The fate of the fireflies: A deeper look into “Grave of The Fireflies”

The cultural impact of this 1988 animated film



The 1988 animated war tragedy, “Grave of the Fireflies,” is the crown installment in the acclaimed repertoire of Japanese screenwriter Isao Takahata. The movie, animated by the highly decorated Studio Ghibli, was based on the autobiography of Japanese author Akiyuki Nosaka. 

After the bombing of Japan during World War II, Nosaka was haunted by the passing of his younger sister, Keiko, who succumbed to malnutrition. To deal with his grief, in 1967, he wrote a short story about the horrors he witnessed during the war dedicated to his sister. 

The film’s plot revolves around caring older brother Seita and his cheery younger sister Setsuko trying to survive on their own near the end of World War II. They are left on their own after their mother dies in the firebombing of Kobe, and they no longer feel welcome in their aunt’s home. Throughout the movie, as they start to run out of money and means to obtain food, they eventually begin to starve, as Setsuko falls ill due to malnutrition. Seita returns one day with food, but it is to no avail as she passes away before he can prepare a meal for her. Near the end of the war, Seita passes away from starvation at a train station. In the final scene, Seita and Setsuko wander together in the afterlife alongside fireflies. 

As depicted in the movie, the fireflies symbolize the other victims of World War II. When Seita and Setsuko first move to the shelter, they keep fireflies as a light source, but these insects eventually die. When they die, Setsuko innocently compares them to her mother, as she asks how come the fireflies and her mother had to die. 

As death and destruction are major themes in this movie, one may question the cause of this immense suffering. In general wars, are caused by disagreements or misunderstandings between the elites and leaders of countries. These wars are fought by the everyday people that had no say in whether or not their country would go to war, eventually meeting their fate of becoming innocent victims. While the story of Seita and Setsuko is just one instance of the consequences war has on its guilt-free citizens, there are current conflicts—such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine—that are actively taking the lives of innocent victims. World leaders need to find ways to work out agreements and avoid wars at all costs, prevent future war atrocities and improve the fate of the fireflies.