Los Angeles’ Secret Movie Club Hosts Anime Buffet Series in 2020

In 2020, the Los Angeles-based Secret Movie Club is hosting screenings of some of the most beloved anime of all time, as part of their Anime Buffet programming slate, which will run from January through April 2020. The Anime Buffet slate is scheduled to include such films as Ghost in the Shell, Perfect Blue, Paprika, Millennium Actress, Metropolis (2001), The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Vampire Hunter D, Grave of the Fireflies, and Tokyo Godfathers. Screenings will alternate between two different locations: the Vista Theater in Los Feliz, the historic single screen theater built in 1922, and the Club, Secret Movie Club’s new downtown location.

“Secret Movie Club loves to make new discoveries with its programs. Japanese anime is so big and complex, so we wanted to do a series that showcases how diverse these movies are,” said Secret Movie Club Founder Craig Hammill, “As programmers, it’s easy to get lazy and and just show the great Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki films, which we love, but we wanted to go deeper. This series gives us the chance to do a mini-retrospective of the work of anime legend Satoshi Kon, as well as a screening of Vampire Hunter D, an early anime masterpieces that pushed the artform with adult content, and the emotionally profound film Grave of the Fireflies and the popular Cowboy Bebop (which is almost sold out already). We look at these series as journeys. And really look forward to going on this anime journey with our audience.”

Attendees can purchase limited edition Secret Movie Club posters for every screening at all events, which feature new art by contemporary illustrators. Each film is preceded by a brief talk from Secret Movie Club founder Craig Hammill and a trivia question for the audience.

COWBOY BEBOP:THE MOVIE

(2001, Sony, dir by Shinichiro Watanabe, 35mm, 115mns)

Friday, January 10, 2020 @ 11:59p, The Vista

In 2071, earth has been ravaged by catastrophe. Humans have colonized other planets and the universe is a new Wild West. A group of Bounty Hunters travel on the spaceship BeBop in search of quarry and rewards. When a contagion gets released in a truck disaster on Mars, our heroes-Spike, Jet, Faye, Ed, and Ein (a dog with human-grade smarts due to artificial enhancement) go off in search of the culprit and the reward that goes with it.

“One of the great things with Japanese anime, as with all cinema and art, is how each set of creators imbue the genre with their own personal style and stamp,” said Craig Hammill. “Cowboy Be Bop, as its title itself implies, is a mashup of sci-fi, westerns, Hong Kong action movies, and an improvisatory iconoclastic jazz rhythm that make the viewing experience a total blast and totally singular.”

VAMPIRE HUNTER D

(1985, Sentai Filmworks, dir by Toyoo Ashida, 80mns)

Friday, January 17, 2020 @ 7:30p, The Club, 1917 Bay Street, 2nd Floor, LA, CA 90021

The movie centers on Doris Lang, the daughter of a werewolf hunter, who gets bitten by 10,000 year old Count Magnus Lee one night. She then meets a strange vampire hunter, who only goes by the name D, and employs him to take on the long-lost vampire lord and try to help her from becoming a vampire herself.

Vampire Hunter D is one of the earliest examples of Japanese anime that was made explicitly with teenagers and adults more in mind than children,” said Hammill. “Made for the then emerging direct to video market, Vampire Hunter D had a smaller budget than its feature film peers. But in a strange way, this freed up director Toyoo Ashida to make a more exciting, violent, sensual animation. Ashida has gone on the record as saying his intent with the movie was to make something thrilling that tired students could enjoy during study breaks rather than make an anime that further exhausted them. Full of genre mash-ups, amazing art and design, and storytelling, Vampire Hunter D definitely serves as a prototype and torch in the darkness for future directors like Satoshi Kon, who will take anime into ever more complex, adult, shadowy realms.”

GHOST IN THE SHELL

(1995, Lionsgate, dir by Mamoru Oshii, 85mns)

Saturday, January 18, 2020 @ 11:59p, The Vista

Often the cyberpunk genre, which would come to full flourish here in the United States with the Wachowski’s The Matrix, can be traced most directly to two Japanese anime parents: 1988’s Akira and 1995’s Ghost in the Shell. Often considered one of the greatest Japanese anime movies of all time, Ghost in the Shell dives head first into the darker, deeper waters of more adult sci-fi.

It’s 2029 and the human body can be augmented with “smart” prosthetic cybernetics. The most recent innovation, and the most terrifying, is a cyberbrain, which allows humans to now go online/get hooked into the internet, straight through their neural pathways. Our hero, Motoko Kusanagi, is part of an elite squad that fights crime in “New Port City” in Japan. Currently, they are kept busy by an arch criminal known as “The Puppet Master” who appears to have the ability to hack into these “cyberbrains” and get folks to assassinate, kill, commit crimes. As Motoko further explores what’s going on with both the Puppet Master and the innovations in cybernetics, she stumbles across a revelation that goes to the very heart of our philosophical understanding of what makes us unique individuals: what constitutes our “soul.”

PAPRIKA

(2006, Sony Pictures Classics, dir by Satoshi Kon, 35mm, 90mns)

Friday, January 31, 2020 @ 11:59p, The Vista

If Hayao Miyazaki is synonymous with a kind of all-ages wildly imaginative Japanese anime, then director Satoshi Kon is synonymous with a Japanese anime that dares to go to the very limits of what any kind of cinema can explore in terms of human psychology, fear, desire, imagination. And he does it in the most creative and miraculous of artistic ways.

Paprika is one of his wildest mind-bending creations of all. In the near-future, there is a device called the “DC Mini” which allows Dr. Atsuko Chiba to enter the dreams of her patients (using her alter-ego “Paprika”) to help try to discover the root of their fears, anxieties, and hang ups. But the problem is that the “DC Mini” is still in prototype mode with no restrictions or safety barriers whatsoever. And if it gets into the wrong hands (which of course it does), it allows the thieves to enter dreams for more sinister and nefarious reasons.

METROPOLIS

(2001, Sony, dir by Rintaro, 113mns total, 35mm, Japanese with English subtitles)

Saturday, February 1, 2020 @ 10:45p, The Club

Written by Katsohiro Otomo (writer/director of the classic anime Akira), Metropolis shares much of its DNA with that seminal anime classic including a central character who is rocked to their psychological core by the realization of their “super human” abilities and an impending apocalypse that threatens the entire foundations of a huge city.

MILLENNIUM ACTRESS

(2002, 11 Arts, dir by Satoshi Kon, 82mns, Japanese with English subtitles)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020 @ 8p, The Club

Millennium Actress tells the emotional story (in a decidedly surreal and modernist way) of famous actor Chiyoko Fujiwara, who tells her life story to documentarians and explains she only ever became an actress in the hopes of being recognized by an artist/political rebel she fell in love with as a teenager and never saw again. As Chiyoko tells her story, it becomes hard to tell what’s her real life, what are movie scenes she starred in, and where fiction/reality meet and diverge.

Special Note: There will be three originally written 3-4 minute monologues performed by three actresses ahead of the screening running a total of 10-12 minutes.

PERFECT BLUE

(1997, GKIDS, dir by Satoshi Kon, 35mm, 81mns)

Friday, February 21, 2020 @ 11:59p, The Vista

Kon fully commits to an anime that is as rich, dark, and complex as any Scorsese, Kubrick, Lynch, or Bergman movie. But with the added benefit of being able to cinematically represent psychological states of mind in a way that is often impossible in live-action cinema.

“If you want to see anime that absolutely succeeds in expanding the playing field of what cinema can do, come join us for Perfect Blue,” said Hammill.

THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME

(2006, FUNimation, directed by Mamoru Hosoda, 98mns; English dubbed version)

Saturday, March 14, 2020 @ 10:30a, the Vista

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time tells the story of young teenager Makoto Konno who discovers a magical object in her high school that allows her to leap through time and prevent situations that caused her great embarrassment. This premise, as with all good premises fully explored, deepens into a meditation on wish fulfillment versus reality. Makoto, first using the device for frivolous things, comes to realize that the device has its price. And that she is not the only one using it…

GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES

(1988, GKids, directed by Isao Takahata, 90mns; Japanese with English subtitles)

Saturday, April 4, 2020 @ 10:30a, the Vista

One of the absolute greatest animes ever made, Grave of the Fireflies, directed by Isao Takahata, deals with siblings Seita and Satsuko, who have to rely on each other to survive after they’re separated from their parents during the American fire-bombing of Tokyo in the late stages of World War II.

Tickets can be purchased here:

https://www.eventbrite.com/d/ca–los-angeles/anime-buffet-secret-movie-club/?page=1

Secret Movie Club is a group project among the founders and the audience. Audience suggestions are taken and often used. Secret Movie Club aims to celebrate the wonderful experience that comes from watching the world’s greatest movies in great movie theaters with great audiences.

Section23 Films Announces February 2020 Release Slate

Home video distributor Section23 Films has announced its February 2020 slate of releases featuring Sentai Filmworks smash hit series Food Wars! The Third Plate. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and special Limited-Edition Premium Box Set.

Product details follow, in order of release

Coming February 2020

Title: THE MAGNIFICENT KOTOBUKI
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Run Time: 300 min.
Street Date: 2/4/2020
Format: BD
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
SRP: $59.98

SYNOPSIS: In a desolate world where the safest form of transporting cargo is by zeppelin; air pirates roam the sky, preying on aerial commerce and holding remote towns for ransom. Against these airborne marauders, the only defense is to hire high-flying protection of your own, and that’s where mercenary pilots like the girls of the Kotobuki Squadron come in. Behind the joysticks of their lightweight Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa fighters, these lady falcons play a deadly game of escort, where a single mistake can end up in a fiery crash or mid-air collision. But for birds of prey like Kylie, Reona, Chika, Emma, Kate, and Zara, the danger is worth it for the chance to spread their wings and soar into the heavens. The wild blue yonder gets even wilder as every dogfight becomes a catfight in The Magnificent Kotobuki.

Title: GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES STEELBOOK
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Run Time: 89 min.
Street Date: 2/11/2020
Format: BD
Language: English & Japanese with English Subtitles
SRP: $69.98

SYNOPSIS: As the Empire of the Sun crumbles upon itself and a rain of firebombs falls upon Japan, the final death march of a nation is echoed in millions of smaller tragedies. This is the story of Seita and his younger sister Setsuko, two children born at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and now cast adrift in a world that lacks not the care to shelter them, but simply the resources. Forced to fend for themselves in the aftermath of fires that swept entire cities from the face of the earth, their doomed struggle is both a tribute to the human spirit and the stuff of nightmares. Beautiful, yet at times brutal and horrifying. Based on the retellings of survivor Nosaka Akiyuki and directed by Iaso Takahata (co-founder, with Hayao Miyazaki, of Japan’s legendary Studio Ghibli,) Grave of the Fireflies has been universally hailed as an artistic and emotional tour de force. Now digitally remastered and restored, it is one of the rare films that truly deserves to be called a masterpiece.

Title: REAL GIRL
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Run Time: 600 min.
Street Date: 2/18/2020
Format: BD
Language: English & Japanese with English Subtitles
SRP: $89.98

SYNOPSIS: Hikari Tsutsui has never been popular, his one real friend is an even worse otaku than he is, and the only girls he’s known are the two-dimensional women from his manga and video games. Until, that is, he’s sent to help clean the pool as punishment and is partnered with the school’s resident “bad girl,” the very real, very three-dimensional Iroha Igarashi. Brash, beautiful, and known for her promiscuous behavior, Iroha is loathed by other girls but loved by the guys. And yet, inexplicably, she not only seems to be interested in Hikari, but proposes that they enter into a relationship. Unable to resist, Hikari agrees, but there’s one big catch – Iroha’s moving away in six months, so no matter what happens between them, in half a year Hikari’s guaranteed to lose his Real Girl.

Title: SPACE BROTHERS #0
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Run Time: 100 min.
Street Date: 2/18/2020
Format: BD
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
SRP: $39.98

SYNOPSIS: Once, there were two very different brothers who conceived a dream: that someday they would go into space themselves. However, brothers being brothers, once younger sibling Hibito announced that he would go to the moon, older brother Mutta declared that HE would go to Mars. Unfortunately, Mutta’s adult life isn’t going the way that he had hoped. Despite his hard work, his situation at his job is deteriorating and he ultimately finds himself transferred back to Japan. To make things even more frustrating, luck has been kinder to Hibito, who has already begun training with JAXA to become an astronaut. But Mutta isn’t ready to quit just yet. Four years before the events of the epic TV series, a new space race begins as brother chases brother on the path to the stars in Space Brothers #0 – The Movie.

Title: FOOD WARS! THIRD PLATE
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Run Time: 600 min.
Street Date: 2/25/2020
Format: BD, DVD, PBS
Language: English & Japanese with English Subtitles
SRP: $89.98, $69.98, $179.98

SYNOPSIS: Young Soma Yukihira – who has honed his cooking skills while working as an assistant at “Yukihira,” the family eatery – has successfully entered Tohtsuki Fine Dining Academy, a cooking school for the ultra elite. At the academy, he meets various chefs and develops his skills while striving to create his own unique brand of cooking. It is during the Lunar Feast, a time-honored Tohtsuki tradition, that Soma chooses to take on one of the members of The Ten, which comprises the academy’s most accomplished chefs. Meanwhile, Azami Nakiri – the father of one of Soma’s fellow students – has worked behind the scenes to found Central, a pivotal organization dedicated to haute cuisine, yet has remained barred from cooking aside from select recipes taught in his lectures. Finding themselves at opposition with how Central operates, Soma and some of the other Tohtsuki students decide to stand and confront this threat head-on. As this is going on, Soma and the others will be faced with the Promotional Exam, referred to as one of the greatest hurdles at Tohtsuki. An even more heated battle is about to begin.

Film Lineup Announced for the Los Angeles Anime Film Festival

The organizers of the Los Angeles Anime Film Festival (LA-AFF) have announced that this year’s event will take place from from September 21-23, 2018 at Regal L.A. Live: A Barco Innovation Center. The staff also unveiled the festival’s film lineup, which includes three North American premieres: Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! the Movie: Take on Me, Shōnen Hollywood: Holly Stage for You Complete Edition, and King of Prism: PRIDE the HERO.

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! the Movie: Take on Me (Eiga Chūnibyō demo Koi ga Shitai! Take On Me) will screen on opening night.

Shōnen Hollywood creator Ikuyo Hashiguchi will attend the festival for a Q&A session.

Other films being screened during the festival include:

  • your name.
  • Night is Short, Walk On Girl
  • Lu over the wall
  • Mind Game
  • Grave of the Fireflies
  • Only Yesterday
  • Pom Poko
  • My Neighbors the Yamadas
  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya
  • Mary and The Witch’s Flower
  • Evangelion: 1.0 You Are [Not] Alone
  • Evangelion: 2.0 You Can [Not] Advance
  • Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo

Source: ANN

30 Day Anime Challenge: Day 25 – Saddest Anime Death

Today, I’m taking a look at the saddest anime death.

My choice is Setsuko from Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies anime film. Both she and her brother have it rough throughout the film. They lose their mother during the firebombing of Kobe in World War II, and then have to move in with an aunt who treats them cruelly. They leave to be on their own and live in a bomb shelter, and the siblings have to deal with malnutrition and starvation. Setsuko is only about four years old, which makes it really hard to watch her suffer. As a mom, it really breaks my heart.

Even though her older brother, Seita, tries to take care of her, she dies during the movie. The first time I saw the scene of her death, I was crying… a lot. Seeing someone so young die due to circumstances beyond their control was just devastating. Even though I know this scene is coming each time I rewatch the film, I still find myself tearing up right before reaching the scene of her death. I’ve never had the death of another fictional character affect me as much as Setsuko’s has.

Additional 30 Day Anime Challenge posts:

Top 5 Studio Ghibli Films

Originally written for WatchPlayRead.com

Studio Ghibli has released so many quality films over the years that I had a hard time limiting myself to five films for this list. After some deliberation, I was finally able to whittle it down to the five films that I included on this list. In full disclosure, I have to admit that at the time I compiled this list, I had not yet seen The Wind Rises, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, or When Marnie Was There.

5. Only Yesterday (1991)

This is the second film that Isao Takahata directed for Studio Ghibli, and it has the distinction of being the only Studio Ghibli feature that has not yet received a home video release in North America even though Disney holds the distribution rights for the title. I was finally able to see Only Yesterday about two years ago, when my husband bought the Hong Kong Blu-ray release of the film that includes English subtitles for me as a gift.

Only Yesterday is a great film, but I can see why Disney has passed on releasing it after I watched it. The main character is an office lady in her late twenties named Taeko Okajima, and she takes a trip into the country to help the family of her elder sister’s husband with the safflower harvest. While Taeko is on her trip, she begins recalling memories of when she was a 10-year-old schoolgirl in 1966. Over the course of the film, Taeko’s memories of her 10-year-old self are intertwined with what’s happening to her in Yamagata, and Taeko finds herself questioning not only her feelings, but also what she wants in life. Between having an adult as a main character, as well as some of the topics that are included in Taeko’s memories, Only Yesterday just doesn’t fit with the other Studio Ghibli films that Disney has dubbed and released over the years.

I was in my later thirties when I watched Only Yesterday, so I could relate to Taeko and understand where she’s coming from. I also enjoyed the story and thought that Takahata took quite the chance by producing and releasing an animated film that is a realistic drama written for adults.

4. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

My Neighbor Totoro is set in the 1950s. Two girls named Satsuki and Mei are the protagonists of the film, and they move into an old house in rural Japan with their father in order to be closer to their mother, who is staying in the hospital due to illness. One day, Mei plays outside and sees a creature with two white, rabbit-like ears. She follows the creature under the house, and discovers two magical creatures; the creatures lead her through a briar patch and into the hollow of a large tree. Mei meets and befriends a bigger version of these spirits, and the big spirit identifies itself through a series of roars, which Met interprets as “Totoro.” One day, after believing her mother’s condition has worsened, Mei heads out on foot to the hospital. Satsuki enlists the help of Totoro and the Catbus, a large bus-shaped cat, to help her find her sister.

My Neighbor Totoro has a very sweet story with child characters that are very compelling, and I thought that Hayao Miyazaki was able to tell the story, convincingly, through the eyes of the child protagonists. The animation in My Neighbor Totoro perfectly accompanies the story that’s being told, and it captures the audience’s imagination. The look of the fantastical creatures like Totoro and the Catbus is very endearing, and Mei is simply cute. I have to admit that I kind of feel like a kid again whenever I watch this movie.

3. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

This is the first film that Isao Takahata directed for Studio Ghibli, and it’s an adaptation of a semi-autobiographical novel written by Akiyuki Nosaka. The film is set near the end of World War II in Japan, and features two children, Seita and Setsuko, whose lives are disrupted after the firebombing at Kobe. They survive, but their mother is caught in the air raid and dies from burn wounds. Seita and Setsuko’s father was serving in the Japanese navy and away from home when the attack occurred. As a result, the children are sent to live with an aunt who treats them cruelly over time. The siblings can only take so much before they leave and live in an old, abandoned bomb shelter.

Grave of the Fireflies is a realistic portrayal of this event and the aftermath of what happened. It’s gritty and at times, it gets rather dark. While this film may star children, it’s not a film aimed at that audience. It’s a very gripping film, which probably includes one of the saddest scenes ever to appear in an anime film. While I’ve seen this film three or four times now, I choke up and bawl like a baby every time I see this particular scene. In addition, I also become very angry at Seita and Setsuko’s aunt every time I see this film. To me, always having these strong emotional responses each time I watch the film is a testament to how well written the story is. It also shows how emotionally invested the audience can get when it comes to Seita and Setsuko.

2. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Princess Mononoke was the Studio Ghibli film that started getting the company attention in the United States. The film is set during the Muromachi period of Japan, and it focuses on the struggle between the supernatural guardians of the forest and the humans that try to consume its resources. Ashitaka, the last Emishi prince, is cursed when he kills the demon form of Nago, the boar god. He leaves his village because of the curse, and he comes upon Irontown, a refuge for social outcasts near the forest that’s inhabited by the animal gods and the Forest Spirit. Ashitaka finds himself thrown into the middle of the conflict when San, a human girl adopted by wolves, attacks Irontown. He tries to become a peacekeeper between the gods of the forest and the people of Irontown, who clear the forest to get more iron ore for the firearms that they manufacture.

Princess Mononoke tells a compelling story, which focuses on two ideas: the environment and the fact that no one is necessarily either good or evil. What I really appreciated about the storytelling in Princess Mononoke is the fact that Miyazaki was able to tell this story without falling into the trap of “the forest animals and the animal spirits are the good guys, and that Lady Eboshi and the citizens of Irontown are the bad guys.” The animation in the film is also breathtaking, and it perfectly conveys the feelings and emotions Miyazaki wants the viewer to experience while watching the film.

1. Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away is Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki’s best known film, thanks in large part to winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards. The main character of the film is a spoiled 10-year-old girl named Chihiro, who is unhappy about moving to a new home and going to a new school. As they drive to their new home, Chihiro’s father becomes lost. The family finds an entryway to a mysterious tunnel, which appears to be an entrance to an abandoned theme park. Chihiro’s parents find food at one of the stalls and help themselves to the meal. Chihiro declines to eat, and goes off to explore more of the park. During her exploration of the park, Chihiro comes across an older boy who warns her she must leave the park before it is dark. Night is quickly falling when she returns to the food stall, only to discover that her parents have turned into pigs. The film follows Chihiro as she learns what she needs to do in order to survive trapped in the spirit world. She also must find a way to return her parents to normal and return to their world.

With Spirited Away, Miyazaki tells a compelling coming of age story as Chihiro begins to change as she goes through her experiences in the spirit world. Miyazaki also successfully combines the fantastical elements of the spirit world with the realism of Chihiro’s maturation. Spirited Away is also filled with memorable characters such as No-Face, Haku, Yubaba, and Boh.

The animation in Spirited Away is breathtaking, and at times, it almost looks realistic. The look of the film adds to its overall atmosphere and helps to enhance the fantastical elements that are included in it. The combination of the storytelling and the animation help to make Spirited Away one of the best films that Studio Ghibli has ever released.

This list represents my personal opinion, it is not meant to be a definitive list of the best Studio Ghibli films of all-time. Which films would be in your personal top five? Let us know in the comments!

Anime Films to Screen at the IFC Center Theater in New York City

The IFC Center theater in New York City will be holding a film retrospective for films released by GKIDS over the past five years. The films included in the retrospective are:

  • Welcome to the Space Show
  • A Letter to Momo
  • My Neighbor Totoro
  • Grave of the Fireflies
  • Summer Wars
  • From Up on Poppy Hill

The films will open on December 20, 2013 and will play through January 2, 2014.

Source: ANN

Anime Film Review: Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies is a film written and directed by Isao Takahata. It was released to Japanese theaters as part of a double feature with My Neighbor Totoro on April 16, 1988. Sometimes, My Neighbor Totoro would be shown first, and sometimes, Grave of the Fireflies was shown first. Audiences who saw My Neighbor Totoro first were more likely to leave before the end of Grave of the Fireflies; however, if audiences saw Grave of the Fireflies first, they were more likely to stay for the entire film. Grave of the Fireflies wasn’t released in the United States until 1998; however, there was no theatrical release in the United States, and it was only released on DVD. The film was first released on DVD by Central Park Media until the company went out of business. As of this writing, Sentai Filmworks holds the North American rights for Grave of the Fireflies. This is a review of Central Park Media’s DVD release of the film.

Grave of the Fireflies
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Written by: Isao Takahata
Starring: Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Yoshiko Shinohara, and Akemi Yamaguchi
Run Time: 89 minutes

Grave of the Fireflies is an adaptation of a semi-autobiographical novel written by Akiyuki Nosaka; the novel and film are set near the end of World War II in Japan. The film opens in Sannomiya Station, and shows Seita (one of the main characters) wearing rags and dying from starvation. A janitor comes by and digs through his things, and finds a candy tin. The janitor throws it out, and the spirit of Seita’s little sister, Setsuko, as well as some fireflies, springs from the tin. Seita’s spirit joins them, and the story goes into an extended flashback of how Seita and Setsuko ended up dying.

The flashback begins with a firebombing at Kobe. Seita and Setsuko are left to secure the house and the family’s belongings, so their mother is able to head to a bomb shelter. The children’s father is serving in the Japanese navy, so he is not home to help the family. Seita and Setsuko are caught off-guard by bombs being dropped in their vicinity, but they are able to survive unscathed. Their mother, however, was caught in the air raid and dies from burn wounds.

Since they have nowhere else to go, the siblings are sent to live with an aunt, and they write letters to their father. On their second day at their aunt’s house, Seita returns to Kobe to dig up the supplies he and Setsuko had buried before the air raid. Seita gives everything to his aunt, except for a small tin of fruit drops, which he hides. As time goes on, their aunt treats the children more and more cruelly; she barely gives them enough food, insults them, and sells their mother’s kimonos for rice and keeps most of the rice for herself. Fed up with their aunt’s treatment, Seita and Setsuko leave her home and go to live in an old, abandoned bomb shelter. Gradually, the children run out of food, and Setsuko ends up starving to death.

I’ve seen this film about three or four times now, but I get just as choked up at Setsuko’s death scene as I did the first time I saw the film. Even though I know that scene is coming, it still brings on the waterworks; to me, this is a testament to just how powerful that particular scene in the movie is. I also have to say that each time I see this film, I also get just as pissed off at the aunt’s treatment of Seita and Setsuko as I did the first time. Grave of the Fireflies is a film that can trigger strong emotional responses from the viewer; since these scenes were done so well, they can still trigger strong emotional responses with additional viewings of the film.

Grave of the Fireflies is a very well-made anime film, and after viewing it, I can see why it’s considered such an anime classic. However, if you decide to watch this film, be sure to have some tissues nearby; by the end of the film, you’re going to need them.

Central Park Media released Grave of the Fireflies as a two-disc DVD set. The only bonus features included on this disc are a storyboard version of the film and trailers for the properties that Central Park Media was promoting at the time this film was released. I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I don’t understand the appeal of watching a storyboard version of a film.

The second disc has an interview with film critic Roger Ebert, which runs for 12 minutes; he shares his thoughts about the film. There is also an interview with director Isao Takahata; he speaks in Japanese, and subtitles are used to translate what he says (however, the film footage used in the interview comes from the English dub). There are text-only biographies for Akiyuki Nosaka and Isao Takahata; however, these run for several screens, and you can’t control when the pages change. You can also see a “Japanese Release Promo” that runs for almost seven minutes, and includes interview footage with Akiyuki Nosaka, Isao Takahata, and art director Niza Yamamoto. The interviews are done in Japanese, but presented with English subtitles.

The “DVNR Featurette” is a documentary that shows the efforts Central Park Media went to in order to restore the film. The art gallery is a slideshow that includes stills from the film, model sheets, and storyboards. “Locations, Then and Now” shows images and has explanatory text for various locations featured in the film. “Bonus Storyboards” are storyboards for nine scenes that were cut from the film, as well as “single shots” (storyboards for various stand-alone shots put together into one piece).

The “U.S. Trailer” is a two-minute promo for this DVD release. The Japanese trailer has audio in Japanese, but does not include any English subtitles. It’s interesting to note in the trailer that you only ever hear Setsuko speak; Seita is never heard. “Historical Perspective” runs for about 12 minutes, and contains interviews with two authors of books about World War II in Japan, and sharing the history of the events that led up to what was shown in the film.

I have to give Central Park Media a lot of credit for all of the bonus features that were included in their release of Grave of the Fireflies. I especially appreciated the “Historical Perspective” documentary, because it helps to provide some background for the story that helps the viewer better understand what they saw in the film.

The back of the DVD box may say that the film is for ages “3 and up,” but I believe this is a typo. Between some of the shots included in the film, as well as the subject matter and the historical knowledge needed, this film is more appropriate for viewers 13 and up.

Unfortunately, the Central Park Media pressing of Grave of the Fireflies is out of print. As of this writing, the Sentai Filmworks release is available, but from what I’ve heard, most, if not all, of the bonus features from the Central Park Media pressing are not included. Grave of the Fireflies really should be seen by anyone who considers themselves to be an anime fan. It also is a film that should be in an anime home video library, regardless of which DVD pressing it is.

I wrote this review after watching a copy of Grave of the Fireflies that my husband and I purchased.

Additional reviews of Studio Ghibli films:

GKids Acquires Rights for Grave of the Fireflies

It’s being reported at IndieWire that GKids has acquired the North American theatrical rights for Grave of the Fireflies.

According to the report, GKids is planning to release Grave of the Fireflies theatrically in 2013 to celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary. The film will also be screened as part of GKids’ touring Studio Ghibli Retrospective.

Source: ANN