August 8, 2008
I'm not ashamed to admit some movies have made me cry, and one film that's guaranteed to get me at least a little misty no matter how often I've seen it is Grave of the Fireflies. Directed by Isao Takahata—who people tend to forget co-founded Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki—Grave of the Fireflies is an adaptation of Akiyuki Nosaka's memoir of surviving the Allied firebombings of Kobe during World War II.
It's no great secret that Seita and Setsuko, the analogues to the author and his younger sister, eventually die; it's established right at the beginning of the movie, and the rest of the film acts as a flashback to explain what brought them to that point. It's a powerful story of familial love during the worst of ordeals, bringing with it a reminder that war affects more than just the soldiers on the battlefield.
Central Park Media released two versions of Grave of the Fireflies on DVD in 2002 and 2004 (they had the rights before the 1996 deal between Disney and Tokuma Shoten), but it's languished in out-of-print limbo for years. Just this Wednesday a new two-disc version of Grave of the Fireflies appeared in Japanese stores; at first blush, the only real difference is an essay by Nosaka, and (maybe) some more pre-production artwork.
Is this a precursor to a new Disney release in North America? I'd like to think so, but I'm not holding my breath. Disney's never seemed too sure what do with Takahata's movies; while they released the perhaps more accessible Pom Poko and My Neighbors the Yamadas three years ago, it was with minimal fanfare. The sombre Grave of the Fireflies might be trickier from their perspective, as would be Takahata's only remaining Ghibli film, the wistful Only Yesterday. A lot of lip service is given to the notion of animation that adults can watch, but there might be the fear that North America isn't ready for an animated film as powerful as Grave. Given that the U.S. and Canada are currently fighting wars on foreign soil, I'd say there isn't a better moment than right now.