Wednesday, March 19, 2008


This week’s movie:


I’m writing this recommendation because I’m a firm believer in symmetry.

During my many years of studying Physics, I’ve developed a deep appreciation of symmetry in nature - of balance. I don’t believe much in God – but if I did, Physics would be his playbook, his Bible. Physics describes the rules that God himself follows right down to the atomic level. You want to know how he created the universe? Physics tells you. It describes the basic building blocks that form every rule and law of nature from the microscopic to the cosmological. For every particle there is an antiparticle. For every equation there is a symmetric (or antisymmetric) equation that link different phenomena. Balance is key. You eat a balanced diet for good physical health. You balance work and play for good mental health. For every action there is a reaction. For each heads there is a tails with equal probability. The only reason we tolerate evil is because we know there is also good to balance it. Wax on ………wax off.

What all this got to do with this week’s video recommendation? Nothing - except………..

A couple weeks ago I recommended the film Across the Universe. It was an upbeat movie, celebrating the joy of love and music and being alive. It was meant to make you feel good about yourself and say, “Life is great. All is right with the world! Koo-koo K’choo!”

GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES is the other side of the coin. It’s the anti-particle of a feel good movie. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a feel-bad movie - it just probably won’t pat you on the back of the hand and say ‘there there’ and make you feel good - and you’re not likely to say “All is right with the world.” by the time it’s over - because sometimes it’s not.

First, you may notice from the photo that it’s an animated film. “Oh! So it’s like, what? …..a cartoon?” Yes…… is like what - a cartoon, but not like any you’ve ever seen. It is, without a doubt, one of the most emotionally devastating films, animated or otherwise, ever made. Film critic, Roger Ebert, in his review writes, ” Grave of the Fireflies is an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation.” You can read his entire review here. Animation expert, Ernest Rister, compares it’s emotional impact to Schindler’s List (which was made some five years later), and wrote, “It is the most profoundly human animated film I’ve ever seen.”, and I imagine he’s seen quite a few.

The story is an adaptation of the novel “A Grave of Fireflies”, by Akiyuki Nosaka, and is based on his own experiences: A teenage boy and his very young sister find themselves orphaned and homeless near the end of World War II, when their town of Kobe, Japan is firebombed. Their subsequent tragic struggle for survival makes up the bulk of the film. I don’t think I’m giving anything away because the ending is shown in the very first scene – the rest is told in flashback. What follows is the most honest and realistic and heartbreaking story you’re ever likely to see. It’s not cute, or whimsical, or overly dramatic, or gimmicky – relief doesn’t magically arrive at the last minute – because, in real life, it rarely does.

The film was animated by Isao Takahata, who with longtime friend and collaborator, Hayao Miyazaki, founded Studio Ghibli of Japan. Miyazaki is responsible for many of the very best in animated features, such as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away from FranksFilms past recommendations. Whereas Miyazaki deals in fancy and imagination, Takahata, instead, goes for the emotional punch in the gut.

“Geeeez, Frank. This sounds really depressing. Why would I want to watch such a downer of a movie and feel depressed all day?”


Because most of the time it’s not depressing at all. Because between the beginning where you find that the main characters have died, and the end where the main characters die, there are many moments of joy and beauty. Because there are moments of play and of many little victories. In fact, much of the film is funny and heartwarming. Even though you know the fate that awaits them, you want it not to be true, and I think this is largely what gives it such incredible poignancy – you try not to think that they will eventually die. And because of balance. You can’t subsist totally on a diet of romantic comedies, or teenage comedies, or action adventure ….comedies. Balance says you must also see films like ‘Schindler’s List’, and GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES.

This is widely considered an anti-war movie. However, the message isn’t rammed down your throat. No one person or side is held up as responsible or maybe everybody is. War is no stroll through the fun house – unless that fun house is in an abandoned haunted theme park in a Stephen King novel. This is one very intense, emotional, joyous, sad, powerful, and beautiful film. I challenge any breathing, feeling person not to be moved by it. Is it a tear-jerker? Hell yes! So what? Don’t be such a baby!

Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s an animated movie. This is a serious film, depicting serious events. The fact that its semi-autographical makes it all the more compelling. If you’re looking for a movie to share with your small children, this might not be the one. There is no profanity, or adult situations (I don’t consider war to be an adult situation. War affects children no differently than adults.), but children have a deep-running sense of injustice, and the eventual fate of the main characters may haunt them for a long time to come (it may haunt you too, for that matter). However, it is an important enough film to be a ‘must see’ for teenagers and older. If you do watch with younger kids, watch it with them to talk them through it.

Now, if you’re teetering on the edge of deciding whether or not to see this film, I direct you to 10 different film critics – each with their own reactions. Feel free to follow the links to their reviews.

  1. Roger Ebert: Ebert’s my ‘go to’ reviewer when I’m looking for insight into what makes a film good. He speaks at length on GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES – watch the video here.
  2. FranksFilms: Me. I’m my own ‘go to’ guy when I’m trying to decide whether or not I like a film. I liked GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES even though it made me feel sad. Refresh this page to read my review.
  3. Gene Siskel: I know he’s dead but, through the magic of the internet, he can speak to us from the grave …………………………………………of the fireflies. You probably saw that coming.
  4. John A. Nesbit: Reviewer for Old School Reviews. Cried like a baby for the entire second half.
  5. Jürgen Fauth: Reviewer for ‘’. Like it so much that decided maybe anime not so bad after all. Decided back after seeing Pokemon, the Movie.
  6. 6. New York Times: Gave such a great review that people went in droves. The next day marked the Great Facial Tissue Shortage of 1988.
  7. bdod5489: I have no idea who this is. But had trouble typing his review because keyboard kept getting salty wet.
  8. Tasha Robinson: Reviewer for the A.V.Club. Didn’t want to like it because it risked looking like an anime nerd – but couldn’t help herself. But, damnit! She ain’t watching no DragonballZ!
  9. Jon Turner: Reviewer on the Studio Ghibli website. He may be more than a little biased – what do you think?
  10. Aaron V.F. PICAR: I don’t know who this guy is – but he has a great website dedicated to using GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES as a classroom teaching tool. If you are considering watching it with your children, this site provides guides and topics for discussion.

GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES is a serious film that seriously deserves serious consideration. I’m serious here!

Seriously enjoy this film.

view trailer


At 7:39 PM, Blogger FranksFilms said...

I saw a live action film a few years back with a similar theme, called Nobody Knows. A young mother moves into a small apartment in Tokyo with a 12 year old son. Unknown to the landlord, she also has three younger children, whom she has instructed to not leave the apartment or let anyone see them or they’ll lose their place.

Unfortunately, because of the pressure and because she’s young and because she’s totally irresponsible - she abandons them (she says she’ll be back) and leaves them to fend for themselves. They have a similar struggle for survival as the siblings in GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES. Also based on a true story.

At 6:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This movie is serious, one of my favorite animated dramas.

I watched this with my grandmother a few years ago, she's Japanese and was there at that time. She cried, but still enjoyed it very much.

Coincidentally and speaking of Japanese animation, I'm going to see this sci-fi film at the AFI int. film festival...

some great docs coming too, wish you were here!!!


At 6:54 AM, Blogger FranksFilms said...

I only have you to thank, since it was you that introduced me to this movie.

How's things in Dallas?


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home