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Grave of the Fireflies
火垂るの墓 / Hotaru no Haka (1988)
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Synopsis
by: ajnrules

Seita and Setsuko   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.

They stop 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.

Seita rushes 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 around them.

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.)

After the 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 war effort.

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 porridge.

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 back.

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 brave.

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.

Seita carries 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 returned.

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.

The End.

(Hmm...do you think they ever met up with their parents' spirits again?)

ajnrules


- this article is posted with permission from the original author -




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