Grave of the Fireflies: A Soul-Crushing Wartime Film

Intro by Brandon

Grave of the Fireflies is a 1988 anime film which tells the story of two Japanese children orphaned after an American firebombing raid during World War II. It’s widely regarded as one of the saddest movies of all time. Or at least on Reddit. That’s where I read that. Anyway, it’s not just sad—it’s soul-crushing. Which of course meant that Maria and I loved it.

This is a bit of a unique film. There are a lot of war films, but not many from a civilian’s perspective, and far fewer from a child’s perspective, and that’s one of the things that really sets this film apart. The Americans who firebomb the small Japanese town aren’t painted as evil, they’re just this force of nature. Seita and Setsuko, the two leads in this film, don’t make the best choices—and I wouldn’t expect them to, they’re 14 and 4 years old, and their actions and choices are reflective of that, but it’s something you don’t often see in war movies. Wartime trauma for civilians is an under-discussed topic, and it made for a fascinating, and heartbreaking, film.

The trauma in this film gave Maria and me a lot to talk about in regards to mental health. I go into some of the cultural differences that help explain not only the choices of Seita and Setsuko, but many of the other characters in this film. Maria talks about the link between mental health and physical health and how people struggling with their physical health are often forced to overlook their deeper mental health issues.

So grab a box of tissues and let’s talk about this harrowing World War II story in this episode of Peculiar Picture Show, the podcast that talks about movies, maladies, and mental health!

Show Summary

General: This is a very sad movie

B: Second time seeing this; heartbreaking story of two orphan children during World War II

M: First time seeing this; very sad; double feature with My Neighbor Totoro

Idea Exchange

B: Pearl Harbor: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, starring Jack Black and Sarah Silverman

M: N/A

Like: A sad film that made us feel things

B: Format (anime); WWII Japanese perspective; made feel some things; overall execution 

M: Format (anime); WWII Japanese perspective; sad; not focused on war but lives are affected by it

Dislike: It’s hard to like kids with annoying voices

B: English dub version 

M: Hard for me to get into a story with little children; Setsuko’s crying and screaming; least favorite Studio Ghibli film; translation of the film’s title; beginning

Mental Health: Wartime culture and the link between physical health and mental health

B: Japanese cultural differences to explain how some of the people in this film behave; wartime culture; poor choices; sociology; not traditional villain/hero story

M: Link between physical health and mental health


B: Seita is a character who lives by his ideals, and he believes that love is all he needs. That right there is the main conflict in the film: choosing to stick to your ideals versus doing what you have to in order to survive.   

B: In wartime, values and ideals are a luxury, and [during World War II] the price was skyrocketing, and that’s something we see here. It shows that in America and throughout most of the world, they’re dealing with this same problem, but values and ideals are just not enough. 

M: This film shows how physical health and mental health are inextricably linked. When people don’t have access to adequate healthcare in general, mental health care is going to lack, and vice versa.

Next Movie

Secretary (2002) – our favorite BDSM movie

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