April 7th, 2005

The Grave Of The Fireflies

The Grave of the Fireflies is the saddest thing. And it's a cartoon film. Not an American or European cartoon film of course. Japanese. For some reason the West has got it in its head that animation means kids and comedy. I don't know why, but I expect it has something to do with the market dominance, through the whole of the sound era, of the Disney corporation.

Grave of the Fireflies is about two children dying of malnutrition in Tokyo at the end of WWII. (I'm not giving anything away here- the ending is the beginning and the main story is told in flashback.) Apart from some ghostly appearances (very Japanese) it's like an Italian neo-realist movie in its quiet and utterly inexorable march towards the pre-ordained conclusion. It takes a neo-realist view of human nature too. There are no villains; no-one is to blame. People behave unkindly, but they're all under pressure. Food is short, the bombers are flying over daily and the children just sort of slip through a net which, by this stage of the proceedings, has great ragged holes in it.

It's been said the film is anti-American. Well, it's the Americans who are dropping the bombs. But that's a fact of history and I don't see how it can be massaged away. And the movie-makers are well-aware how it was Japan's own imperialistic madness that brought her to this point. No-one individually is to blame, but everyone is implicated in the hubris and self-deception- including, in their innocent and uncomprehending way- the children themselves, who are the son and daughter of a proud naval officer.

I don't suppose any film has better caught the horror of aerial bombardment. The planes drone in- impassive steel pterodactyls- and fire rains down. The killing is indiscriminate, detached, scientifically ingenious. I have never understood (and I'm going off on one of my hobby-horses here) why it's considered wicked to deliver explosives in a body-belt or hi-jacked car but righteous to drop them from a plane. Is it simply because one is the way of the dispossessed and the other the way of the powerful? Or does it somehow absolve you of responsibility for your victims if you don't know who they are?

It's amazing how quickly our culture got over its initial squeamishness about aerial bombing. When Hitler's Condor legion killed civilians at Guernica during the Spanish Civil War there was international outrage and Picasso painted a memorial picture which is the greatest piece of public art of the 20th century. But just a few years later both sides in the Second World War were dropping bombs on civilian targets as a matter of course. And ever since then, bombing has been the world's preferred way of waging war. We intend to liberate Iraq? Sadly this will involve bombing her cities to buggery first, destroying her infrastructure and killing her children- thousands upon thousands of them.

The Grave Of The Fireflies ends with the ghosts of the two children looking down from a hill on the skyscrapers of modern Tokyo. Never forget how this shining civilisation of ours is built on the graves of the innocent.

Never forget.