What Is ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ About? (Find Out)

Isao Takahata is the author and director of the full-length animated movie Grave of the Fireflies, which was made by Studio Ghibli in collaboration with Shinchosha Publishing and released by Toho. 

It had its Japanese premiere on April 16, 1988, while My Neighbor Totoro was advertised as the second film. Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara, and Akemi Yamaguchi feature in the movie.

It is based on Akiyuki Nosaka’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, which was first serialized in the All Tribute issue in October 1967. 

The narrative of two siblings, Seita and Setsuko Yokokawa, and their harrowing fight to survive during the closing months of the second world war is told in the movie, which is set in the cities of Kobe and Nishinomiya in the Hygo Prefecture. 

It shows the tragic events and suffering that the Japanese people had to go through throughout the war.

The animation production work for this movie was contracted out to Studio Ghibli by Shinchosha Publishing.

It is one of the most potent anti-war films ever made, according to several critics, most notably Roger Ebert. 

The movie is described as “the most genuinely human animated film I’ve ever seen,” according to animation expert Ernest Rister, who compares it to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. 

The original novel has also been transformed into Manga, television dramas, live-action movies, and a chorus suite in Japan in addition to this movie. The movie contributed to Sakuma Drops’ increased popularity.

The Plot of Grave of the Fireflies

The Yokokawa residence and the majority of Kobe are both destroyed in a firebombing in 1945.

Young Seita and young Setsuko are unharmed but their mother passes away from terrible burns. Setsuko finds out about their mother’s passing despite Seita’s best efforts to make her happy by hiding it from her.

After retrieving the supplies he buried before the bombing, Seita delivers everything to his aunt, with the exception of a tin of Sakuma drops, and Setsuko moves in with a distant relative. 

As rations are running out and there are more refugees living in the house, the aunt persuades Seita to trade in his mother’s silk kimono for rice. 

Seita spends some of his mother’s money in the bank to buy supplies, but over time, the aunt starts to feel resentment against the kids and thinks they are unfit to work for her food.

Following repeated insults, Seita and Setsuko make the decision to leave their aunt’s house and move into a bomb shelter that has been abandoned. 

For lighting, they let fireflies out into the shelter. Setsuko is horrified to see that the insects have passed away the following day.

She enters them in a grave and ponders why both her mother and they had to pass away. Seita steals from farmers and burglarizes homes during air raids as they run out of rice. 

For this, he is beaten and taken to the police. Seita is let go after the officer discovers he is stealing out of hunger. When Setsuko becomes ill, a doctor reveals that she is malnourished. Seita, their mother’s bank account’s lone remaining depositor, acts in desperation. 

After doing so, he is upset to discover that Japan has capitulated and that his father, an Imperial Japanese Navy captain, is probably dead because the majority of Japan’s navy has been sunk. 

While bringing food to Setsuko, Seita discovers that she is dying. Later, she passes away just as Seita is finishing the meal. 

Setsuko’s body and her stuffed doll are cremated together in a straw coffin by Seita. Along with his father’s picture, he carries her ashes in the candy tin.

In Sannomiya train station shortly after World War II ends, surrounded by other starving people, Seita perishes from malnutrition (as seen at the very beginning of the film). 

Before the Americans show up, a janitor is charged with taking the dead out of the building. 

When he locates the candy tin while going through Seita’s belongings, the janitor throws it into a nearby field.

Setsuko’s ashes disperse, and from the tin, her spirit emerges, joining Seita’s spirit and a cloud of fireflies. 

They board a spectral train and reflect back on the incidents that led to Seita’s demise as they travel.

Later, healthy and happy spirits reach their target. They sit on a bench on a mountaintop overlooking modern Kobe, surrounded by fireflies.

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Interesting Facts about Grave of the Fireflies

Characters of Grave of the Fireflies

Seita Yokokawa The main character of Grave of the Fireflies, Seita Yokokawa, is fourteen years old. He and his younger sister Setsuko Yokokawa’s lives turned into a daily fight for existence after their mother was killed in the Kobe firebombing during World War II.
Setsuko YokokawaThe deuteragonist of Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies is Setsuko Yokokawa. She is Seita Yokokawa’s younger sister, who was born in 1941 but passes away in 1945 near the film’s conclusion.
Mrs. YokokawaIn the movie Grave of the Fireflies, Mrs. Yokokawa played Kiyoshi Yokokawa’s devoted wife and the mother of Seita and Setsuko Yokokawa.
Seita and Setsuko’s auntAunt Yokokawa is the sister of Kiyoshi Yokokawa, the aunt of Mrs. Yokokawa, and the sister-in-law of Seita and Setsuko Yokokawa.
Seita and Setsuko’s CousinSeita and Setsuko Yokokawa’s paternal relative.
Kiyoshi YokokawaKiyoshi Yokokawa is the spouse of Mrs. Yokokawa, a commander in the Japanese navy army, and the father of Seita and Setsuko Yokokawa.
Main characters of Grave of the Fireflies.

What does Grave of the Fireflies tell us about the war?

Many motion pictures have been made that highlight the severe financial burden that war places on its participants. Nevertheless, “Grave of the Fireflies” serves as a sobering reminder that many people die in wars for reasons unrelated to their participation in the fighting. 

Children like Seita and Setsuko who have nothing to do with the war, lose everything.

The heartbreakingly depressing conclusion of “Grave of the Fireflies” is all about the lives that these two youngsters will never have since an air strike destroyed the only house they had ever known. 

The destiny that befalls Seita and his sister is not entirely his fault, yet his poor choices do not excuse his torturous demise. 

Grave of the fireflies serves as a sobering warning to American viewers that when we destroy our opponents, many innocent people suffer. 

It was simple to view Japan as the enemy during World War II, but it does not mean that every Japanese person should have perished.

Setsuko Yokokawa passes away when she is just four.

What happens to Setsuko and Seita?

The tragic, avoidable deaths of Seita and Setsuko are atrocious tragedies. Fortunately, the story does not finish at the point of their demise. 

Instead, it depicts their spirits guarding the earth and gives viewers the impression that despite all the misery they have experienced, they may have found peace.

Despite Seita and Setsuko’s ultimate reconciliation, their deaths were nevertheless unjustly caused. It instead serves to promote the impression that what occurred to them was inherently unfair

Ending on a note of beauty allows us to reflect on everything that was lost during one of Japan’s worst periods in history. 

The history of the nation includes children who died, and just because they are at peace doesn’t make what they endured any less terrible. 

Even if Grave of the Fireflies finishes with a stunning display of elegance, the terrible narrative that is depicted on screen remains intact.

Seita’s struggle for survival ends with his death.

What makes ‘Grave Of The Fireflies” the saddest Japanese film ever made?

When it comes to confronting sadness in all its manifestations, Japanese cinema is no stranger, but there are very few tearjerkers acceptable for children. There are even fewer that have withstood the test of time.

However, one film rises head and shoulders above the rest in terms of its potential to crush the heart: Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, a 1988 film from the famed Studio Ghibli.

Here are a few reasons why it is the saddest film in Japanese history, a film without precedent and without equality.

  • War is portrayed as a dreadful natural force.
  • Humanity is depicted at its worst.
  • There are some beautiful moments that make the devastation all the more tragic.
  • Love alone is insufficient.
  • Innocence is eaten and annihilated.

Is “Grave of the Fireflies” an anti-war movie?

Because of the detailed and emotive depiction of the poisonous ramifications of war on society and the individuals inside it, some Western critics have labeled Grave of the Fireflies as an anti-war film.

Rather than glamorizing war as a noble conflict between opposing nations, the film concentrates almost entirely on the personal tragedies that war causes. It highlights that war is the failure of society to perform its most crucial duty: the protection of its own people.

Takahata, on the other hand, continually denied that the picture was anti-war. Takahata instead aimed to portray an impression of the brother and sister living a failed existence owing to social isolation and elicit sympathy, particularly among individuals in their teens and twenties.


  • Grave of the Fireflies is a complex film that, when examined more closely, can teach a viewer a lot of things. 
  • While the film initially appears to support the idea of the Japanese people as victims by evoking sympathy for the two orphans who lose everything throughout the narrative, it is actually a critique of nationalism and how it can sometimes make people blind to things that are not directly related to their own country. 
  • In addition, the film contains a lot of elements that can be connected to various aspects of Japanese culture, history, and evolution.
  • Overall, the film is well-made, entertaining to watch, and rich in cultural and historical details, despite its depressing and dismal context.

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