Grave of the Fireflies

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Grave of the Fireflies
A young boy is carrying a girl on her back in a field with a plane flying overhead at night. Above them is the film's title and text below reveals the film's credits.
Theatrical release poster
HepburnHotaru no Haka
Directed byIsao Takahata
Produced byToru Hara
Screenplay byIsao Takahata
Based onGrave of the Fireflies
by Akiyuki Nosaka
Music byMichio Mamiya
CinematographyNobuo Koyama
Edited byTakeshi Seyama
Distributed byToho
Release date
  • 16 April 1988 (1988-04-16)
Running time
89 minutes[1]
Box office¥1.7 billion (Japan)[2]
$516,962 (US)[3]

Grave of the Fireflies (Japanese: 火垂るの墓, Hepburn: Hotaru no Haka) is a 1988 Japanese animated war tragedy film[4][5] based on the 1967 semi-autobiographical short story of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka. It was written and directed by Isao Takahata, and animated by Studio Ghibli for the story's publisher Shinchosha Publishing (making it the only Studio Ghibli film under Tokuma Shoten ownership that had no involvement from them).[6] The film stars Tsutomu Tatsumi [ja], Ayano Shiraishi [ja], Yoshiko Shinohara [ja] and Akemi Yamaguchi [ja]. Set in the city of Kobe, Japan, the film tells the story of two siblings, Seita and Setsuko, and their desperate struggle to survive during the final months of the Second World War.


Incendiary bombs being dropped onto Kobe, the setting of the movie

On 21 September 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, a teenage boy, Seita, dies of starvation in a Kobe train station. A janitor sorts through his possessions and finds a candy tin, which he throws into a field. The burnt remains of several small bones spill out, and the spirit of Seita's younger sister, Setsuko, springs from the tin and is joined by Seita's spirit and a cloud of fireflies. They board a train.

Months earlier, Seita and Setsuko's house is destroyed in a firebombing along with most of Kobe. They escape unharmed, but their mother dies from severe burns. Seita and Setsuko move in with a distant aunt, who convinces Seita to sell his mother's silk kimonos for rice. Seita retrieves supplies he buried before the bombing and gives everything to his aunt, save for a tin of Sakuma drops. As rations shrink and the number of refugees in the house grows, the aunt becomes resentful of the children, saying they do nothing to earn the food she prepares.

Seita and Setsuko leave the aunt's home and move into an abandoned bomb shelter. They release fireflies into the shelter for light. The next day, Setsuko is horrified to find that the insects have died. She buries them in a grave, asking why they and her mother had to die. As they run out of rice, Seita steals from farmers and loots homes during air raids, for which he is beaten. When Setsuko falls ill, Seita takes her to a doctor, who explains that she is suffering from malnutrition.

Desperate, Seita withdraws all the money in their mother's bank account. As he leaves the bank, he becomes distraught when he learns that Japan has surrendered. He also learns that his father, a captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy, is most likely dead, as most of Japan's navy has been sunk.

Seita returns to the shelter with food, but finds Setsuko hallucinating. Seita hurries to feed her, but she dies as he finishes preparing the food. Seita cremates Setsuko's body and her stuffed doll in a straw casket. He carries her ashes in the candy tin along with his father's photograph.

Seita and Setsuko's deceased spirits arrive at their destination, healthy and happy. Surrounded by fireflies, they rest on a hilltop bench overlooking present-day Kobe.


Character name Japanese voice actor English dubbing actor
(Skypilot Entertainment/CPM, 1998)
English dubbing actor
(Toho/Seraphim/Sentai, 2012)
Seita (清太) Tsutomu Tatsumi J. Robert Spencer Adam Gibbs
Setsuko (節子) Ayano Shiraishi Corinne Orr Emily Neves
Seita and Setsuko's mother (清太・節子の母, Seita, Setsuko no haha) Yoshiko Shinohara Veronica Taylor Shelley Calene-Black
Seita and Setsuko's aunt (親戚の叔母さん, Shinseki no obasan) Akemi Yamaguchi Amy Jones Marcy Bannor



Grave of the Fireflies author Akiyuki Nosaka said that many offers had been made to make a live action film version of Grave of the Fireflies.[7] Nosaka argued that "it was impossible to create the barren, scorched earth that's to be the backdrop of the story."[7] He also argued that contemporary children would not be able to convincingly play the characters. Nosaka expressed surprise when an animated version was offered.[7] After seeing the storyboards, Nosaka concluded that it was not possible for such a story to have been made in any method other than animation and expressed surprise in how accurately the rice paddies and townscape were depicted.[7]

Isao Takahata said that he was compelled to film the short story after seeing how the main character, Seita, "was a unique wartime ninth grader."[8] Takahata explained that any wartime story, whether animated or not animated, "tends to be moving and tear-jerking," and that young people develop an "inferiority complex" where they perceive people in wartime eras as being more noble and more able than they are, and therefore the audience believes that the story has nothing to do with them. Takahata argued that he wanted to dispel this mindset.[7] When Nosaka asked if the film characters were "having fun," Takahata answered that he clearly depicted Seita and Setsuko had "substantial" days and that they were "enjoying their days."[9] Takahata said that Setsuko was even more difficult to animate than Seita, and that he had never before depicted a girl younger than five.[7] Takahata said that "In that respect, when you make the book into a movie, Setsuko becomes a tangible person," and that four-year-olds often become more assertive and self-centered, and try to get their own ways during that age. He explained that while one could "have a scene where Seita can't stand that anymore," it is "difficult to incorporate into a story."[10] Takahata explained that the film is from Seita's point of view, "and even objective passages are filtered through his feelings".[9]

Takahata said that he had considered using non-traditional animation methods, but because "the schedule was planned and the movie's release date set, and the staff assembled, it was apparent there was no room for such a trial-and-error approach."[9] He further remarked that he had difficulty animating the scenery since, in Japanese animation, one is "not allowed" to depict Japan in a realistic manner.[7] Animators often traveled to foreign countries to do research on how to depict them, but such research had not been done before for a Japanese setting.[7]

Most of the illustration outlines in the film are in brown, instead of the customary black. Whenever black was used, it was only used when it was absolutely necessary. Color coordinator Michiyo Yasuda said this was done to give the film a softer feel. Yasuda said that this technique had never been used in an anime before Grave of the Fireflies, "and it was done on a challenge."[7] Yasuda explained that brown is more difficult to use than black because it does not contrast as well as black.[7]


The film score was composed by Michio Mamiya. Mamiya is also a music specialist in baroque and classical music. The song Home Sweet Home was performed by coloratura soprano Amelita Galli-Curci.[11]

Themes and analysis[edit]

Some critics in the West have viewed Grave of the Fireflies as an anti-war film due to the graphic and emotional depiction of the pernicious repercussions of war on a society, and the individuals therein. The film focuses its attention almost entirely on the personal tragedies that war gives rise to, rather than seeking to glamorize it as a heroic struggle between competing nations. It emphasizes that war is society's failure to perform its most important duty: to protect its own people.[12]

However, director Takahata repeatedly denied that the film was an anti-war film. In his own words, it "is not at all an anti-war anime and contains absolutely no such message." Instead, Takahata had intended to convey an image of the brother and sister living a failed life due to isolation from society and invoke sympathy particularly in people in their teens and twenties.[13][14]

Since the film gives little context to the war, Takahata feared a politician could just as easily claim fighting is needed to avoid such tragedies. In general, he was skeptical that depictions of suffering in similar works, such as Barefoot Gen, actually prevent aggression. The director was nevertheless an anti-war advocate, a staunch supporter of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, and has openly criticized Japan's penchant for conformity, allowing them to be rallied against other nations. He expressed despair and anxiety whenever the youth are told to fall in line, a reminder that the country at its core has not changed.[15]



The film was released on April 16, 1988, over 20 years from the publication of the short story.[10]

The initial Japanese theatrical release was accompanied by Hayao Miyazaki's lighthearted My Neighbor Totoro as a double feature. While the two films were marketed toward children and their parents, the starkly tragic nature of Grave of the Fireflies turned away many audiences. However, Totoro merchandise, particularly the stuffed animals of Totoro and Catbus, sold extremely well after the film and made overall profits for the company to the extent that it stabilized subsequent productions of Studio Ghibli.

Grave of the Fireflies is the only theatrical Studio Ghibli feature film prior to From Up on Poppy Hill to which Disney never had North American distribution rights, since it was not produced by Ghibli for parent company Tokuma Shoten but for Shinchosha, the publisher of the original short story (although Disney has the Japanese distribution rights themselves, thus replacing both the film's original Japanese theatrical distributor, Toho and original Japanese home video distributor, Bandai Visual).[16] It was one of the last Studio Ghibli films to get an English-language premiere by GKIDS.[17]

Home media[edit]

Grave of the Fireflies was released in Japan on VHS by Buena Vista Home Entertainment under the Ghibli ga Ippai Collection on August 7, 1998. On 29 July 2005, a DVD release was distributed through Warner Home Video. Walt Disney Studios Japan released the complete collector's edition DVD on 6 August 2008. WDSJ released the film on Blu-ray twice on 18 July 2012: one as a single release, and one in a two-film set with My Neighbor Totoro (even though Disney never currently owns the North American but Japanese rights as mentioned).

It was released on VHS in North America by Central Park Media in a subtitled form on June 2, 1993.[18] They later released the film with an English dub on VHS on September 1, 1998 (the day Disney released Kiki's Delivery Service) and an all-Regions DVD (which also included the original Japanese with English subtitles) on October 7, 1998. It was later released on a two-disc DVD set (which once again included both the English dub and the original Japanese with English subtitles as well as the film's storyboards with the second disc containing a retrospective on the author of the original book, an interview with the director, and an interview with critic Roger Ebert, who felt the film was one of the greatest of all time.[19]) on October 8, 2002. It was released by Central Park Media one last time on December 7, 2004. Following the May 2009 bankruptcy and liquidation of Central Park Media,[20] ADV Films acquired the rights and re-released it on DVD on July 7, 2009.[21] Following the 1 September 2009 shutdown and re-branding of ADV,[22] their successor, Sentai Filmworks, rescued the film and released a remastered DVD on March 6, 2012, and plans on releasing the film on digital outlets.[23][24] A Blu-ray edition was released on November 20, 2012, featuring an all-new English dub produced by Seraphim Digital.[25]

StudioCanal released a Blu-ray in the United Kingdom on 1 July 2013, followed by Kiki's Delivery Service on the same format.[26] Madman Entertainment released the film in Australia and New Zealand.


The film was modestly successful at the Japanese box office,[27] where it grossed ¥1.7 billion.[2] As part of the Studio Ghibli Fest 2018, the film had a limited theatrical release in the United States, grossing $516,962.[3]

The Ghibli ga Ippai Collection home video release of Grave of the Fireflies sold 400,000 copies in Japan.[28] At a price of at least ¥4,935,[29] this is equivalent to at least ¥1.974 billion in sales revenue.

The film received universal critical acclaim. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times considered it to be one of the best and most powerful war films and, in 2000, included it on his list of great films.[19] The film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 100% approval rating based on 39 reviews with an average rating of 9.5/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "An achingly sad anti-war film, Grave of the Fireflies is one of Studio Ghibli's most profoundly beautiful, haunting works".[30]

The film ranked #12 on Total Film's 50 greatest animated films.[31] It was also ranked at #10 in Time Out's "The 50 greatest World War II movies" list.[32] Empire magazine ranked the film at #6 in its list of "The Top 10 Depressing Movies".[33] The film ranked #19 on Wizard's Anime Magazine on their "Top 50 Anime released in North America".[34] Theron Martin of Anime News Network said that, in terms of the original U.S. Manga Corps dub, while the other voices were "perfectly acceptable," "Setsuko just doesn't sound quite convincing as a four-year-old in English. That, unfortunately, is a big negative, since a good chunk of the pathos the movie delivers is at least partly dependent on that performance."[23]

On 25 December 2016, Toei Company made a Twitter post that read "Why did Kiriya have to die so soon?" (なんできりやすぐ死んでしまうん, Nande Kiriya Sugu Shinde shimaun?) in order to promote an episode of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid. The hashtag became popular but Toei deleted the tweet after receiving complaints that referencing the Grave of the Fireflies line "Why do fireflies die so soon?" (なんで蛍すぐ死んでしまうん, Nande hotaru sugu shinde shimaun) was in poor taste.[35]

Public reactions[edit]

After the international release, it has been noted that different audiences have interpreted the film differently due to differences in culture. For instance, when the film was watched by a Japanese audience, Seita's decision to not come back to his aunt was seen as an understandable decision, as they were able to understand how Seita had been raised to value pride in himself and his country. But, American and Australian audiences were more likely to perceive the decision as unwise, due to the cultural differences in order to try to save his sister and his self.[36][37]


Year Award Category Result Recipient
1989 Blue Ribbon Awards Special Award Won Isao Takahata
1994 Chicago International Children's Film Festival Animation Jury Award Won Isao Takahata
Rights of the Child Award Won Isao Takahata


2005 live-action version[edit]

NTV in Japan produced a live-action TV drama of Grave of the Fireflies, in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. The drama aired on 1 November 2005. Like the anime, the live-action version of Grave of the Fireflies focuses on two siblings struggling to survive the final months of the war in Kobe, Japan. Unlike the animated version, it tells the story from the point of view of their cousin (the aunt's daughter) and deals with the issue of how the war-time environment could change a kind lady into a hard-hearted woman. It stars Nanako Matsushima as the aunt, as well as Mao Inoue as their cousin.

2008 live-action version[edit]

A different live-action version was released in Japan on 5 July 2008. The film stars Reo Yoshitake as Seita, Rina Hatakeyama as Setsuko, Keiko Matsuzaka as the aunt, and Seiko Matsuda as the children's mother.[38]

See also[edit]

Further reading
  • Hooks, Ed (2005). "Grave of the Fireflies". Acting in Animation: A Look at 12 Films. Heinemann Drama. pp. 67–83. ISBN 9780325007052.
  • Goldberg, Wendy (2009). Lunning, Frenchy (ed.). "Transcending the Victim's History: Takahata Isao's Grave of the Fireflies". Mechademia. University of Minnesota Press. 4: 39–52. doi:10.1353/mec.0.0030. ISBN 9780816667499.
  • Rosser, Michael (23 November 2012). "Dresden to produce live action Grave of the Fireflies". Screen Daily. Screen International. Retrieved 24 November 2012.


  1. ^ "GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 17 May 2013. Archived from the original on 14 August 2015. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  2. ^ a b 超意外な結果!?ジブリ映画の興行収入ランキング. シネマズ PLUS (Cinemas PLUS) (in Japanese). 25 June 2016. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Grave of the Fireflies - Studio Ghibli Fest 2018 (2018)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  4. ^ Camp, Brian; Davis, Julie (August 2007). Anime Classics Zettai!. ISBN 9781611725193.
  5. ^ Steiff, Josef; Tamplin, Tristan (10 April 2010). Anime and Philosophy. ISBN 9780812697131.
  6. ^ "Hotaru no haka". The Big Cartoon DataBase. Retrieved 13 May 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "The Animerica Interview: Takahata and Nosaka: Two Grave Voices in Animation". Animerica. Viz Media. 2 (11): 8. 1994. Archived from the original on 4 July 2018. Retrieved 4 July 2018. Translated by Animerica from: Takahata, Isao (1991). 映画を作りながら考えたこと [Things I Thought While Making Movies]. Tokuma Shoten. ISBN 9784195546390. Originally published in Animage, June 1987. This is a translation of a 1987 conversation between Takahata and Akiyuki Nosaka.
  8. ^ "The Animerica Interview: Takahata and Nosaka: Two Grave Voices in Animation". Animerica. Viz Media. 2 (11): 7. 1994. Archived from the original on 4 July 2018. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  9. ^ a b c "The Animerica Interview: Takahata and Nosaka: Two Grave Voices in Animation". Animerica. Viz Media. 2 (11): 10. 1994. Archived from the original on 4 July 2018. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  10. ^ a b "The Animerica Interview: Takahata and Nosaka: Two Grave Voices in Animation". Animerica. Viz Media. 2 (11): 9. 1994. Archived from the original on 4 July 2018. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  11. ^ "Anime Classical: The Best Operatic Moment in Anime Was Also Its Saddest". Altorito. Archived from the original on 29 November 2014. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  12. ^ Etherington, Daniel. "Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no haka)". Film4. Channel Four Television Corporation. Archived from the original on 22 March 2013. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  13. ^ Interview published on May 1988 edition of Animage
  14. ^ Takahata, Isao (1991). 映画を作りながら考えたこと [Things I Thought While Making Movies] (in Japanese). Tokuma Shoten. p. 471. ISBN 9784195546390.
  15. ^ Takahata, Isao (1 January 2015). "時代の正体〈47〉過ち繰り返さぬために" [The Truth Behind History <47> To Prevent Repeating Mistakes]. Kanagawa Shimbun. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  16. ^ "The Disney-Tokuma Deal". Team Ghiblink. 10 September 2003. Archived from the original on 29 December 2010. Retrieved 5 January 2011.
  17. ^ Lodge, Guy (20 November 2012). "GKIDS extends its Studio Ghibli alliance to 'Grave of the Fireflies'". Hitfix. Uproxx. Archived from the original on 4 July 2018. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  18. ^ "Animerica". 1 (4). Viz Media. June 1993: 18. ISSN 1067-0831. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  19. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (19 March 2000). "Grave of the Fireflies". Ebert Digital LLC. Archived from the original on 8 May 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  20. ^ Loo, Egan (28 April 2009). "Central Park Media Files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy". Anime News Network. Archived from the original on 4 July 2018. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  21. ^ Loo, Egan (5 May 2009). "ADV Adds Grave of the Fireflies, Now and Then, Here and There". Anime News Network. Archived from the original on 29 November 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2012.
  22. ^ Loo, Egan (1 September 2009). "ADV Films Shuts Down, Transfers Assets to Other Companies". Anime News Network. Archived from the original on 3 October 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  23. ^ a b Martin, Theron (5 March 2012). "Review: Grave of the Fireflies: DVD – Remastered Edition". Anime News Network. Archived from the original on 7 November 2012. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  24. ^ "Sentai Filmworks Adds Grave of the Fireflies". Anime News Network. 1 December 2011. Archived from the original on 2 December 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2011.
  25. ^ "Grave of the Fireflies [Blu-ray] (2012)". Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  26. ^ Osmond, Andrew (29 June 2013). "Kiki's Delivery Service and Grave of the Fireflies Double Play Released Monday (Updated)". Anime News Network. Archived from the original on 4 February 2015. Retrieved 27 December 2014.
  27. ^ Runyon, Christopher (20 November 2013). "The Studio Ghibli Retrospective: 'Grave of the Fireflies'". Movie Mezzanine. Archived from the original on 15 November 2014. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  28. ^ 日経BP社技術研究部 『進化するアニメ・ビジネス―世界に羽ばたく日本のアニメとキャラクター』日経BP社、2000年、47頁。ISBN 4822225542
  29. ^ "ジブリがいっぱい COLLECTION". クラウン徳間ミュージックショップ (in Japanese). Retrieved 25 February 2020.
  30. ^ "Hotaru no haka (Grave of the Fireflies) (1988)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on 27 November 2012. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  31. ^ Kinnear, Simon (10 October 2011). "50 Greatest Animated Movies: Classics worth 'tooning in for". Total Film. Future Publishing. Archived from the original on 21 November 2012. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  32. ^ Davies, Adam Lee; Calhoun, Dave; Fairclough, Paul; Jenkins, David; Huddleston, Tom; Tarantino, Quentin. "The 50 greatest World War II movies: The top ten". Time Out London. Time Out Group. Archived from the original on 21 February 2012. Retrieved 24 February 2012.
  33. ^ Braund, Simon (2 April 2009). "The Top 10 Depressing Movies". Empire. Bauer Consumer Media. Archived from the original on 16 November 2012. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  34. ^ UMJAMS Anime News (6 July 2001). "Wizard lists Top 50 Anime". Anime News Network. Archived from the original on 2 April 2014. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  35. ^ Salas, Jorge (25 December 2016). "Toei Issues Apology Following Kamen Rider Ex-Aid Tweet". The Tokusatsu Network. Archived from the original on 28 December 2016. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  36. ^ Takahata, Isao (2010). "Grave of the Fireflies". 100 Animated Feature Films. doi:10.5040/9781838710514.0035. ISBN 9781838710514.
  37. ^ Campbell, Kambole (19 April 2018). "The Human Cost of War in Grave of the Fireflies". One Room With A View. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  38. ^ "Tombstone of the Fireflies (2008)". IMDb. Archived from the original on 5 April 2017. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  39. ^ Rea, Jasmine (6 May 2010). "In Defense of Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon". Bitmob. VentureBeat. Archived from the original on 23 July 2012.

External links[edit]