|Grave of the Fireflies|
火垂るの墓 / Hotaru no Haka (1988)
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[ Synopsis ]
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Hotaru no haka is not exactly the most pleasant movie to watch, and it is quite
obvious just looking at the first shot. A boy slowly appears with a serious face
and eyes that stare right at you. The first thing he says was that September 21,
1945 was the day he died. (It sure makes watching a movie a pleasure when the
first thing you learn about the main character was the day he died.) He blinks
once and looks to his left at this column. A figure slumped over appears. The
guy looks at this figure and walks forward. The next shot is a close up of this
figure and reveals that he's wearing tattered rags and is gasping for breath.
People walking around him appear. They avoid him, frightened, and curse him.
Somebody is actually kind enough to leave him food, but he doesn't touch it. He
just continues to stare down. A voice of a young girl calls out for her mother.
It is only a memory. He mutters, asking what day it is, before slumping over. A
fly comes and lands on his face. He only has one word left to say, "Setsuko."|
A street cleaner walks up to him and jabs him with his broom. There is no
reaction. The street cleaner just says it's another one. He inspects his shirt
and notices something falling out. He picks it up and looks at it. He tries to
open it but cut his finger. As he put his finger in his mouth, he looks over at
another street cleaner walking over. He asks the other street cleaner what it
is. The other guy just tells him to dump it and walks away. The first street
cleaner got up to inspect some of the other bodies. He tells his co-worker the
other one is dead too. You can see it in their eyes. He walks away, looking at
the thing in his hands, even shaking it once. He walks over to a door leading to
a field. After looking at it yet again, he decides to practice his pitching with
this box. He tosses it away. The box bounces one and comes to a stop, its
contents falling out. Fireflies started to appear, and a little girl stands up.
She looks over at the dead body and starts walking towards it, but a hand
stops her. She looks back at the smiling figure behind her. She is overjoyed. He
leans down to brush dirt off of the girl's hood, and he picks up the dirty box.
The dirt on the box disappears, revealing that it was once a fruit drop
container. He looks at it and gives it to the girl. Hand in hand, they walk away
and the title screen appears. As the opening credits roll, the two are seen
riding a train.
The boy sits there seriously while the girl tries to open the
can. After a few futile tries, she hands it to her brother, who opens it with
ease. The girl dumps a few into her hands and offers one to her brother before
eating the rest. The boy just looks at her before popping his into his mouth.
The train continues to run and the two look over at a sky full of planes.
The scene becomes immensely bright and soon we see bombers flying. There is chaos in
the streets as a man hurries people over to a shelter. The boy is seen burying
a pot and other food supplies. His sister (the girl) and mother come running to
him.. The sister, being only four, has no idea what's going on. She complains
that her hood is hot as her mother tries to put it on. The mother tells her to
be patient as she ties the hood. The sister impatiently rushes over to see her
brother bury things. The mother says she should be going over to the shelter,
and for her children to get there as soon as possible. She tells Setsuko (the
sister) to be good and listen to her brother. The brother looks up from his
burying and tells his mother to get over to the shelter. The mom gets up to
leave, and the boy worriedly asks her if she has her medicine. The mom gives her
affirmation and holds up the bag she carries with her.
The boy carries his
sister inside, and she complains about the shelter. The boy, getting a bag and a
canteen, tells her that it's worse getting blown up by a bomb. He gives his
sister a lift on his back and rushes inside. Setsuko wails about her doll,
lying there on the ground, and the boy rushes back to get it, but he can't find
it at first. He quickly picks it up along with a picture of his father in his
naval uniform (dropping a bag while he's at it). He opens a closet and pulls out
a coat before another call for an air raid comes out. Setsuko wails her
brother's name, Seita. He forgets about the coats and the bag and rushes over to
put his shoes on. Before he finishes, the sound of bombers drones overhead.
Setsuko tells her brother to get down, so they do.
When the sound dies down, he
rushes out, but gasps at what he sees: bombers fly overhead and bombs falling
around them. As the bombs collide, spreading fire everywhere, Seita rushes back
into his house. He looks up and sees smoke, and rushes outside again. He looks
around. Everything is calm except for the fire burning around him. He slowly
turns around and runs down the road. All of a sudden, there is an explosion
beside him, shocking him and his sister. Setsuko begins crying out Seita's
name, while Seita watches the fire around him intensify. (The houses are
primarily wood.) A window explodes and a cat frantically runs off. Seita and
Setsuko stare at the horrible holocaust behind them and run off. (A very
different scene from the calmness just fifteen seconds ago.) The bombers
continue to fly above, releasing more of their cargo. Seita could only watch in
horror people flee in the other direction around them. The people begin to push
Seita back until finally he gives in and starts going with the flow.
at a roadblock and Seita runs the other way. Elsewhere in the chaos, a person
falls and a horse panics. More bombs fall, surrounding the people with flames.
Seita continues running and turns around to see bombs landing behind him. He
rushes into an alley and sees people carrying out their belongings. He keeps
running and soon happens on a shore on the lake with a view of the burning
city. More bombers approach it. Seita runs along a wall and eventually climbs up
it, keeping his eyes on the sky. Exhausted, he lets Setsuko down and pants while
Setsuko shivers with fright. Elsewhere, fire rages and a soldier's body burns.
People duck in a corner fearing for their lives while a loyalist shouts, "Long
live Hirohito!" (Interestingly enough, Hirohito was still alive when this movie
was released.) There is a long birds eye view of a bomber flying by. Seita looks
at burning ashes (and a metal roofing) fly away. He tells Setsuko that they're
safe. Setsuko asks Seita where their mother is. Seita tells his sister that
their mother is in a shelter that can easily withstand a hit from a 250K bomb.
He gets up and Setsuko takes a few steps towards him. He looks up at the smoke
in the sky and says she (his mother) would probably go look for them at the
Niponmatsu station as Setsuko takes his hand. So he tells Setsuko they'll meet
their mother there. He tells Setsuko they would take a rest and looks back at
the burning city before he squats down to wipe his sister's face with a piece of
cloth. He asks his sister if she's okay, and she tells him that she lost one of
her shoes. He reassures her, telling her he'll get her better ones, before
getting back up.
He wipes his face and neck and Setsuko tells him she has money.
With that, she pulls out a necklace with a small wallet connected to it and
tells her brother to open it. He opens it and she dumps the contents out. There
are three marbles, two hackeysack-like things, six flower shaped beads and three
coins. Squatting down, Seita tells his sister that she's rich. Setsuko giggles
and looks down again.
Rain begins to fall. The two look up and Seita says it's
black rain from the bombing. The black rain falls over the remains of the city.
Seita climbs up the hill with Setsuko on his back and is shocked to see that the
entire city has been leveled. He turns left and walks down the path. He stops
and points out where the civic hall used to be. He tells Setsuko that they ate
there once. He looks back at his sister, who asks if their house is gone too.
Seita says it probably is, and Setsuko asks what they would do. He angrily looks
forward and says their father would make them (the Americans) pay. Various
scenes from the ruin come next, including charred bodies. A man digs in the
ruins while a girl mourns for her mother being carried away on a stretcher.
Seita and Setsuko watch this grisly scene from up above. Elsewhere, a man tells
other people that he's not the only person that lost his house, and at least
they're still alive. Seita stops and looks around. A woman tells another that
the fires are impossible to extinguish. Seita walks over to see a man looking up
from a body and yelling out that it's not her. Setsuko turns left and tells her
brother that she has to go pee. Seita walks away from the crowd and lets her
down so she can go do her business.
As he watches his sister, man riding on a
bicycle comes and announces everybody from Ichirizuka and Kaminishi must report
to the elementary school. Setsuko comes back rubbing her eyes and Seita asks her
what's the matter. Her eyes hurt, she says. Seita kneels down and tells her not
to rub it. She can get it washed at the school. Setsuko takes off her hood and
asks where their mother is. Seita tells her she'll be at the school. Seita ties
the hood around his sister and says they should head for the school. The school
is lively with people. A boy happily chases his sister around. People are being
carried in on stretchers. As Setsuko is getting her eyes washed, a woman comes
up to Seita and pushes him away from the line. The woman asks Seita if he's seen
his mother yet. Seita shakes his head no, and the woman says that his mother is
hurt. She tells him to go see her and she'll look after Setsuko. She sees
Setsuko walking towards Seita and rushes towards her, asking if she's hurt. She
lifts Setsuko up and tells her that Seita has to go somewhere.
into the school and left into a corridor. He opens a door and walks in. A man
with glasses sees Seita and tells Seita that he (the man) has been looking for
him (Seita). Seita inquires about his mother and the man leads him away. At the
doorway, the man picks up a pan. He holds up a ring and asks Seita if it's his
mother's. Seita gasps. The man leads Seita into another room. There, we see
Seita's mother's tattered pants. It is later revealed that the whole top half of
her body is covered in bandages. Seita looks at the sight in horror and the man
tells him that she finally fell asleep. Seita looks at the bandaged head,
breathing very slowly, and kneels down. The man tells Seita that she should be
in a proper hospital. He believes that the Kaisei hospital is still standing.
Seita turns around and tells the man that this mother had heart trouble and if
she can get her medicine in that condition. The man says he'll ask, and walks
away, telling Seita that he'll be around.
Seita takes a good, long look at his
mother. He calls her name, but she doesn't wake up. Soon he is outside looking
at the woman and Setsuko. They are playing in the sand. The woman looks up and
rushes towards Seita, asking if he's seen her. He nods and the woman comments on
how terrible it is. Setsuko walks over and says he's thirsty, so Seita kneels
and lets her drink from his canteen. The woman tells Seita that if they need
anything, just ask. Suddenly, she asks if they've got their biscuit ration yet.
Seita shakes his head, and the woman rushes away to get it. Seita and Setsuko
watch her run off. He open up Setsuko's wallet and put his mother's ring inside,
and tells Setsuko not to lose it. He tells Setsuko that their mother is hurt but
adds that she'll get better. Setsuko asks where she is, and Seita says that
she's in the Nishinomiya hospital. Setsuko sadly looks down as Seita tells her
that they'll stay at the school overnight before heading to Nishinomiya to
live with their aunt.
Setsuko continues to look at the ground and doesn't
answer. The woman rushes over with their biscuits and gives them to Seita before
adding that she'll be on the second floor in case he needs her. They look at
Setsuko before Seita thanks her. The woman says goodbye to Setsuko, while
Setsuko could only nod. As the woman walks away, Seita offers Setsuko some
biscuits. Setsuko says she only wants to see her mother, but Seita tells her
it's too late today. Seita sees something in the distance and walks away. Seita
sits down in front of the sandbox. Setsuko kneels down and begins to cry. Seita
sits there looking forward before getting up and runs towards the vertical bars
ahead of them, telling Setsuko to watch, for he's good at it. But Setsuko
doesn't watch. She just cries as Seita turns around in circles.
Next we see
Seita and Setsuko's mother being laid on a stretcher, while a man's voice says
that they haven't taken off her bandages. Maggots crawl on her. Somebody ties
a ring on her charred arm, and a foot steps over the maggots squirming on the
ground. Seita watches as they carry their mother away. He stops to watch the
truck with her body drive off. Somebody lights a torch and tosses it into a pile
of dead bodies. While a man asks Seita where his sister is. Seita tells him that
she's in Nishinomiya with their distant aunt as the flames engulf the pile of
bodies. The man tells Seita that he's lucky, and we see Seita carrying a box,
possibly with his mother's ashes. Seita is sitting inside a train while the
person to his right looks at him with a funny look. In a zoom-out, it is
revealed that Seita's spirit is looking at this scene. Setsuko is asleep on his
lap. The spirit train slowly stops. Seita and Setsuko walk out. Fireflies fly
The two walk down the road. They stop to look at a city down below.
Seita could see himself walking down a street and turn left at a corner. The
real Seita walks into the yard of a house. He looks down at the box he's
carrying and hides it in the bushes. He enters the house, greeted by Setsuko,
thinking her mother is home, but she is disappointed. She asks Seita if her
mother is still sick and Seita tells her yes. Their aunt comes walking towards
them and welcomes Seita. She asks him if his mother is at the hospital. Seita is
silent. The aunt tells him that he's lucky his father is in the navy, for he has
a truck to carry him. She uncovers a few boxes and tells him that there his room
is prepared. Seita thanks her and peeks inside the top box. He goes into his
room and sees Setsuko fingering the ring. She asks him if their mother needs the
ring of if she gave it to her. Seita sets his bag down and tells his sister not
to lose it. He kneels down and watches his sister put her treasure away. He
begins to say something but pauses before telling Setsuko that he'll take her to
see her when she (the mother) is better. Setsuko nods. He then tells Setsuko
it's time for bed.
Late at night, Seita comes out and takes the box in. In the
daytime, a group of people is digging through the ruins to find supplies,
including Seita. He finds the pot that he buried the day before and is quite
thankful. He begins taking everything out and happens upon a cab of fruit drops.
He looks at it and puts it in his pockets. Carrying the things away on a cart,
he finds a pipe leaking water. He walks towards it, (tossing his cap into the
cart), and drinks and washes his face. Feeling refreshed, he takes out a piece
of cloth and dries himself. As he is putting the cloth back into his pocket, he
notices the fruit drops again. He takes it out and smiles before walking back to
his cart. He opens a jar of sour berries and eats one, reacting to the sour
taste before continuing on. Back at Nishinomiya, the aunt admires the food,
crying with joy at the butter. She tells Seita how rare these items are before
adding that soldiers get the best stuff at these times.
She asks Seita if he
stopped at the hospital. She tells him how much she would like to tell her (the
mother) what's going on and taking Setsuko to see her. Seita was silent for a
while before telling his aunt that she died at the school. The aunt could barely
believe it. She asks Seita why he was hiding it from her, and Seita tells her
that he was merely hiding it from Setsuko. The aunt comments on how bad it is
before telling Seita to tell his father as she carries the food away. Seita
turns around when he hears his sister's laughter. She comes in, calling his
name, and tells him that her cousin bought her (Setsuko) new shoes! She rushes
over to her brother, who congratulates her. The cousin walks in, greeting him,
and thus ends the scene. At night, Seita and Setsuko are taking a bath. He
slowly places a piece of cloth over the water, creating an air bubble. Setsuko
pats it and pushes it under the water when Seita lets go, spraying Setsuko
with water. Seita laughs at this. (These scenes of joy become especially tragic
due to the prior knowledge that neither Setsuko or Seita survived.)
bath, Seita decides to take his sister for a walk. Setsuko runs outside. When
Seita follows, Setsuko asks her brother what the strange noises are. Seita just
says they're harmless bullfrogs. Setsuko notices a firefly, and cries out
"Hotaru!" in joy. She follows it, but it flies away. Seita walks over and
catches one on a leaf. He tells Setsuko to catch it. Setsuko grabs it, but
squeezes too hard. The poor firefly is smashed in her hands. Seita comments on
it, and Setsuko complains that it smells bad. Seita laughs and tells her that
she squeezed too hard. He catches another one and shows it to Setsuko. She
reached for it, but it flies away before she can get it. They walk along the
rice paddies looking at the fireflies. After going past another hill, Setsuko
joyously chases after them. There are hundreds of them flying over the pond.
Seita exaggerates a little bit and says there's millions. They stand there and
watch the fireflies fly around.
After a little bit, Seita tells Setsuko to close
here eyes and open say "ah." Setsuko was at first resistant, but after further
prodding from her brother, she does so. Seita takes a piece of paper with fruit
drops wrapped inside. He takes one (it's stuck to the paper) and tosses it into
Setsuko's mouth. Setsuko immediately recognizes it and begins jumping around,
saying its name over and over again. Suddenly, she stops. After struggling for a
little bit, she pats her chest and says she almost swallowed it. Seita laughs at
this, and even Setsuko manages a giggle. When they return, the aunt is scraping
food off of the bottom of the pan and eating it. The aunt asks if they thanked
the lady, and Seita says yes.
After walking away, Seita comments on how good the
food looked. Setsuko nods in agreement. The next day is a rainy day. Setsuko's
doll lies amid newspaper with pencil scribbles on them. Seita lies on the ground
reading a book while Setsuko cuts more newspaper. The aunt comes in and asks why
Seita isn't going to school. Seita replies that the steelworks he's supposed to
be working at was bombed and his school burned down. The aunt is not happy about
that. She reminds Seita to write to his father. Seita says he did. When the aunt
asks when, Seita replies not long after they went there (around ten days ago.)
The aunt says that it's odd that there hasn't been a reply. As the aunt leaves,
she reminds Setsuko to return the scissors after she's done with them. At
dinner, the aunt serves stew to her husband (who looks like a kind fellow), and
asks how the war effort is going. He answers that it's starting to seem
hopeless. As Seita hands his aunt his bowl for more stew, the uncle replies that
as more factories are destroyed, the harder each individual must work, and
they're still getting ready for the final invasion (which never happens.) The
aunt agrees, and says that's why food is so rare. She adds that the soldiers
aren't the only one suffering and tells her daughter to work for the country's
The family continues eating when an air raid siren sounds. The five
are now stuck inside an air raid shelter. The aunt prays while Setsuko squirms.
Seita asks what's wrong, and Setsuko replies that she has an itch before saying
she hates shelters. Seita tells her that he'll be there for her. The air raid
turns out to be false, and there's another beautiful day. Seita is putting up
his laundry while Setsuko plays on the floor. All of a sudden, Seita turns
around and asks his sister if she wants to go to the beach. This gets Setsuko
all worked up. So the two are running to the beach. Along the way, Seita
excitedly picks Setsuko up and carries her on his shoulder. (What a good
brother.) They cross a vegetable field and Seita lets his sister down. They
laugh along the way.
Finally, the beach. The waves beat against the shore,
leaving a starfish behind. They admire the view on a ridge, and Seita grabs
Setsuko and rushes out onto the beach. He puts her down and does a cartwheel and
falls down. Setsuko happily runs after him. As Seita takes off his shirt,
Setsuko asks what two people standing there are doing. Seita says that they are
making sea salt because salt and soy sauce have been rationed. Seita rolls up
his pant legs and runs towards the water, telling Setsuko to hurry up. Setsuko
slowly takes her clothes off. She starts with her pants (she has to sit down to
get it off) and takes off her shirt. She tenderly places her shirt down and runs
over to Seita, who's putting his piece of cloth into the water. He tells Setsuko
it would be cold, and places the cloth onto her back. She jumps at the coldness,
but Seita tells her that she won't itch anymore. Setsuko nods and runs off. She
goes over to where the water is knee high and squats down. She says it's just
like a big bathtub.
Seita happily begins to chase Setsuko around the beach. The
two sea salt producers (an old lady and a young boy, probably her grandson) turn
to look at them. Seita pretends he's a bear and wants to eat Setsuko, who
happily runs ahead of her brother. At least, Seita grabs Setsuko and tumbles
over on the beach. The ocean washes a piece of seaweed away. Calm now, Seita and
Setsuko look at the sea. A crab crawls along the beach, and Setsuko chases after
it, singing a little song while she's at it. She comes to two boats lying on the
shore. Between them lies a body covered by a tatami. Only a pair of feet is
sticking out. Setsuko turns around and asks Seita if he's sleeping. She takes a
closer look at the body. Flies are flying around the feet. Seita comes and takes
his sister away, telling her not to look at it. He tells her that when the
weather is warmer, he'll teach her how to swim. Setsuko tells her brother that
they'll swim, and they'll become hungry. She laughs and runs forward. The line
is repeated on a shot of Seita swimming.
He stops at a buoy and looks back at
the shore. He hears his mother calling and Setsuko (in a dress) playing on the
beach. This must be a flashback. His mother sits there, holding an umbrella. She
asks if he's hungry and that there's food over there. Seita rushes over to her,
but she loses her umbrella. Soon, Seita hungrily scarfs down a meal while
Setsuko drinks milk. Their mother looks over them with a smile. Seita returns to
reality. An air raid siren calls out and they make a quick escape. He stops at a
hospital, where a woman greets her mother with joy. The mother asks her daughter
if she's all right, and the daughter says she's just fine. Seita gloomily looks
at this happy scene and Setsuko tells him she's hungry. Seita urges his sister
to go home before the raid. Setsuko, kneeling and looking at the reunion, tells
Seita to carry her. Suddenly, a voice cries out, and both Seita and Setsuko
turn to see planes flying overhead. Back at the house, the aunt places a box
down, and tells Seita that his mother won't need her kimonos anymore, so he
could trade it for rice. As she takes out kimonos, she tells Seita that she's
been doing the same. She tells Seita he could get a whole "toh" of rice for
them. Seita is amazed. The aunt tells him that he needs his nourishment if he
wants to be a soldier. Seita still couldn't believe at the amount. The aunt
replies that his mother would be happy her kimonos weren't wasted.
As she begins
to pack them back up again, Setsuko (who's been lying there, supposedly
sleeping) quickly got up and cried out. The aunt says she thought Setsuko was
still asleep. Setsuko begins to wail and pull on the aunt's arm, crying that the
kimonos are her mother's and that she (the aunt) shouldn't take them. Seita had
to pull Setsuko away from the aunt, but Setsuko continues to squirm and scream
in his arms. The spirit Seita watches this scene in horror and covers his ears
to block out the crying. Cherry blossoms begin to fall and we are treated to
another flashback. A photographer is getting ready to take a picture of a
younger Setsuko and her parents. A younger Seita comes rushing over and takes
his place beside his father. The picture is taken and Setsuko quickly hugs her
mother while Seita turns over to his father.
As Setsuko lovingly embrace her
mother, the picture fades away to black while cherry blossoms continue to fall.
The falling blossoms are soon accompanied by falling rice. Seita gapes at the
rice being poured from a bag into a large jar. Setsuko continues to look away.
When the jar is full (the bag is still half empty), the aunt tells Setsuko that
they'll have a proper dinner tonight. She puts the cover on the jar and tells
Seita that the jar is his. She takes the bag and walks away and Seita hugs the
jar of rice. He happily tells Setsuko that it's white rice he's holding in his
hands. Setsuko doesn't say anything. Seita puts the jar away and crawls over
to his sister. He nudges her left arm with a finger. Setsuko pushes his finger
away. Seita chuckles, and Setsuko begins to cry.
The wailing is carried over to
a shot of the aunt giving Seita a bowl of rice. She tells him that she feels
guilty not giving food to the other two people, who are working overtime. Seita
takes a clump of rice and put it in his mouth. He looks over and Setsuko and
asks her if it's great. Setsuko was too busy emptying her bowl to answer. When
she finishes, she holds out her bowl and asks for more. The aunt gladly fills
her bowl again, and exclaims that she's just eating it all up. Setsuko answers
that it's good. The next day, the aunt is making rice balls while Seita and
Setsuko are eating their breakfast. Seita notices something wrong and asks
Setsuko about it. Setsuko tells him that she doesn't want any more rice
Concerned, Seita asks his aunt if they have any more of those sour
berries. The aunt glumly tells him that those were eaten up a long time ago.
The uncle and the cousin come and they get their lunches for the day before
running off. Seita tells Setsuko that they'll have rice balls for lunch, but the
aunt strictly told them that they'd have rice porridge instead. As she pours
herself a bowl of porridge, she tells him that they don't deserve the same lunch
as those that work for the country. She tells Seita that he ought to know that
everybody should cooperate. She adds that he always wants rice, but does he ever
work for it? No, Seita and Setsuko quietly watch their aunt eat off her rice
porridge. As she takes their bowls, she grumbles that he still complains even
with rice. Sadly, Setsuko says that it's their rice, but the aunt scolds her for
accusing her of cheating them, after she takes the two in. She tells them to
make their own meals from now on. She asks Seita if he has any relatives in
Tokyo, because they could be bombed any day.We see Seita and Setsuko riding
in a crowded train as the aunt finishes her question, and Seita glumly says that
he doesn't know their addresses.
At their destination, Setsuko watches ants
crawl around before looking back and seeing a mother and a daughter interact.
They walk away singing, leaving Setsuko behind. Seita comes out, apologizing for
making her wait for so long. Setsuko doesn't answer, so Seita asks her what's
wrong. Setsuko says that she's hungry and thirsty, so Seita immediately takes
out the can of fruit drops. He opens it and offers her one. Back on the train,
Seita watches Setsuko savor her fruit drop and tells her that their mother has
7000 yen in the bank. That's enough to live off of, so she shouldn't worry. At
the post office, Setsuko watches Seita write a letter. He says that he'll tell
his father to write back soon.
On a rainy day, Seita and Setsuko laugh while
running in the rain. They stop underneath a storefront for shelter. While a pair
of hands place bowls into a container, a male voice tells Seita that he's
lucky because a stove is hard to find these days. Seita watches as Setsuko
brushes her hair with a comb while the man rambles on. Seita tells the man that
he'll buy the comb and asks for an umbrella. The man gets up to get an umbrella.
Soon we see Seita carrying Setsuko singing a classic folksong in the rain...with
their new, broken umbrella. Next we see Seita fanning their new stove until
small flames pop up. The aunt watches disapprovingly, telling them to be careful
with fire before walking away. Seita places a pot onto the stove. In a different
shot, a voice asks the aunt what they're doing, and she replies that they're
cooking their own food.
As Seita and Setsuko walk away carrying bowls, the
cousin asks her mother if she scolded them. The aunt says she did because they
refused to apologize, and even bought a stove to spite her. Meanwhile, Seita
finishes his meal and stretches before lying down. Setsuko tells her brother
it's bad manners. Seita tells her that it doesn't manner, for they can sit
however they want. Setsuko changes her sitting style (barely) and continues
eating. Next we see a hand pouring rice into a bag. Seita asks if that's it, and
the man that did the pouring says that the next ration would be in July as he
walks away. On their way back, Setsuko throws a tantrum. Seita walks over to her
and takes out the can of fruit drops. She takes it and shakes it. Hearing
nothing, she begins to cry again. Seita takes the can and whacks it, dislodging
the fruit drops. He pours the contents into Setsuko's hand. All that's left are
three fruit drops (red, light blue, and purple) clumped together, and a few
crumbs. He looks inside and gives the can back to Setsuko. Setsuko looks inside
as well. She sucks up the crumbs and places the clump back inside. She gives the
can back to her brother, who closes it and gives it back to her. He pats her on
the head before walking forward. Setsuko follows, licking her hand. Back at the
house, Seita carries the empty dishes to the sink while Setsuko finishes off the
last of the fruit drops. Seita reaches his hands out and Setsuko gives him the
container. He fills it up and closes the cap before shaking the can. Setsuko
impatiently asks for the fruit can while doing a little boogie. Seita gives it
to her and she continues to shake the can.
He leads her back into their room,
where he takes a cup and pours the water out. He offers it to his sister, who
drinks it. He asks if she likes it. She exclaims that the different tastes are
there. Seita laughs before revealing us the favors: grape, strawberry,
watermelon, and mint. He tells her to finish it, so she does. Afterwards, she
exhales and sits back down, and they both laugh. The aunt turns on the lights in
the kitchen and complains that she is left to do the dishes. As she washes, she
calls the two selfish. Setsuko begins to cry for her mother and the aunt turns
around, saying, "not again." She opens the door and tells Seita that her
daughter and the man (oh, so he's not her husband) have to work for the country.
They can't be waken up like this, as the air raids have already made sleeping
difficult. With that, she closes the door. To calm his sister down, Seita takes
her on a walk amid the fireflies. Setsuko finally falls asleep when the air raid
sirens sound again.
An announcement calls out a report of bombers and Seita and
Setsuko are in spirit mode again. Seita runs off while the aunt complains that
Seita is going to the shelter when he could help fight the fire. Seita stops
when he sees two shelters. He sees the real Seita and Setsuko standing there to
avoid the rain. Setsuko looks up and tells Seita she wants to go home. She hates
living with the aunt. With that, she kneels down. Seita kneels down next to her
and says they don't have a home to go back to. He picks up a rock and throws it
into the nearby pond, scaring a dragonfly. Back at the house (in possibly a
flashback), Seita plays the piano for Setsuko and together they sing a song. The
aunt interrupts them, coldly reminding them that there's a war going on. She
walks away, saying they're nothing but trouble and calling them pests. She takes
off her hood, saying they don't help during raids and she doesn't care if they
go off to live in the shelter. Seita lets the cover of the piano drop.
Back at the shelter, Seita tells Setsuko that they'll go live there, since it's
abandoned but sturdy. They can live however they want. Happy, Setsuko asks her
brother if they can really live there. Seita nods. So we see Seita running with
his cart carrying Setsuko. He jumps occasionally, getting laughs from his
sister. They forage at bombed areas to get supplies. Setsuko pulls out a bag.
They run back to the shelter to unload. Back at the house, Seita takes their
things and loads it onto the cart. The aunt walks out. Seita tells her that
they've bothered her long enough and will be leaving. The aunt asks to where,
and Seita says he doesn't know. As Seita takes the cart to leave, the aunt tells
them to take care and says goodbye to Setsuko. They walk away without looking
As the aunt walks back in, she hears Setsuko laughing. She rushes out to
see, with a concerned face. At the shelter, Setsuko has fun pretending it's a
real house. She says the right shelter door would be the kitchen, and the left
one would be the front door. She walks in as Seita is placing the box away and
asks where the bathroom would be. Seita tells that it can be anywhere and asks
her if she wants to go somewhere with him. Setsuko doesn't answer, and begins to
dance. But she does anyways, as she is laughing on the cart. Seita walks over to
a farmer and thanks him for the use of his cart. He leaves it there and asks the
farmer if he could buy food and straw. The farmer gets up, saying he could, but
there are not much left. Next we see Seita and Setsuko marching back to the
shelter. Seita carries a bundle of straw while Setsuko, walking ahead of him,
carries a turnip. Seita takes water from a well and pours it into a bucket.
Setsuko is next seen walking out carrying a pan filled with water. Seita pours a
meager amount of rice into the pot.
The two picks up snails from the pond and
put it into the pan, which floats away. Seita tosses firewood down to Setsuko,
who happily picks them up. Seita blows into a fire, but the smoke over takes the
two. He splits the turnip and prepares the meal while Setsuko lays out the
dishes. As Seita cooks the food, he and Setsuko share a laugh. When the food
finished cooking, they both stare down at the pot with joy. The two happily
enjoy their dinner. After the meal, the two relax in front of the shelter. Seita
begins to think about their limited amount of food, and suggest that they could
eat frogs. They began scratching themselves, and Seita suggest they get under
the mosquito net. That night, the fireflies begin to light up and fly around.
Setsuko walks out to her brother, washing the dishes.
Seita asks her what's
wrong. Setsuko says she forgot her toothbrush. Seita tells her one night without
it wouldn't matter. Setsuko beings to squirm and Seita tells her that she should
get under the mosquito nets. Setsuko says she's scared because it's so dark.
Seita picks up the dishes and tells Setsuko he has to go to the restroom. He
asks if she needs to go too, and Setsuko nods. As they go, they watch a kamikaze
plane fly by. Setsuko says it looks like a firefly, and Seita agrees. He
suggests they catch some. Inside their shelter, Seita tells Setsuko to go
underneath the mosquito netting. Then Seita lets the fireflies out, brightening
their shelter so that Setsuko could see her brother. A firefly gets on Setsuko's
hair, and Seita says it's like a hair clip. They watch a firefly fly onto a
mosquito netting, and Seita suggests they go catch some more.
Soon Seita opens a
box full of fireflies, and Setsuko looks at it with bright, shining eyes. Seita
chuckles. The shining bugs brighten the shelter. One of them lands on Setsuko's
doll. The two of them lie on their pillows watching the fireflies. Seita sees
ships among the flying insects. He tells Setsuko that he went to a naval review
before she was born. When Setsuko asks, Seita tells her that their father's
cruiser (the Maya) was in formation. We are brought to a flashback where we see
ships covered with bright lights while music plays in the back. Their father,
along with sailors the back, salute while fireworks burst in the night sky. The
happy crowd cheers at the sight while a band continues playing. Seita gets
caught up in the memory and begins singing the song that was playing. He
pretends to see an enemy plane and begins shooting at it with a fake machine
gun. He stops, seeing only fireflies in the shelter.
He begins to wonder about
his father. He looks over at Setsuko, who has already fallen asleep. Seita
himself lies down. When Setsuko rolls over, Seita rolls over to her and gives
her a hug, for she is all he has left. Setsuko tells him to get off her. Seita
does so and rolls back. The scene ends when a firefly's tail dims and finally
disappears. The next day, Seita puts a bucket down and sees Setsuko digging a
hole. He asks her what she's doing, and she says she's digging a grave. She adds
that her mother is in a grave too. Seita is shocked. He sees Setsuko take a pile
of dead fireflies and placing it in the hole, and remembers his mother being
thrown into a mass grave. As Setsuko finishes burying the fireflies, she tells
Seita that the aunt had told her.
Seita begins to cry. Tears stream down his
face. After a little bit, he takes control of himself and tells Setsuko that
they'll visit her grave. He tells Setsuko it's in the graveyard at Nunobiki,
under a big camphor tree. Setsuko looks up and tearfully asks Seita why
fireflies die so soon. Two firefly spirits fly behind them, stopping briefly
next to where Seita hid the box, before flying away into the darkness. We soon
hear laughter. A boy approaches and notices somebody's living in there. Three
other boys walk behind him. One of them says the must have lost their house.
Another think it's a crazy hermit, but another boy notices a swing Seita puts
up, and thinks it's a kid. Another boy notices the grave and pretends to pray to
it. He crumples up the "food" lain in front of it. (The fruit drops container
serves as the vase for the flowers.) A boy notices sprouts with "Setsuko" cut
into it. One of the boys holds up two dried frogs, while his friend makes a
face, asking who would eat that. Nobody he knows said the first boy, and drops
the frogs back in. A boy notices a pile of dead fireflies and kicks it. One of
the boys open up the pot. He notices ground soybeans and brutally exclaims that
he thought his food was bad. A boy that was exploring the shelter runs out,
calling ghost, and that sends his pals running away.
Meanwhile, Seita and
Setsuko were at the farmer's place. He explains that he's traded everything he
has, but can pay money for rice. The farmer eats a rice ball and apologizes, for
he cannot trade or sell them anything, saying he doesn't have enough rice for
sharing. He finishes the rice ball and drinks from a pot. Setsuko scratches
herself. The farmer asks Seita if he has any other relatives. Seita explains
that he cannot contact them. The farmer says that the best thing to do is to go
back to his aunt, for everything's being rationed. It would be impossible to
survive outside of the system, the farmer tells them. Unwilling to sacrifice his
pride, Seita thanks the farmer and goes off to ask somebody else. The farmer
tells them that because they're a naval officer's children, they should be
An American plane suddenly swoops down and fires bullets along the
ground. Seita and Setsuko duck into a garden. Seita looks up and notices a
tomato. He grabs one and hungrily eats it. He takes another and gives it to
Setsuko. Setsuko asks if they should, and Seita eagerly nods. He begins to take
more tomatoes. Walking back, they pass a fierce-looking man with a bicycle.
Passing him, Setsuko begins to drop balls she's carrying. The man looks down at
the ball of whatever. It begins to rain. Setsuko sees him looking at her and
hides the balls she's holding behind her. The man reaches down to pick up a ball
but Seita comes and beats him to it. The two hurry. The two take suspicious
glances. When the man looks back, Seita panics. He picks up Setsuko and runs
down the street. The rain turns into a rainstorm.
A few days later, Seita is
combing Setsuko's hair. He sees lice sticking onto it. He rubs his back, covered
in a rash. Next, we hear Seita telling Setsuko to eat it whether she likes it or
not, so she could grow up. Setsuko has the same rashes on her back. Setsuko
calls Seita's name and tells him she feels funny. Seita asks her if she's cold,
and she tells him she's been having diarrhea. That night, Seita is caught
stealing sugar canes from a farmer. (A different one from the one before.) Seita
apologizes, saying he just wants to bring sugar to his sister. The farmer
doesn't let him go and tells him stealing food during the war is a serious
crime. Seita tackles the farmer and attempts to run away, but he is too weak to
escape. The farmer shines a light and finds out he's been stealing potatoes too.
He throws poor Seita to the ground, but Setsuko sees him and worriedly calls out
her brother's name. Seita begins to apologize, saying he won't do it again, but
the farmer begins to take him to the cops. Seita tries to get the guy's sympathy
by telling her Setsuko needs him (Seita), but it doesn't work. Setsuko is left
calling Seita's name.
At the station, the police officer tells the farmer that
he would take care of this. The farmer is shocked at the leniency. He begins to
protest but the officer interrupts, saying he kicked the boy around enough. He
tells the farmer it's enough to be considered...ASSAULT! Scared, the farmer
quickly runs away. Sitting back down, the officer tells Seita that the Americans
hit Fukui that night. He takes off his hat and rubs his bald head before asking
Seita if he'd like a glass of water. Beaten up, Seita walks out of the police
station. Setsuko calls out his name and runs to him. Seita loses it and begins
to sob. Setsuko looks up at her with her innocent eyes and asks if she should
get a doctor. Seita stops crying and looks at her. He begins sobbing again and
gives his sister a hug. Setsuko tells her brother she has to go pee. Seita asks
her if she can hold it. Setsuko nods yes, and he carries her off. The next day,
we see Seita running. Setsuko is left in the shelter telling her doll Seita went
to the mountain for firewood.
All the while, American bombers are still
terrorizing the citizens of Japan. While everybody is scrambling inside
shelters, Seita rushes into houses and takes whatever he can find. He scarfs
rice down his mouth while his sister lies there gaunt and weak. Seita suddenly
comes in and gives Setsuko her dinner. He tells her the pumpkin tastes just like
sweet bean jelly. Setsuko looks up and tells Seita that she hates that stuff.
Seita tells her that if she doesn't eat it, then he'll get the blame from their
father. He lifts her up and begins feeding her, telling her that once she gets
well, he'll take her to the beach again. That night, air raid sirens sound while
searchlights shine in the background. Seita quickly gets up. As firebombs rain
down on the citizens, Seita rushes against the flow of the crowd. He takes
whatever he can find as houses burn around him.
After a great haul, Seita jumps
for joy. Walking back to the shelter, Seita plays around with a flashlight he
took. He begins laughing out loud as he rushes back to the shelter. In front of
the shelter, he pulls out his haul before stopping to wash his face. He looks
at shelter and says to himself (although addressed at Setsuko) that he'll
finally get her something good to eat. The next morning, Setsuko walks out,
calling for her brother, who's nowhere to be found. He's at his aunt's house,
trying to trade his haul for food, but the aunt just throws the cloth back at
him. Disappointed, Seita walks back to the shelter. He sees the doll on the
ground and rushes to pick it up. He searches for his sister, whispering her
name, and finds lying on the ground. At first he is shocked, but then he shook
her shoulders. Setsuko weakly looks over at Seita and asks for water. Seeing
that she is still alive, Seita happily nods.
At the hospital, Setsuko lifts up
her shirt, revealing rash-covered skin and ribs. The doctor tells her to breath
in and out. Seita stands behind her carrying the doll. He tells the doctor that
she's been having diarrhea for a while, along with prickly heat and a rash. He
tells the doctor that salt water hurts her skin. The doctor casually tells
Seita that Setsuko is suffering from malnutrition. He calls for the next person.
Seita asks what he can do, such as medicine or shot. Setsuko, face buried into
Seita's legs, tells him that she doesn't want a shot. As the next person walks
in, the doctor says all she needs is food. The next person (a guy who looks like
Isao Takahata) comes in and sits down. Seita suddenly yells out, asking where
can he get food! Outside, a man cuts a piece of ice with his saw. Seita walks
over. The man takes his tongs and carried the piece of ice away. Seita kneels
down, takes some ice off of the pile of crushed ice from the sawing, and gives
it to Setsuko. He gives her some more before looking at the man carrying the ice
in. He mutters that he's hungry, and asks Setsuko what she wants to eat. Setsuko
weakly replies, saying she wants tempura, sashimi, and jelly. Seita asks if she
wants anything else, so Setsuko says ice cream and fruit drops.
her up and tells her that he'll withdraw all the money and give her the food
that she needs. Setsuko buries her face into Seita's shoulders and tells Seita
that he could have it. She just wants him to stay with her. Seita pats her on
the back, telling her not to worry. He'll buy her some good food, and never
leave her again. He looks at Setsuko in the face and promises. Setsuko smiles.
The landscape in the city is bleak. A hand holds out 3,000 yen and gives it to
Seita. A man behind the line asks if there's a typhoon coming, and then mutters
that they get their "kamikaze" (divine wind) after they surrender. Seita is
shocked. He asks if it's true, and that they lost the war. The other man asks
him if he hasn't heard.
Seita is still bewildered. He asks another man if the
Great Japanese Empire really lost. It is confirmed. Seita asks about the fleet,
and the man says it's all wiped out. Shocked, Seita grabs the man by the shirt
and asks if that's why his father hasn't written. The man pushes Seita off,
saying how could he tell, and walks away. Seita curses and runs out of the bank.
He falls to his knees and pants, and mutters that he's so hungry. He looks in
his pocket and takes out the now-tattered picture of his father. Hands shaking,
he begins to walk, muttering that his father is dead too. Calling for his
father, he notices a plane fly overhead. He gets down and watches it fly off.
Setsuko lies back in the shelter, carrying her doll and the can that once held
fruit drops. Seita slowly walks in, saying he'll make her some rice. He notices
Setsuko mutter something, and tells her that he bought chicken and eggs. He
pauses. He rushes over to her. He takes the can of fruit drops and pours out its
contents. Two marbles fall out. He looks down and asks Setsuko what she has in
her mouth. He put his fingers in her mouth and takes out a marble. He tells her
that it's only a marble, not a fruit drop!
He slowly places her down and tells
her that he brought something she'd like. He goes to his bag to get it, but
Setsuko tells him to have one. He looks over and sees that she's holding a ball
of mud. He asks her what it is, and she says it's a rice ball. She said she made
it for him. Seita is saddened. Setsuko asks if he doesn't want it. Tears stream
out of his eyes and he rushes over to her with a watermelon. He shows it to
Setsuko and cuts a piece with a knife. He takes some and gives it to her. "It's
good," she says. Seita manages a smile. He put the watermelon in her hand and
tells her he'll make rice gruel with eggs. He split the watermelon open and left
it with her. Setsuko thanks Seita. Seita walks out to prepare the food as his
sister sleeps. She never woke up. The typhoon storms outside, soaking the
untouched food. Seita lies there with his sister. He has now lost everybody in
his immediate family.
The next day, a man sets a box down. He tells Seita that
it's charcoal for the cremation. He suggests that Seita do it at a temple. He
tells him that the body should be dressed lightly. Beanstalks would make a good
fire. To contrast the somber talk, the man admires the beautiful day. To further
contrast the situation, a few Japanese girls take delight in being back home
while "Home Sweet Home" plays in the background. Not far away, at the shelter,
the remains of the shelter lie there while a voice sings "Home Sweet Home."
Images of Setsuko doing cute things appear and fade away. She chases butterfly,
calls to Seita to come back soon while sitting on the swing, wipes the floor
with a branch, picks flowers for the fruit drop can, fans a fire, chases a
dragonfly, holds the umbrella, peeks from behind a tree in her underwear, eats
some meat nuggets, runs around in her bed sheets, salute in a makeshift uniform,
and pricks her finger while sewing. She licks the wound and put her finger in
her mouth. Last, she plays rock-paper-scissors with her reflection in the pond
and plays hopscotch in the grass in front of the shelter.
These scenes only
make the next scene much more painful. Seita places the hood, the wallet, the
fruit drops can, and the doll in the basket carrying Setsuko. (Interesting how
the doll escapes one holocaust only to be destroyed in another.) At the last
moment, he took the fruit drops can out and pocketed it. He covered the box,
taking one last look at his sister. He lit a match and lit what appears to be a
piece of bamboo. He tossed the burning bamboo into the pile of charcoal and
dried bean stalks underneath the box and watched the fire spread. He sat and
watched it burn from the day to the night, when the fireflies begin flying up.
He lies on the ground, watching them. As he is eating a piece of bread in front
of the ashes, he explains (in a voice-over) that the next morning, he put some
of Setsuko's ashes into the fruit drops can and left the shelter. He never
As Setsuko calls his name, the image dissolves into another.
Setsuko's rags turn into his normal clothes, and the bread turns into the fruit
drops can. He sees his sister get up and run too him. She picks up her doll and
sits down next to him. He gave her the fruit drops can, which she happily
shakes, and tells her that it's time to sleep. She nods and she lies down on,
using his leg as a pillow. Seita turns to look at the audience, before looking
forward again. He sits there, watching the modern Tokyo nightline, at peace now
that he and his sister are reunited.
(Hmm...do you think they ever met up with their parents' spirits again?)
- this article is posted with permission from the original author -
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