Fireflies, revisited

I am probably not going to rent Grave of the Fireflies again, but two comments to my recent post about depressing anime have definitely given some much-needed context to the film. Keep in mind that it’s been about five years since I watched it so I really don’t remember much of the details described below.

First, Tagore draws attention to the underlying parallel of Seita and the wartime leadership of Japan:

The death of Setsuko is not just part and parcel of the war- it is directly Seita’s fault, and it is caused by excessive egoism and pride. He allows his petty sense of self to override the survival of his family, and then lets the consequences of that decision fall on his last remaining family member by feeding himself before her. His death at the end, which is clearly self-inflicted, is a form of atonement.

Once you recognize these two themes it is not hard to see that a parallel is being drawn between Seita and the Japanese leadership that initiated the war. The Japanese have “always” (at least for a long time) viewed the Japanese nation as an amplified version of the Japanese family. The Japanese have also generally considered the welfare of one’s family/business/nation to be more important than one’s individual welfare. Just as Seita, driven by pride, put his own interests ahead of those of his family, so did the Japanese leadership of the 30s put their pride ahead of the well-being of their national family.

Tagore mentions additional themes and allusions to literature exist; I for one would like to know more and have invited him to expound at length.

Then, Quorlox mentions that he was inspired by the discussion to go rent GotF. His observations of Seita’s behavior mesh well with what Tagore describes:

There’s nothing that guarantees his sister would have survived if he hadn’t left his aunt, but he left because he didn’t wish to apologize or change his behavior. Even after the farmer encouraged him to go back, he didn’t. The few resources he had he often used to purchase items he didn’t need, such as a stove and watermelon, which aggravated the situation further.

I find this interpretation much more compelling than “it’s art, therefore you must revere it” attitude expressed by others who expressed utter astonishment that I didn’t “get” it. I would rather grok a film than get it. In other words, if there’s a message, then that is valuable. But simple emotion for its own sake is nothing more than manipulation.

I think that my initial reaction to the film (and more importantly, my wife’s reaction) was honest and fair. However, should I see it again it will be with this context in mind. I definitely won’t un-recommend the film to others, however – I note that at Don was considering watching it, so am curious to see what his review will be if he does decide to go for it.