Grave of the Fireflies (1988) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A young boy and his little sister struggle to survive in Japan during World War II.

  • The story of Seita and Satsuko, two young Japanese siblings, living in the declining days of World War II. When an American firebombing separates the two children from their parents, the two siblings must rely completely on one another while they struggle to fight for their survival.

  • Japan, World War 2. Teenage boy Seita and his young sister Setsuko are left homeless and effectively orphaned when their city is firebombed by US bombers. They end up living with an aunt. Initially things go well and life seems almost normal again. However, their relationship with their aunt deteriorates and Seita and Setsuko decide to leave and fend for themselves. They find a place and things seem to be going well. However, over time food gets scarcer and life becomes a constant struggle for survival.

  • Setsuko (aged 4) and Seita (aged 14) 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.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • 『火垂るの墓』

    The date is September 25th, 1945, shortly after the end of World War II. A young boy sits against a pillar at Sannomiya Station, dying of starvation. Later that night, a janitor removes his body and digs through his possessions, finding nothing but a candy tin containing ashes and a few fragments of bone which he throws away into a nearby field. From the tin springs the spirit of the young boy followed by his little sister along with a cloud of fireflies. The spirit of the young boy, Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi, English: J. Robert Spencer), narrates the story of how he and his sister, Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi, English: Rhoda Chrosite), fared in the wake of the firebombings of Kobe during the war.

    14-year-old Seita and 4-year-old Setsuko live with their mother (Yoshiko Shinohara), English: Veronica Taylor) comfortably in Kobe while their father serves as a captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy. One day, air raid sirens go off as a fleet of American B-29 Superfortress bombers flies overhead. The children's mother, who suffers from a heart condition, puts Setsuko in the care of her older brother and instructs him to secure the home while she goes ahead to a bomb shelter. Hundreds of incendiary bombs are dropped on the city and most of the civilians are caught off-guard. Seita and Setsuko manage to survive the bombing unscathed and go in search of their mother. They find her at a makeshift clinic set up within a school, horribly burnt and covered head to foot with bloody bandages. She dies a short time later and is cremated in a mass grave with other casualties.

    Despite their loss, Seita is determined to care for Setsuko and protect her at all costs. They travel to the home of their aunt (Akemi Yamaguchi, English: Amy Jones) who allows them to stay but convinces Seita to sell his mother's kimonos for rice. While living there, Seita goes out to retrieve leftover supplies he had buried in the ground before the bombing and gives them all to his aunt, however, he keeps one tin of fruit drops for himself. The children's aunt becomes increasingly bitter due to the hardships brought on by the war. She becomes resentful of the children as food rations shrink and she accuses Seita on having done nothing to earn the food she cooks. Tired of his aunt's insults, Seita decides to leave with Setsuko and care for her on his own. They find refuge inside an abandoned bomb shelter and release fireflies within for light. Come morning, Setsuko is horrified to find that all the fireflies have died. She creates a grave for them in the dirt and Seita realizes the depth of her understanding when she asks him why their mother had to die too.

    The children soon run out of rice and food and, unable to find work or other means, Seita is forced to steal from local farmers' homes during air raids. When he is caught, he comes to terms with his desperation and takes an increasingly ill Setsuko to a doctor. The doctor informs Seita that his sister is suffering from malnutrition but offers no help. Desperate, Seita withdraws all of the money remaining in his mother's bank account, hoping that it will be enough to treat Setsuko or buy food. As he leaves the bank he becomes distraught when he learns from a nearby crowd that Japan has surrendered to the Allied Forces. Not only that, but he finds that the ship his father captained has been sunk along with most of the Imperial Navy. His father, who had once promised him that Japan could never be defeated. Seita returns to the bomb shelter with a heavy heart and large quantities of food only to find Setsuko lying on the ground, hallucinating and trying to encourage Seita to eat little rocks that she thinks are rice balls. Seita hurries to prepare some food and gets Setsuko to try a bit of watermelon. She thanks him and, exhausted, closes her eyes. She never wakes up.

    Using supplies donated to him by a local farmer, Seita prepares a pyre and cremates his sister's body. He places her ashes in the fruit drop tin which he keeps with him beside a picture of their father. A few weeks later, he finds himself in Sannomiya Station and dies of starvation. Illuminated by fireflies, the spirits of Seita and Setsuko are seen together, healthy and happy, as they look down on the modern city of Kobe.

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