Grave of the Fireflies Review
Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Nosaka Akiyuki, Hotaru No Haka (Grave of the Fireflies) tells the tragic story of 14yr old Seita and his 4yr old sister, Setsuko. Orphaned as a result of the ongoing Second World War, Seita and his sister struggle to survive in a world that cannot care for them, and will ultimately consume them.
The story is quite simply, devastating - Isao Takahata (Miyazaki's partner in crime) manages to bring a realism to anime which is so rarely seen, capturing both the innocence of youth and the hardships of the world that is thrust upon the characters. Watching this film is a very emotional experience, for the most part it is a very sad film to watch, but there are moments of pure joy in there, and upon repeated views I found myself overwhelmed in parts with a huge sense of relief (as you see the characters are together again, no longer facing the pain they endured).
The world of war-torn Japan, 1945, is brought to life in a slightly more rooted fashion than we have come to expect from anime. Whilst maintaining the trademark Studio Ghibli art direction, the film has to trade in fantasy for reality to really get the impact of the war across to us, the viewers. This is helped immensely by the superb musical compositions featured throughout the film courtesy of Yoshio Mamiya, and of course the stunningly beautiful final piece from Maurice Ravel.
More than anything, this is the anime film you can show to your friends and family to prove that its not all about sex and violence, but that anime can instead be used to portray a story that will surely stay with you for the rest of your days.
Whilst the information and ratings here are based on the R2 disc, I have viewed both the R0 release (from Central Park Media, released in America) and the R2 release (from Warner Japan) and have compared them below...
The R0 disc contains a Non-Anamorphic Widescreen transfer that really shows the films age. Throughout we see constant dust, scratches and the occasional jump in picture. Whilst the detail level is actually quite good, the picture does appear very washed out, plus there are constant signs of colour bleeding and general picture artifacting. It is by no means horrendous, but is not really of the standard we'd like to see on DVD.
The R2 disc is a completely different story. Presented in Anamorphic Widescreen the image is completely free of any kind of print damage seen on the R0 disc, leading me to the assumption that Warner has used a remastered print. The benefits of the R2 transfer go much further than non-existent print damage; we get perfect colour balance, along with a high level of clarity and detail. Where it falls over however is in the compression department, in the films darker scenes (the first 3 minutes is a good example, there are around 15mins worth throughout though) there is some pretty heavy pixellisation occurring, which is quite unfortunate and ruins an otherwise near flawless presentation. No other compression faults occur.
The R0 disc offers both the original Japanese Language soundtrack in Dolby 2.0, as well as an English dub in Dolby 2.0. Both tracks, whilst not offering the greatest sound clarity around, are adequately presented. I can't offer opinions on use of the Surround channels as I don't have the equipment. As with the majority of my reviews I will instead use this area to talk about the various dubs offered.
Being a purist I will immediately recommend the original Japanese Language, and in the case of this film I stick with that recommendation. I found the English dub to be quite poor, both in selection of voice actors (an adult plays the part of 4yr old Setsuko!) and the performances given, which are more important than ever in a film of this strong subject matter.
The R2 disc offers the original Japanese Language soundtrack only, presented in Dolby 2.0 it immediately strikes me as having a better clarity to it than the R0 discs offering.
The R0 disc offers English subtitles, which initially would seem to be a proper translation of the Japanese Language, but unfortunately are nothing more than a slightly truncated version of the English dubs script. They aren't all that bad, but at times the dialogue seems long winded. Of course this is only in comparison to the R2 disc, which offers both English and Japanese subtitles. But in this case I know that the R2 offers a proper literal translation of the Japanese Language track, and comparing the two shows just how much the American translators like to add to the script. But the R2 subtitle track isn't without its faults; the occasional grammatical errors and slightly jarring sentence structure could cause problems for first time viewers (I myself was caught off guard a couple of times).
The R0 disc offers a single screen of information that identifies the films original premise. There is also a so called 'Character Gallery', but rather than being a section dedicated to original artwork (I wish) it simply identifies the films main characters and allows you to view scenes from the film.
The R2 disc offers a little more, but these extras are presented in Japanese, with no subtitles making them a little limited. First of all we get the Original Theatrical Trailer, which if anything, shows just how good a job has been done for the print presented on the disc. The second extra available is a short featurette that includes interviews with the films creators, but as this is presented in Japanese it is of little use to the majority of us English only speakers. Its worth a viewing though as there are some gorgeous original paintings from the film shown in the background.
The R2 menus are worth a mention, as the background artwork used is actual original art rather than grabs from the film, in particular the audio select screen contains an astonishing piece of artwork that I only wish was available in poster form.
Whether you are an anime fan or not, this is a film you have to see at least once. For fans the choice of DVD is easy, as even though the R2 release doesn't quite meet the high standards set by the R2 Official Studio Ghibli releases, it is still a very good release, and easily surpasses the extremely average R0 disc, which I suspect will be the choice for first time viewers (if only because of the difference in cost).