Gloomy Side of Studio Ghibli: Isao Takahata’s Heartbreaking War Tragedy, Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Grave of the Fireflies
  • What is ‘anime’?

When I was a kid, I used to watch TV series such as Sailor Moon, Pokémon, Digimon, Beyblade, and think ‘‘Wow! These are really cool!’’ Back then, I didn’t know that they were Japanese animations, and was just watching them as some kids’ show. Growing up, discovering animes like Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, Elfen Lied, I realized that anime is quite a broad field that it has something for everyone of every age. There are lots of series that are not suitable for children. If you look through the popular anime Attack on Titan as an example, you can understand what I am talking about.


attack on titan

Attack on Titan, Season 1


In short, anime is an umbrella term for Japanese animation that takes its inspiration from manga (Japanese comic books) art style, created by Tezuka Osamu, who is often called ‘‘Walt Disney of Japan.’’


    Tezuka Osamu (1928-1989)


The industry’s arguably most famous animation studio is ‘‘Studio Ghibli.’’


  • Introducing Studio Ghibli

The Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli is founded by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki, in 1985. The word Ghibli means ‘‘hot desert wind’’ in Italian and their explanation of why they have chosen it was the thought of being the brand-new breeze of the animation realm. The studio is based in Koganei, Tokyo.


Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata


The two directors, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki have very different styles in anime. In 1988, they released two films at the same time, My Neighbour Totoro, and Grave of the Fireflies. Hayao Miyazaki’s Totoro presents us with post-war rural Japan, it has a colourful setting with magical creatures, and wood spirits. The film gives its audience mixed feelings, but they are mostly positive. Hayao Miyazaki shows us the good inside the bad and gives us hope about the misfortunes in our lives. On the other hand, Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies presents us with an actual disaster.

My Neighbour Totoro Movie Poster (1988)


  • Grave of the Fireflies


Grave of the Fireflies Movie Poster (1988)


When you watch the tragedy of two siblings, Seita and Setsuko trying to survive the firebombing runs in Kobe, you feel hopeless and devastated. The film’s setting is 1945’s Japan and there is an on-going war. The World War II…

Instead of showing war scenes with actual fighting, Isao Takahata presents us with the situation that the Japanese society ends up with. It shows us how wars make people lose themselves. People are like fireflies. They arise, they sparkle a little, and they die. Fireflies have an important meaning in this film, and they symbolize the shortness of life. They also have connection to warplanes since the firebombs look like fireflies from afar.

If you increase the brightness on the poster of the film, you will recognize that there is a warplane that is dropping bombs, but the bombs look like fireflies. Yes, it is very depressing.



Every war has its two aspects that affect people: Individual memory, and collective memory of the public. The film doesn’t discuss the reasons of the war, and there are not many dialogues since words have no power over the situation, but it is a strong anti-war message given from these two aspects.

We experience the scenes through the protagonist, Seita’s perspective. Since he and his sister Setsuko are children that have no idea about war and how to survive, you experience a powerful heart-sinking throughout the film. The wrong choices that they make along their journey, make you feel devastated and think about the right ones. Isao Takahata emphasizes the idea of being one and not thinking as an individual on the time of crisis.



The film successfully presents the destruction that wars put the innocent people through. If you want to watch Grave of the Fireflies, get your paper napkins ready, because you will cry your eyes out watching this tragic story.




Collin Odell, Michelle Le Blanc, Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata

Susan Napier, Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation

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