“Grave of the Fireflies” – Nathan’s Movie Challenge, Week 14
“Why must fireflies die so young?”
Between recently watching Dear Zachary, and now Grave of the Fireflies, I’m starting to wonder why anyone would recommend these brutal films to other people. Having a four-year-old daughter makes these films particularly hard-hitting.
All Studio Ghibli films have lovely animation, and Fireflies is no exception. The colors and framing are vivid and beautiful, the performances are strong, and the emotion is conveyed very convincingly.
Unfortunately, the film also falls under the umbrella of cinematic experiences that anger you by revealing your inability as a viewer to do anything about what’s going on in the story.
It affects you much the way a film like Kids – Larry Clark’s unmerciful film about the ignorance of youth – does, or Aronofsky’s unrelenting barrage of anti-drug, anti-addiction that is Requiem for a Dream. I have very different takeaways from those films, though; I feel contempt for Kids, and awe at Requiem.
You can tell two sides of a similar story, though.
There’s another film that I greatly admire about a young boy displaced during World War II – Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun (my current #32 of all-time). It too deals with hunger, abandonment, apathy of adults, pain, mental collapse, and simply dealing with the atrocities of war. A young Christian Bale retains a spirit of adventure and heroism while overcoming overwhelming obstacles, where in Grave of the Fireflies, young Seita is only met with tragedy and rejection, and ultimately extreme failure.
They’re different stories, but they achieve a much different feeling coming out of them. Empire feels epic and has a giant character arc. Fireflies just feels frustrating and hopeless.
They could absolutely be seen as representing the vastly different spirits of each side of a war – a winning side and a losing side – but it doesn’t make Fireflies any less emotionally draining to watch.
Are films like these good (or great) expressly because they accomplish the goal of creating such displeasure in its audience? I suppose that the most disappointing art is that which doesn’t cause you to feel much of anything at all.
Grave of the Fireflies was at the time of this review at #104 on my Flickchart list of shame (ranked #229 among the best movies of all time). Here’s how it entered my chart:
Grave of the Fireflies vs. The Muppets
The biggest problem I have with The Muppets is how completely average it is. No risks taken, no respect earned. Fireflies wins.
Grave of the Fireflies vs. World’s Greatest Dad
Another film that stabs its viewer right in the gut, but does it in an even more subversive and unique way. It might be Robin Williams’s best performance, too. It beats Fireflies.
Grave of the Fireflies vs. I, Robot
There hasn’t really been a great Isaac Asimov movie yet (although I believe Bicentennial Man – another great Robin Williams role – is vastly underrated). Fireflies is a much better film than I, Robot.
Grave of the Fireflies vs. Amélie
When you talk about movie magic, Amélie comes to mind. It’s quirky, gorgeous, and unique. It beats Fireflies.
Grave of the Fireflies vs. Kill Bill Vol. 2
While I am a huge fan of the first half of Kill Bill, I was rather disappointed in comparison with the second half. I’m sure it would have worked better as The Whole Bloody Affair, and edited together to make a more cohesive whole. Fireflies wins.
Grave of the Fireflies vs. Noah
I love everything Aronofsky’s ever done, and while Noah is my least favorite of his films, it’s still visually stunning and has a tremendous performance from Jennifer Connelly. It’ll take the matchup over Fireflies.
Grave of the Fireflies vs. Knowing
I’m a sucker for Nic Cage and an apocalyptic scenario, but while there are some incredible scenes (the plane crash) and grand ideas, it falls short of magnificence with too many unanswered questions, a weak ending, and too many plot holes. Fireflies beats it.
Grave of the Fireflies vs. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
The masterpiece of German Expressionism wins. So far ahead of its time.
Grave of the Fireflies vs. Cold Mountain
I wouldn’t have thought I’d like Cold Mountain as much as I did before seeing it, but something about the complex characters, the grandeur of its epic story, and the stunning locations elevated it to a much higher level of enjoyment. It’ll take the win over Fireflies.
Grave of the Fireflies vs. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
I’m usually the biggest cheerleader in the room for a Fincher movie, but after seeing Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist completely inhabiting the lead roles of the 2009 original, even Fincher’s directing and Trent Reznor’s score can’t help Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig save the film to best its forebearer. The Grave of the Fireflies takes it.
Grave of the Fireflies is now ranked #464 out of 1390 movies on my Best Movies of All-Time chart.
Next up are The Sting and All About Eve. In the meantime, check out the other films I’ve ranked during the challenge.