Grave of the Fireflies (Japanese:, Hepburn: Hotaru no Haka) is a 1988 Japanese animated war tragedy film based on Akiyuki Nosaka's 1967 semi-autobiographical short storey of the same name. Isao Takahata wrote and directed it, and Studio Ghibli animated it for the story's publisher, Shinchosha Publishing (making it the only Studio Ghibli film under Tokuma Shoten ownership that had no involvement from them). Tsutomu Tatsumi [ja], Ayano Shiraishi [ja], Yoshiko Shinohara [ja], and Akemi Yamaguchi star in the film. The film is set in the Japanese city of Kobe and tells the storey of two siblings, Seita and Setsuko, and their desperate struggle to survive during the final months of WWII. Grave of the Fireflies won critical acclaim and is regarded as one of the greatest war films of all time, as well as a significant piece of Japanese animation.
Seita, a teenage boy, dies of malnutrition in a Kobe train station on September 21, 1945, shortly after World War II ends. A janitor goes through his belongings and discovers a candy box, which he throws into a field. The burnt remains of some small bones emerge, and the spirit of Seita's younger sister, Setsuko, emerges from the tin, followed by Seita's spirit and a cloud of fireflies. They get on a train.
Seita and Setsuko's home, along with the majority of Kobe, is destroyed in a firebombing months earlier. They survive unharmed, but their mother perishes as a result of serious burns. Seita and Setsuko relocate to a distant aunt's house, and Seita retrieves supplies he buried prior to the bombing and gives everything to his aunt, save a tin of Sakuma drops. As rations run out and the number of refugees in the house increases, Seita is persuaded to sell his mother's silk kimono for rice by his aunt. Seita uses some of his mother's bank money to buy supplies, but the aunt gradually becomes resentful of the children, claiming that they do little to receive the food she prepares.
Seita and Setsuko plan to leave their aunt's house after she bullies them one too many times, and they take up residence in an abandoned bomb shelter. To provide illumination, they release fireflies into the shelter. Setsuko is shocked to discover that the insects have died the next day. She burys them, wondering why they and her mother had to die. Seita steals from farmers and loots homes during air raids when they run out of rice, for which he is beaten. When Setsuko becomes sick, Seita takes her to the doctor, who diagnoses her with malnutrition.
Seita, desperate, withdraws the last of the funds from their mother's bank account. He is distraught when he leaves the bank after learning that Japan has surrendered. He also discovers that his father, a captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy, is almost certainly dead, as the majority of Japan's navy has been sunk.
Seita returns to the shelter with food, only to discover Setsuko hallucinating. Seita rushes to feed her, but she dies just as he is about to finish preparing the meal. Seita cremates Setsuko's body and stuffed doll in a straw coffin. He keeps her ashes in the candy box, along with a picture of his father.
Seita and Setsuko's spirits arrive at their destination in good health and happiness. They sit on a hilltop bench overlooking modern-day Kobe, surrounded by fireflies.
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