Monthly Archives: February 2014

Analysis of Grave of the Fireflies

grave of the firefliesSynopsis

Grave of the Fireflies is based on the semi-autobiographical short story by Akiyuki Nosaka. The film is set in Japan during the final months of World War II, and tells the story of two siblings—an adolescent boy named Seita and his younger sister, Setsuko—their efforts to survive during wartime, and their eventual deaths. The film opens with a dying Seita sitting on the floor of a train station. The rest of the film is told to the viewer through a flashback narrated by Seita’s spirit.


Grave of the Fireflies is probably Studio Ghibli’s darkest film. At first glance, Fireflies might seem to be an anti-war film (something that director Isao Takahata has denied fervently), but there’s more to it than that. Grave of the Fireflies serves as a reminder of Japan’s recent past during a time when younger generations of Japanese may have forgotten, or can no longer recall, the devastation of World War II.

In her article Transcending the Victim’s History: Takahata Isao’s Grave of the Fireflies, Wendy Goldberg argues that while Fireflies offers a realistic picture of suffering during World War II, the film is also critical of “blind patriotism that masks selfish impulses during the war and, afterward, Japan’s inability to confront this past.”

Seita is a prime example of this blind patriotism. He looks up to his father (who is a naval officer in the war) and mentions throughout the film that his father will punish Japan’s enemies and bring them to justice. Even as his world literally goes up in flames, Seita holds onto his delusion that everything will turn out okay in the end.

His naiveté and pride end up shutting him away from the rest of society. After the death of their mother, Seita and Setsuko come into the care of their distant aunt, who possesses selfish impulses as well as the same blind patriotism as Seita. She singles Seita out and resents the fact that he and his sister get special treatment because their father is in the navy. She accuses Seita of being complacent and not supporting the war effort, and praises those who do.  Eventually, Seita grows tired of her criticisms and sets off on his own with his sister in tow, believing in his own capabilities to care for the two of them.

Seita and Setsuko make their home in a cave shelter where, despite Seita’s best efforts, Setsuko dies tragically of malnutrition. With his sister gone, Seita’s only source of hope is his father’s return from the war. However, he finds out that his father is likely dead, and that Japan has surrendered unconditionally, which effectively snuffs out the last of his dreams.

The reality of war and the destruction it brings dawns on Seita too late. Not long after Setsuko’s death, Seita dies in a train station, one of many children who were lost during the war.

The symbolism of the fireflies in the film is hard to miss. Fireflies only live for a day, showing the fleetingness of life and the ultimate hopelessness of a war that cannot be won.


Grave of the Fireflies is not so much an anti-warm film as it is a reminder of Japan’s dark past. While the film tells of the tragic deaths of two children, Seita and Setsuko aren’t the only ones to die during the war. Grave of the Fireflies seeks to paint a realistic picture of the horrors of war and how the events of World War II end up shaping Japan’s future, even to this day.


Goldberg, W. (2009). Transcending the Victim’s History: Takahata Isao’s Grave of the Fireflies. Mechademia 4(1), 39-52. University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved February 18, 2014, from

Takahata, I. (Director). (1988). Grave of the Fireflies [Motion Picture]. Japan: Studio Ghibli



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Analysis of Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Castle in the Sky (1986) 1To kick-start our journey into the world of Studio Ghibli films, I decided to write about a film that I, honestly, didn’t know much about until early last year when I watched it for the very first time- Laputa: Castle in the Sky. This movie was recommended to me by a friend of mine, and after a few months of putting it off, I sat down and watched it. As with every Studio Ghibli film I had seen thus far, I was very impressed, not only with the rich setting and engaging plot, but with the themes that jumped out at me.
Something I really love about Studio Ghibli films is that there always seems to be a tangible message behind every one of them, and Castle in the Sky is no exception.


Laputa (named after the flying island in Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift- a SparkNotes summarization of the book for quick reference can be found here) is a once-great floating city in the sky. The city was technologically advanced in its prime, and its inhabitants were able to coexist harmoniously with nature. The Laputian people lived peacefully until they were forced to flee the city due to an unnamed catastrophic event. Castle in the Sky is set many years after Laputa was deserted, and it is no more than a myth in most people’s eyes.

In the film, a girl named Sheeta is sought after by pirates as well as the military (led by Muska, an extremely ambitious man with his own agenda); both groups are after the crystal necklace in her possession, as they all believe it is the key to finding Laputa and unlocking its secrets. In a desperate escape attempt, Sheeta falls from an airship and—literally—lands in the arms of Pazu, a hardworking youth whose dream is to follow in his father’s footsteps and see Laputa with his own eyes. The duo are then swept up in a fierce race to reach Laputa before the military and save it from being used as a tool for military advancement or a means to satisfy greed.


Director Hayao Miyazaki envisions Laputa in the film as an “ecotopia” (or ecological utopia), defined by as “an ecologically ideal region or form of society”. While Laputa is technologically advanced, much of its technology is closely intertwined with nature (this becomes increasingly apparent as the characters explore Laputa, which is actually built around an enormous tree that serves as a base for the entire city). In fact, the Laputians had such an intimate relationship with nature that their robots (which are proven to be highly indestructible and highly effective as tools of war) are tasked with guarding and protecting nature.

In the article The City Ascends: Laputa: Castle in the Sky as Critical Ecotopia, Anthony Lioi asserts that the “default mode” of the robots is not that of destruction, but of caretaking. The robots only show their destructive capacities in response to human brutality. From this, viewers can assume that Miyazaki is trying to make a point: technology and nature can coexist peacefully. The reason the two have not been able to yet is because humans see nature as an obstacle to be overcome, not as something they can live alongside. This is hinted at when Muska is in Laputa’s royal chambers; he is disgusted and horrified by the plant roots that cover the walls and encase the giant crystal that is much like the “heart” of the city. Muska keeps commenting on how he plans to burn the roots to get rid of them, and that they don’t belong in a place like the royal chambers.

Towards the end of Castle in the Sky, Sheeta and Pazu chant the “spell of destruction” in order to save Laputa from the greedy hands of Muska. The entire city is not destroyed, however; on the contrary, Laputa simply sheds its weapons platform, leaving the rest of the city intact. After this, Laputa ascends even further into the sky where it is impossible to reach while Sheeta and Pazu look on from the safety of their kite-plane.


Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a film that leaves viewers with the message that while we as a society are not yet able to coexist peacefully with nature, it is possible. Laputa is not destroyed; it continues its existence even after its weapons are gone. It ascends further into the sky, seemingly unreachable, which can be reminiscent of the idea that Laputa is an ideal that we should strive to achieve someday. We are unable to achieve this ideal at the moment, but it doesn’t mean we never will.


ecotopia. 2013. In Retrieved February 15, 2014, from

Lioi, A. (2010). The City Ascends: Laputa: Castle in the Sky as Critical Ecotopia. ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies, 5. Retrieved from

Miyazaki, H. (Director). (1986). Laputa: Castle in the Sky [Motion Picture]. Japan: Studio Ghibli

Sparknotes Editors. (2003). SparkNote on Gulliver’s Travels. Retrieved February 15, 2014, from


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An introduction to the world of Studio Ghibli

Ask anyone walking down the street if they’ve ever heard of Disney, and chances are, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end on a “are you serious?” look. It’s no surprise, really; you’ll sooner find someone who has no idea who the current President of the United States is than someone who has never heard of the animation giant.

Ask anyone if they’ve heard of Studio Ghibli, however, and the average person will probably ask, “What’s that?” This is also not surprising. While Studio Ghibli is renowned in its home country of Japan, it’s far from being a household name in countries like the United States. While it’s a bit of a tall order, I hope to help rectify that.

Studio Ghibli is to Japan what Walt Disney Animation Studios is to the United States. While it was founded fairly recently compared to Disney (Studio Ghibli was founded in 1985 by five men, including renowned animators Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata), it has made quite a splash in the world of animation. In fact, Studio Ghibli’s 2001 film, Spirited Away, was the first and, so far, the only anime film to win an Academy Award, beating out titles like Lilo and Stitch and Ice Age.

Film critics and seasoned moviegoers alike praise Studio Ghibli for their rich, hand-drawn, traditionally animated films, but it remains, as a whole, quite unknown to the general American public.

A common misconception people have about Studio Ghibli is that you have to like anime in order to enjoy their films. What a lot of people who aren’t familiar with Studio Ghibli don’t realize, however, is that its films have something to offer for everyone. Studio Ghibli films are a far cry from the stereotypical big eyed, round-faced anime characters people tend to think of when you mention the word “anime”.

These films are heartwarming and full of charm, filled with quirky characters that are also relatable. While many children’s cartoons may seem formulaic after a while, Studio Ghibli films are quite varied in content, subject matter, and storylines. There’s always something new to see whenever you watch a Studio Ghibli film, and I highly recommend these films to anyone.


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