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Grave Of The Fireflies
Collector's Series

review by Zach B.

 

 

Running Time: 88 minutes

Starring the voices of (English): J. Robert Spencer, Rhoda Chrosite, Veronica Taylor, Amy Jones
(Japanese Voices): Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara, Akemi Yamaguchi

Screenplay by: Isao Takahata
Original Story by: Akiyuki Nosaka

Directed by: Isao Takahata

 

Studio: Central Park Media

Retail Price: $29.99

Features:
Disc 1: Storyboards, Trailers
Disc 2: Interview with Roger Ebert, Interview with Isao Takahata, Author Akiyuki Nosaka's Bio, Director Isao Takahata's Bio, Japanese Release Promo, DVNR Featurette, Art Gallery, Locations, Then and Now, Bonus Storyboards, U.S. Trailer, Japanese Trailer, Historical Perspective, Trailers, DVD-ROM: Reviews, Awards, Script, Cast List, Production Credits, Art Gallery

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital Stereo, Japanese Dolby Digital Stereo, English Subtitles, Chapters (12 Chapters)

Released: October 8th, 2002

 

 

"Grave Of The Fireflies" was one of the first ever DVD titles I reviewed on this site, and it was quite a privilege. Even though at the time I was reviewing movies from my OWN collection, "Grave Of The Fireflies" was one title that always stood out in my collection (and still does). I am always happy to review titles that mean so much to me, especially ones that not many people have seen in hopes that they will check them out for themselves and spread the word along about how great they are. "Grave Of The Fireflies" will always rank as one of the best films I have ever seen, and it is certainly a privilege for me to revisit it.

The film opens with a janitor, cleaining a train station, noticing a candy container by a dead teenage boy. Puzzled to an extent and making like it's mere junk, he throws it outside. But the empitness of the container is a perfect metaphor for the story that is about to be told, and be assured that the tale it holds is not junk and should never be thrown away (how's that for symbolism?). We meet Seita, and his four year old little sister, Setsuko, both who are spirits and are long dead. The onslaught of their past begins as we flashback to a bomb attack on their city, where their mother is killed during an air raid. The only family the two have left is their cruel aunt since their father is away. Sadly, their aunt only favors her own family and could not care less for the struggling sibling pair. Disgusted by their aunt's lack of empathy, Seita and Setsuko leave her and find an abandoned bomb shelter in the countryside. Yet with little food, they try their best to live on, but survival becomes harder and harder.

Most people stereotype Japanese animation with schoolgirls, pornographic images to an extent and those huge eyes which light right up. However, not all animé is like that. "Grave of the Fireflies" is a perfect example. Directed and written by famous Japanese visionary Isao Takahata, the other half of the legendary Studio Ghibli (the other side would be Hayao Miyazaki who is responsible for Princess Mononoke, "My Neighbor Totoro" and the recent "Spirited Away"), "Grave of the Fireflies" is an incredibly profound and moving film about the effects of war on the innocent. It is based on a true story by a famous Japanese writer, yet much of the strength the film showcases is how it stays with you long after, provoking you to think about how cruel war can be.

I have seen a great deal of Takahata's work, and this is by far my favorite. Every time I sit down and watch "Grave Of The Fireflies," I cannot help but be sucked in due to the story, the wonderful characters and stunning imagery. But with that said, it is always a very hard film for me to watch. Even if the film is merely animated, that does not mean that it isn't effective. Quite the contrary. The film was animated in a soft, "brown" kind of style, making for more effective animation as far as design and certainly more realistic. If the film was live action rather than animation, I think the impact would be much less than what it is in animated form. The bleakness and detail really does strike you more than you would ever expect.

The box of this new Collector's Series DVD advertises a quote from film critic Roger Ebert. Often a champion of the underseen flick and of Japanese animation itself, Ebert's quote reads that the film "belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made." I certainly agree to that, but I would go a step further, saying it belongs on any list of the greatest films ever made. Very few films can move you to the highest point and push you time in and time out. That is exactly what "Grave Of The Fireflies" does. But like any great movie, it will stick with you for the rest of your life. Not just in "Oh, remember that scene?" but rather in its haunting, truthful message which will make you think and realize what war really is every single time you see this movie and every single time you think about it. That is no easy accomplishment which I find that very few films achieve. It is truly a spectacular film on all kinds of levels that should strike some kind of chord with anyone who sets down to watch it (and if it doesn't, it's pretty safe to say that you don't have a heart or possibly a soul). Simply put, this film.

There is only movie I have cried when watching it, and that is "Grave Of The Fireflies." The downright heartbreaking finale moved me to tears, and I am not ashamed to admit it. The final images are burned into my consciouness forever, and stood out in my head for days after seeing it for the first time. Some call this film the "Schindler's List" of animation. And like Mr. Ebert's quote, I couldn't agree more to this either. Though "Grave" and "Schindler's List" take places in rather different settings, they each take place during World War II and show the hardships innocent people had to face and suffer. Besides the fact that it gets you thinking about many did not deserve to die just for being human, it also brings to mind at what price do we get the goals our own countries seek, and how in war, there will always be losers and never winners. Is destructive fighting always the answer?

Takahata shows what an amazing director he is with "Grave Of The Fireflies," and this movie certainly put his name on the map. The screenplay is excellent, never feeling dumbed down by any means with effective characters, good dialogue and how nothing is ever sugarcoated. The story progresses naturally, just building up and up in a fine, gradual manner that all comes together perfectly, making you feel natural emotions and how there is always melancholy throughout. The moving and haunting score just adds to the sadness of the film. Simply put, "Grave Of The Fireflies" is a must have for anyone's collection, serving yet as another reminder in that the past must never be forgotten.

Despite how critically acclaimed the film actually is and how much I treasure it, I would never think it would be revisited on DVD since Central Park Media's first release, released nearly four years to the day of this new one, was perfectly adaquete. I am incredibly happy they proved me wrong. The film now has gotten the treatment it rightfully deserves, complete with fantastic in-depth supplements and an anamorphic transfer (yes!). If you missed it the first time, then there probably is no excuse to miss it again. If you've never seen this masterpiece, then rush out and buy it and prepared to be astonished. I know you'll agree with what I've said and you won't be sorry. Not one person should be disappointed with this release.

 

The new 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is gorgeous (and it's so nice to have an anamorphic transfer of the film!). The film's look I believe is intended to be rather soft, just as the transfer is. Overall, that works in favor for the movie. The print itself is very, very clean and I didn't notice any major detractors on it throughout. There is no edge enhancment whatsoever either, same goes for noise and edge halos. Still, what's so striking about this new transfer is how beautiful and detailed it really looks. I mentioned the film's unique animation style for animé, and it's beautifully reflected here. There is a sense of boldness to the colors, yet like the film's tone, give off a drab and depressing sense. The colors are finely saturated in that they do stand out. The animation flows naturally and flawlessly. Simply excellent.

 

This might be considered the only weak link to this new edition, but by no means is it bad. English and Japanese Dolby Stereo tracks are included on the release. The stereo tracks do work. In each language, the sound effects are quite clear and easy to hear and give some added effect, while dialogue is very clear. The haunting music also works quite nicely throughout. Fidelity is good, but still, the tracks do have their own limits. I wish this could have been a 5.1 mix somehow. Nonetheless, each track does not disappoint. As far as the dub, it is very nice. The voice actors bring perfect life to the characters, and the words do match the mouths most of the time. English subtitles for the Japanese track are included.

 

It makes me incredibly happy that "Grave Of The Fireflies" is getting more in-depth and interesting supplements this time around, and Central Park Media has done an amazing job of just that. The first disc consists of Trailers for other Central Park Media based titles, including "Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Black Rose Saga," "Now & Then, Here & There," "Legend of Himiko," "The Silk Road," "Pearl Harbor" and a promo for Big Apple Anime Fest.

The other extra is obviously much better and far more interesting. Storyboards is where you can watch the ENTIRE film in storyboards. Not just certain scenes or comparison clips, but the WHOLE thing. You can even toggle back and forth using your angle button between the final product and the boards themselves. Certainly, this is great to see how the film was planned out and how it's visual look came together, so for anything you're curious about or want to see in how it was originally done, this is for you. Certainly, an excellent touch that other animated films on DVD who offer a similar but more limited feature cannot rival.

The second disc houses most of the extras, everything which is rather outstanding. One of my favorites is certainly the Interview With Roger Ebert. I respect Ebert as a critic very much, as I do enjoy his reviews and syndicated television show. Anyone who is very familiar with the "Grave Of The Fireflies" knows that Ebert is one of the film's greatest champions. He really hits the mark in this interview, perfectly discussing and honing the film's content in strong perspective. The interview has clips from the film put here and out, and Ebert discusses what the film means to him and why it is just so important. This is a must watch.

Under Creative Team Extras, we have several things. Also a must watch is the Interview With Director Isao Takahata. It is in Japanese and in full frame, but has English subtitles. Featuring behind the scenes footage of Studio Ghibli (yay!) and film clips, this is just so damn fascinating. Takahata discusses so much on the production from the origins of the product, what storytelling is to him, voice acting, technical challeneges the film faced, the film in a historical perspective. Lasting nearly twenty minutes, this, again, is a must watch.

Text Biographies that move automatically played against the film's haunting score are presented for Takahata and the book's author Akiyuki Nosaka. There is also a Japanese Relese Promo. I'm assuming this is a Japanese EPK type of deal, but it is quite insightful and far from fluffy. Author Nosaka talks about his thoughts of bringing his story to the screen, and that he thinks that the film works best as an animated film (I certainly agree). A much younger Takahta is also here, and he talks about the story and themes. Art director Nizo Yamamoto talks about how important the visual style is to the story too. Topped with film clips, behind the scenes footage and stills, this is another must see.

Under the Production Extras section, the DVNR Featurette is presented in anamorphic widescreen and focuses on creating the DVD transfer. A master from Japan was a bunch of film reels, so the creation of creating the perfect anamorphic print is discussed and shown how it's done in matching two versions, evening out the Japanese and English tracks and the video restoriation (with some nice visual comparisons). Central Park Media video production manager Tom Wayland, DJM Films video editor Charlies Weissman and Audio Plus Video International restoration engineer Robert Cocchini talk about their jobs and the process. Well done, even if it might not appeal to everybody.

An automated Art Gallery played against the film score is included, plus real-life photos against those in the movie of locations in Locations, Then & Now. Very nice, and there are even some facts included under some of the real-life photos. A DVD U.S. Trailer is included, plus the original Japanese Trailer.

Historical Perspective, presented in anamorphic widescreen, is a discussion with Theodore Cook and Haruko Taya Cook, the authors of Japan At War and Emperor's War, People's Wars. The video and sound quality aren't quite flattering on the interviews, and clips from the film are used, but this is a very interesting discussion on the film's accuracy, the war in Japan at the time and details about the war itself. Some may be turned off by this, but I found it rather intriguing and learned a lot from this. It might not directly relate to the film, but the film clips included over the talking at times help bridge the gap. This is more informative from the story's historical side, and certainly worth watching. A lot is to be gained.

Rounding out this fine set are even more Trailers. Big Apple Anime Fest promo and "Revolutionary Girl: Utena: The Black Rose Saga" are here again, as well as "Harmagedon," "Legend Of The Dragon Kings: Under Fire," "Record of Lodoss War" and "Project A-ko." On the DVD-ROM side, you get artwork, the script, weblinks, film credits, reviews, awards and a bit more informative goodies to check out.

 

"Grave Of The Fireflies" is one of my absolute favorite films of all time, and if you've seen it, then you know exactly why (or you could just read my review). Central Park Media has wisely decided to revisit this groundbreaking film, and they have done a superb job in doing so. Spread over two discs, the supplements perfectly represent the film and its message, the sound works fine and the anamorphic transfer is a major improvement over the first release's non-anamorphic transfer. This is a must own for any major film fan, and certainly ranks as one of the best releases of 2002.