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.