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Setsuko and Seita are brother and sister living in wartime Japan. After their mother is killed in an air raid they find a temporary home with relatives. Having quarreled with their aunt they leave the city and make their home in an abandoned shelter. While their soldier father's destiny is unknown, the two must depend on each other to somehow keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. When everything is in short supply, they gradually succumb to hunger and their only entertainment is the light of the fireflies. Written by
Corrected by Liron
Being my first Anime review I thought I'd start off with my one of my favourite pieces of work from who else but Studio Ghibli. Ghibli have rarely produced anime that doesn't fall short of great but Graveyard is something different indeed.
Set in the aftermath of World War II, Graveyard is focused on the lives of a caring brother and his young sister (Setsuko and Seita) and how they struggle against both the elements of wartime and a depreciating Japanese empire. The most striking thing about Graveyard is probably how real everything seems. The animation is very unconventional to the likes of say Spirited Away or Laputa but in a good way. The horror of war is beautifully realised through the animation, whether it be the American destruction being shown or the bleak outlook on peoples lives, namely the two main characters. Thankfully it earns every shred of emotion it conveys through these two sympathetic characters that only the coldest of hearts wouldn't warm up to.
Avoiding any Hollywood sentimentality, it is often a bleak and depressing perspective depicted but all the more brutally powerful in the process. With my eyes welling up through the duration of the film, it occured to me just how well the Director understands what raw heartfelt emotion is and how to play the audiences heart strings. Nevertheless nothing is shown in a heavy handed approach, no empthasis is put on the Americans nor is there any special attention taken to the war details. If anything the citizens of Japan are shown in the coldest light often giving little help to the plight of others, but demonstrating furthermore what desperate situation everyone is in.
Takahata instead decides to focus on the plight of it's title characters against the background of war. With the empire of Japan in crisis and food shortages everywhere it is heart breaking to see a brother struggle to meet ends meet for his sister. Due to the approach taken it borders on being horrifying but fortunately the tone is changed with the spirit put into Setsuko's character. Much like 'The Pianist' the issue is not the war but the struggle and will to survive in it. This is clearly displayed in a plot that revolves around the downward spiral Setsuko trying to feed himself and more importantly the younger and more vulnerable sister Seita. The animation though detailed and indeed beautiful in some sequences (namely relating to the title), is not by any means flashy but captures emotions and interactions between the characters perfectly. It's the perfect mixture of such animation, realistic and highly likeable characters that makes the whole film one tearful experience. Dealing with such difficult issues it's very hard to imagine this being a film and if it was I don't think it would of been done as well.
Part of the brilliance also comes from symbology and the association to many different worlds in such a understanding depiction. The child, Seita, is nothing short of perfection in child like behaviour happily oblivious to the desperate situation, amusing herself with simplicity and the quirks of nature and the outdoors. The older brother Setsuko who must carry the burdon of everything is also perfectly portrayed and to watch there decent is painful to say the least. To struggle is one thing but to have shock, shattered dreams and be depended on is something anyone can empthasise with.
There may be some people who will shy away from Anime, disregarding it as a mere cartoon. To those people and everyone else I recommend Graveyard as the tonic, which can be appreciated by anyone with a heart and soul. Among the finest pieces of Anime created and one of the most touching war films ever made.
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