Japan (MIFF 1997 , Mayhem, Magic & Maelstroms - Japanese Animation from Studio Ghibli)
Director: Isao Takahata

Set during the horrendous fire bombings of Japan in the lead-up to the atomic bomb drops, Tombstone For Fireflies follows two children orphaned in the Kobe attacks - a girl (Setsuko) aged 5 and a boy (Seita) aged 10 - as they try to survive on the streets. The story is told in flash­back opening with the boy's memorable voice over; "September 21st, 1945. That was the night I died." (Be prepared for an ending that is still unthinkable in Western animation.) In Tombstone, Takahata is at his most refined, focusing on the minutiae upon which life precariously hangs.

Despite its sombre tone, the film is a true cele­bration of life, using the animated image to poet­ically dwell upon life essences, the weight of fresh rice, the swirling of hot soup, the spray of fresh water, the final flickering of fireflies. An inci­sive and considered political rumination slowly materialises beyond the obviousness of the film's historical scenario, as Takahata reveals how a society can be most cruel to its own mem­bers when overtaken by the hysteria of war.

Select Festival

Search the film archive