Brief Synopsis: In war-torn Kobe, two orphaned children struggle to survive the closing days of World War II.
Themes: There’s a saying that it’s impossible to make an anti-war movie because the battle scenes will inevitably look cool. This movie succeeds as a pure anti-war movie. The only “battles” we see are the bombings of Kobe, while most of the focus is on the devastating effects war has on civilians. Seita and Setsuko are caught up in something they can’t escape because of the extent to which the war has devastated their home. We meet almost no (if any) soldiers in the film, and yet the civilians suffer more than the soldiers in some movies. The film also examines pride and how it can blind you to the obvious, even when circumstances are at their grimmest.
Animation: This film is very beautiful when compared to all animated films, but in terms of Ghibli’s works, it’s near the bottom of the list. Which is kind of the point. Unlike the previous Ghibli films I’ve discussed, the scenery has been ravaged by war, and while the detail is stunning, it’s almost too hard to look at. In addition, as the film continues, the children’s health declines, and their suffering is shown in horrifying detail.
Sub vs. Dub: I have only seen this movie in Japanese. I know an English dub exists, but I have no interest in seeing it. One reason will be discussed below, but I have this weird (possibly irrational) feeling that to watch the film with American voices would be in some way wrong. I can’t quite explain why, especially considering that I advocate not being a hard-line “always sub” or “always dub” person. There’s just something about this film…
Verdict: This is a phenomenal film, but it’s also one I never need to see again. When I think about the Ghibli films that I’ve seen which I like (sadly, there are two which I do not), I place them into three tiers: The Absolutely Fantastic (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Porco Rosso, Howl’s Moving Castle), The Near-Perfect (Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Whisper of the Heart, The Secret World of Arrietty), and The Very Good (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo). I like this movie. I really do. But I can’t place it into one of those categories because it’s such a different experience. It will rip out your heart and make you feel terrible for being part of a species that can commit such heinous atrocities. Certainly worth seeing. But it’ll probably be impossible to see it twice.