Grave of the Fireflies
This film pulls no punches and is well respected as one of the most intense anime movies ever made. This is obvious from the opening scene which is of a child finally succumbing to hunger and despair. From there we move back to a period in Japan towards the end of the second world war and get to watch the story unfold. The story is very human, there are no hero's, no glory, no weeping at the injustice of the universe...not even any malice in particular, yet all efforts to simply live a normal life are ultimately futile. What impresses is that many opportunities to make the story `meaner' or tougher on the main character are restrained in the interests of realism and believability. Likewise we are not allowed to feel pure sympathy for the main characters as some of the outcomes of the story clearly rest on his own shoulders and his youthful pride. This story has such a strong structure, and such an air of authenticity, that few will be able to avoid being dragged into it. The characterisation is quiet and subtle, all of the characters are imperfect, have moments of weakness and confusion, but act believably. There is no message to be pushed, there are no histrionics and there are even moments of joy and hope to indicate potential that will not be remembered, let alone developed. The animation, the writing and the music mesh almost flawlessly to produce a powerful but painful experience that is readily absorbed into anyone but the psychotically insensitive. This is, after all, a Ghibli film with the production values that implies. While it took me several months to build up to it (I hate, but respect, these sort of films) i'm glad I saw it and feel comfortable in recommending it.
Some people on usenet have seen anti-american influences in this movie, but this seems a triumph of their imagination more than anything else. This title is often reviewed, but often fairly badly. Fortunately Akemi's AnimeWorld has no problems tuning into the spirit with this excellent review which also gave me the Japanese title. Likewise THEM people are happy to recognise the intensity of this title (despite the reviewers claim of immunity) in this good review, and this time I fully support their parental advisory on the tape (not that children should not see it, but that adult supervision should be required).