course someone else would have to do the animation since my artistic skills are limited to stick-figures. I plan on writing more posts about Japanese animated films because I truly believe that there is great potential for American studios to follow in Japan’s footsteps in making their own animated films that embrace more mature themes and audiences.

Image Source:


Baum, Gary and Merle Ginsberg. “Director Brad Bird Wants an American Annie Hall.” The Hollywood Reporter. 7 Feb. 2013. Web. 6 Feb. 2015.

“Grave of the Fireflies (1988).” The Internet Movie Database. n.d. Web. 6 February 2015.

“Isao Takahata.” The Internet Movie Database. nd. Web. 6 February 2015.

“The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (2013).” The Internet Movie Database. n.d. Web. 7 Feb. 2015.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s