0 Items | £0.00

VIEW BASKET

Grave of the Fireflies

Sunday 25th November 2012

Andrew Osmond on the truth behind the anime classic

Grave of the FirefliesReleased in 1988, and now the subject of another live-action remake, the anime war film Grave of the Fireflies has been analysed as drama, as poetry, and as one of the most heartbreaking films ever made. There’s been less said, though, about the real events that inspired it, barring a hugely informative essay by David C. Stahl, called Victimization and “Response-Ability.” The information in this article is from Stahl’s essay; if you want to read the original, it’s in an anthology called Imag(in)ing the War in Japan: Representing and Responding to Trauma in Postwar Literature and Film.

The film of Grave of the Fireflies, animated at Studio Ghibli by Isao Takahata, is based on a 1967 story by Akiyuki Nosaka, itself inspired by Nosaka’s horrific experiences during World War II. Nosaka was born in 1930; his biological mother died soon after. He was adopted by his maternal aunt, Aiko, and her husband. Their hometown was the city of Kobe, near Osaka and Kyoto. In 1944, the family also adopted a baby called Keiko, who became Nosaka’s little sister.

In June 1945, in the last days of the Pacific war, Kobe came under air attack from American B-29 bombers. The family house was destroyed, though Nosaka and Keiko survived. Nosaka was fourteen; Keiko was one and a half. After the attack, they moved in with a relative of Aiko’s, a widow. Food soon ran short, and Keiko, who was so young that she couldn’t even swallow hard foods, was malnourished.

In July, the children moved out, apparently because of Nosaka’s tense relationships with the widow and her neighbours. They stayed a month in a bomb shelter beside a pond. In August, the children were moved to another house, but Keiko’s decline continued. Years later, Nosaka described how his toddler sister reverted from walking to crawling, and finally to sleeping as her body wasted away. She died on August 21st, six days after Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender to the nation.

Nosaka AkiyukiAfter the war, Nosaka went back to school for two years, but failed a high school entrance exam and dropped out. That year, he was caught stealing, and sent to a detention centre in Tokyo. Nosaka was shut in a filthy room with fifteen or twenty other boys, some of whom died while he was there. After a month, his biological father (now a politician) learned of his situation, and Nosaka came into his care. Two decades later, in 1967, Nosaka published two stories about the war, including “Grave of the Fireflies.” The next year, they won a literary prize.

Viewers of the Grave of the Fireflies film will see many of the story’s details match Nosaka’s experience. As Stahl explains, though, the history is complicated because Nosaka, by his own admission, didn’t always tell the truth. Until 1973, he said he was a war orphan, having lost his family except Keiko in the air raid. In fact, not only did his biological father survive, but so did his foster mother, Aiko. In the fictionalised Grave story, the mother character is terribly injured in the air attack, and dies shortly after. In reality, Aiko was burned – when Nosaka saw her after the raid, she was indeed covered in bandages, as the mother is in the story – but she survived and apparently lived into the 1970s.

Stahl suggests that Nosaka lied to protect himself, “to garner sympathy and deflect possible inquiries concerning his conduct during the attack.” In Grave, the fictional boy carries his sister to safety during the air raid. He has a loving relationship with her, and struggles to bring her food, even at the risk of his life. True, the story also shows how the boy cannot cope with his bullying aunt – based on the widow with whom Nosaka stayed – and decides to move out, with fatal consequences. Still, the character idealises the real Akiyuki.

As Nosaka confessed in his non-fiction writings after “Grave,” on the day of the air raid, he saw his family house burning, called out to his foster parents - and then fled. It was Aiko, not Nosaka, who saved Keiko from the air raid, despite her horrendous burns. Nosaka also confessed that, in the time of deprivation, his terrible hunger meant he sometimes ate food without sharing it with his baby sister. “I loved her,” he wrote. “But my gluttony overrode my affection and concern for her.”

In the Grave story, the boy is shown walking at night with his sister crying on his back, trying to coax her to sleep. In reality, Nosaka wrote, he was so exhausted and maddened by Keiko’s crying that he abused her. First he spanked her; then he hit her hard on the head, knocking her out. He also said that during his time at the widow’s house, he became smitten with her teen daughter, so much that he hardly thought about Keiko’s condition, or the injured Aiko in hospital. Despite its horror and tragedy, the Grave story often shows what Nosaka wished had happened. Stahl suggests that might extend to the fictional boy’s death, shown at the start of the story, taking the author’s survivor guilt to its conclusion.

Stahl also argues that both Nosaka’s fiction and his later confession reflect a traumatised man working through his nightmares, “marked by conflicting motives of atonement, dissembling, testimony, evasion, repentance and prevention.” One trigger was the birth of Nosaka’s daughter in 1964. After what had happened to Keiko, Nosaka was terrified she would die in infancy, and envisioned their house burning down. Nosaka also cited the war in Vietnam. “Complacently living as we do in peace and prosperity, we naturally think that Vietnam has nothing to do with us. But one misstep, war breaks out and women and children suffer.”

Stahl points out that Grave is not just derived from Nosaka’s memories of his poor dead sister, but is an amalgam of experiences. For example, it reflects his own later suffering in the Tokyo detention centre. Moreover, the little girl in Grave, Setsuko, may represent Nosaka’s sister Keiko, but she was based on someone else as well. On the day of the air raid, when Nosaka fled his burning home, he reached a hillside bomb shelter outside Kobe. In the shelter was a girl by herself, about four or five years old. She was holding a doll and a basket, and seemed calm despite the grim situation. For half an hour, they talked together while they looked out on the burning of Kobe, before Nosaka left the girl to find his family. Stahl notes, “Nosaka has written that the origins of his fictional character Setsko can be traced back to this brief but memorable encounter.”

The film version of Grave further overlays the experience of its director, Isao Takahata. Like Nosaka, Takahata was a child of war; aged nine, he and his older sister fled through their bombed town when the B-29s came. As part of that generation, Takahata views wartime in a different light than we do now. He said that he wanted Grave’s viewers to reflect on the actions of the boy in the film, his terrible mistakes that kill him and his sister. Of course, our chief reaction is grief and sorrow for the children.

Grave of the Fireflies is available on UK DVD from Studio Canal.

Grave of the Fireflies

MANGA UK GOSSIP

One Piece Movie Collection 1 (contains Films 1-3)

£22.50
sale_tag
was £29.99
For the first time ever! Never before available in the UK! Collect One Piece The Movie 1, 2 and 3 before anyone else in the English speaking world.

- One Piece - The Movie:
Years after his disappearance, The legend of the Great Gold Pirate Woonan and his hidden treasure map remain. Many pirates search for his mountain of hidden gold on a remote island. Among them are Captain El Drago and his men who have taken possession of a map to that hidden island. On their way there, they meet and decide to rob the Straw Hat Pirates, who, still lacking a cook, are close to starvation. Our heroes, Luffy, Zoro, and Tobio survive and go on the hunt, hoping to beat Captain El Drago and his crew to the treasure horde. Will Luffy and his crew find the treasure in time? And will they find a cook for their ship before they all starve death. And what is oden and what does it smell like?

- One Piece - The Movie 2: The Adventure Island Clock :
While the Straw Hats enjoy a warm day at the beach, their ship with all their equipment and weapons is stolen. As Luffy and his fearless crew mates go in search of their beloved ship they will encounter the mysterious Thief Brothers and embark on a whole new treasure hunting adventure. The quest for the fabled Diaomond Clock from Clockwork Island.

- One Piece - The Movie 3: Chopper Kingdom - Strange Animal Island :
With Chopper as their newest member, the Straw Hats arrive at the Island of Strange Animals. Before they can land, a geyser-like fountain sends their ship flying. Chopper falls off and lands in the middle of a gathering of strange animals who conducting a mystical ritual! According to local legend, a king will fall from the heavens and become the ruler of the island! Unbeknownst to Chopper the evil hunter, Count Butler and his team of despicable henchmen, led by General Hot Dog and President Snake are searching this very island for the magical horn of the fabled King of the Animals! Oh oh! Will Luffy and his motley crew of Straw Hats find their new crew mate in time or is Chopper about to become more extinct than a giant rhino?

FEATURED RELEASE

RELATED BLOG ARTICLES

One Piece. Pieces of Hate

Been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt....
Of the anime titles turned into T-shirts by Uniqlo, One Piece is the biggest – the reigning king of all the anime and manga franchises, pretty much unchallenged in the 16 years since Eiichiro Oda began the manga, and 14 since Toei Animation started animating it. But perhaps Uniqlo would have turned One Piece into a line of shirts even if the saga hadn’t been a world hit. Just look at those pirate designs – brash, cartoony, uncompromising. There’s no whiff of a committee, no hint of a five-year product plan reliant on changing a heroine’s hair colour (or deepening her cleavage). It just helps that the pictures are as commercial when they move as they are when they’re a cool static graphic in a manga, or on the front of a T-shirt.

One Piece: Strong World

The Straw Hats Pirates come together for an adventure like no other...
Written by One Piece creator Eiichiro Oda himself, Strong World leads the Straw Hats into the deadly path of Golden Lion Shiki.

One Piece - ninja or pirates?

Matt Kamen turns video pirate!
“Ninja or pirates?” While Naruto – representing the ninja corner, of course – has proven hugely popular, UK fans have long been unable to weigh in on the other side. With the long-awaited arrival of One Piece on DVD this May, that finally changes.

One piece: Crew Manifest #1

Matt Kamen finds out who’s who in the One Piece anime
Monkey D. Luffy: The founder and captain of the Straw Hats, Luffy is a carefree soul who wants to become king of the pirates. After eating the Gum-Gum Devil Fruit, he gained an elastic body, making him near-invulnerable and able to stretch but paradoxically making him unable to swim.

One Piece: Crew Manifest #2

Back at sea for volume two of One Piece
Before you set sail on the second round of voyages for One Piece, brush up on who you’ll be encountering in this latest volume of nautical nonsense

One Piece music: TOMATO CUBE

Tom Smith on One Piece’s TOMATO CUBE
One-hit wonders. Every country has them. And, as PSY can most likely attest, very few musicians really want to be labelled as one. Sure, it’s all fun, games and fancy dinners when that royalty cheque floats through the letter box. The one with all the zeroes from that single from yesteryear that went massive. But what about the rest of your work? It must be somewhat unsatisfying as an artist to be known for one track, while everything else remains relatively overlooked, and expectations are high for that difficult follow up single. If you’re TOMATO CUBE, you do nothing. Ever again.

RECENT FEATURED POSTS

Bleach Music: Universe

Tom Smith on series 13’s rainbow rockers...
While the Soul Reapers form an uneasy alliance with the Visoreds in Bleach series 13 part 2, the band providing the episode’s ending theme have an uneasy alliance of their own.

Unspinning Fairy Tail

Hugh David argues that the treasure is in the detail
The biggest influence on this anime is not tabletop RPGs or even the long-standing fantasy fiction genre itself. No, the stamp of numerous Japanese role-playing videogames is all over Fairy Tail, from the Atelier series to the Final Fantasy franchise, in particular Final Fantasy XII

Where is Victorian Romance Emma?

Why do we get Downton, but not Emma?
Fans of K-On! The Movie’s lovely and realistic vision of London may not be aware that in between that film and Steamboy’s loving depiction of a steampunk-era Manchester and London rests a show that is as accurate as either, and yet is also arguably the most English anime show ever made. Yet it still cannot be bought on DVD in the UK itself.

One Piece Cosplay: Boa Hancock

Paul Jacques finds a Pirate Empress at the Birmingham Comic Con
"Whether I kick a kitten, tear off your ears, even slaughter innocent people, the world will never cease to forgive my actions! Why, you ask? That's right, it is because I am beautiful!"

Jormungand

This Koko is no clown
Opening with a running fight down a freeway where anti-tank missiles and heavy vehicles are tossed around like party favours, the first episode never lets up, setting a standard that the show maintains throughout.

Tokyo Night Life

Japan Underground's Tom Smith on how to rock and roll all nite in Tokyo
I wanted to see bands playing live music, experience local pubs and bar culture, and not get back to my hotel until it was light. Now, my nights in the city are as busy, if not busier, than my days. Here’s a quick look at some of the Tokyo hotspots worth hitting for music fans.

Patema Inverted

Jonathan Clements on the movie that turns anime on its head
Boy-meets-girl has never been so strange as in this feature, in which the leads must literally cling to each other or fall away to an uncertain fate. Patema Inverted winningly plays with matters of spatial awareness, perspective and weight, regularly flipping its angles until the viewer literally can no longer remember which way is truly up.

Sir Run Run Shaw (1907-2014)

Remembering a giant of Asian cinema
At their production peak, Shaw Studios sanded down some of the historical elements in their epics, concentrating on acrobatics and heavier violence. This, in turn, made them more palatable or at least accessible to non-Chinese audiences, and inadvertently stoked the fires of the Kung Fu Boom.

Guilty Crown Goes Dark

Andrew Osmond on anime that turn to the dark side…
If it sounds like Guilty Crown’s getting dark, it is. In particular, there’s been a lot of comment on how dark some of the main characters get, in a series that seemed relatively light, even cheesy, in its first half. Star Trek used to have episodes set in a so-called ‘Mirror Universe,’ where the familiar cast could be really bad. Guilty Crown does something similar, without the mirror.

High School DxD

Hugh, phew, barneys and boobs, cutthroats, demons and blood...
If this show dropped all the extreme fan-service it would still be an exciting action-horror adventure, not far removed from an extended arc of Supernatural or the like. As it is, you get that and a show that would have broken the jiggle counter if anime DVDs still had them. After decades of evolution, even harem comedies can produce a show with some substance.
Contact Us   |   Refund Policy   |   Delivery Times   |   Privacy statement   |   Terms & Conditions
Please note your card statement will show billing by MVM. Grave of the Fireflies from the UK's best Anime Blog.