Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies
(Hotaru no Haka)

5/5 Stars

Author: Nosaka Akiyuki
Director: Isao Takahata
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Release: 1988 Run Time: 88 minutes

Grave of the Fireflies is one of the most beautifully done and tragic films I have ever seen, anime or otherwise. One of the great antiwar films, Grave of the Fireflies far surpasses other antiwar anime, both in story and in visual style. The film as a poetic feel to it in parts, and the ending brought tears to my eyes.

Grave of the Fireflies is the story of Seita and his young sister, Setsuko, victims of WWII. Orphaned by a US firebombing raid that destroys their home and kills their mother, they go to stay with distant relatives in the countryside. Although their father is a Naval Officer, they can't contact him and don't even know if he is alive or dead. While things seem to be looking up for them, their new guardians soon turn against them, accusing Seita of being lazy, and selling their mothers clothes for food. This sequence may seem a little rushed, but it does a good job of showing the hardships faced by civilians in a war, even if they are well off and have a nice home. Seita, however, doesn't fully understand the difficulties being faced by everyone, and rebels against his guardians' harshness. As the relationship becomes more and more strained, Seita decides that he and his sister would be better on their own.

Settling in an old bomb shelter near a lake, Seita and Setsuko at first act as if they are on a grand adventure, away at a summer camp with no adults to tell them what to do. However, their fun doesn't last, and the turning point of the film is when Setsuko has a funeral for fireflies the two had caught the night before. Asking why something so innocent and pretty have die so soon, Setsuko poses the central question of the film, and we begin to see the hardships of war.

The ending is one of the saddest and most moving scenes I've seen, and captures the spirit of brother-sister love perfectly. While the film may be too depressing for some, it is a masterwork of anime. The animation and art are stylistically subdued, but perfectly done, and the voice acting is very good in the dub. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys moving stories and tragedies. Even non-anime fans will enjoy this film.

On another note, Grave of the Fireflies is a product of Hayao Miyazaki's animation workshop, Studio Ghibli. It was released in Japan as a double feature with My Neighbor Totoro, neither of which were expected to do well. Roger Ebert has an excellent review of the film as well, and it's one of the few anime pieces he hasn't disliked.

Grave of the Fireflies (DVD)

Friday, July 04, 2003

Vampire Hunter D

Vampire Hunter D

3.5/5 Stars

Director: Toyoo Ashida
Released: 1985
Run Time: 80 minutes

Vampire Hunter D is classic anime, and a horror story as well. Set 10,000 years in the future after a great war has destroyed the world's civilizations, Vampire Hunter D combines a very original setting with a gripping tale. The world is full of all manner of strange creatures from unusual mutants out of Science Fiction to classic Horror/Fantasy creatures such as vampires.

Vampire Hunter D is the story of a young girl, Doris Lang, who has become the target of the unwanted attentions of the vampire Count Magnus Lee. The village is terrified and unwilling to help her for fear of the Count's wrath. Luckily for her, a vampire hunter who goes by the name of D is in the area, and agrees to help her. Unbeknownst to the others, D is actually a powerful dhampire, or human-vampire hybrid. It is D's mission to rid the world of the evil represented by the vampires and their allies. D's task will not be an easy one for the Count has lived 10,000 years without being killed and has an army of monstrous creatures and mutants to protect him.

Watching Vampire Hunter D makes me wish it had be produced as an OAV rather than a movie. While I'm used to complex plots in anime that are never fully resolved, the potential of the movie and the characters demands a longer and more in-depth treatment than a movie can provide. D's character in particular was left with much to be desired. While it's understandable that he's a man of many mysteries, some things, such as why he has an intelligent talking hand, demand explanation. The art and animation are on the high end of 80's anime, but will still appear dated when compared to modern anime. This will prove particularly frustrating to anyone who has seen some of the concept art for the series, which is breathtaking.

Despite the shortcomings, Vampire Hunter D is consider one of the classic anime movies, and should be seen by anyone who's a fan of dark fantasy/horror. Some of the fight scenes are quite bloody, so if that's not your cup of tea you might want to skip this one. The movie has recently been re-released by Urban Visions, who are in the process of preparing a sequel for release. From what I've seen of the sequel, it looks to be even better than the original.

Vampire Hunter D (DVD) • Vampire Hunter D (VHS) • Vampire Hunter D Art Book by Amano Yoshitaka

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