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Online critic / satirist offers different perspective on Grave of the Fireflies.


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ailblentyn
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PostPosted: Wed May 23, 2012 2:29 pm Reply with quote
Why is it Grave of the Fireflies and (not in this discussion, but elsewhere) Gen that I see accused of historical dishonesty, through their depicting of Japanese victims of atrocities and supposedly their pushing of them as symbols. I don't see this: there were Japanese victims, and it seems fair enough to me to tell stories like theirs.

The thing is, if I were minded to be outraged at rewriting of history (which I'm not, really), I would be more interested in the huge number of anime that appear to tell an alternative history of the 20th century where rousing, old-fashioned patriotic ideals and a national war machine are unsullied in reputation, and aim themselves at "safe" targets like aliens and wholly fictional foreign countries.

Why no comparable outrage at historical revisionism at.. I don't know... Virgin Fleet, for example, which seems to me more of an offender?
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walw6pK4Alo



Joined: 12 Mar 2008
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PostPosted: Thu May 24, 2012 12:59 am Reply with quote
http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/​videolinks/​ir/​jo/​jospecials/​35358-​month-​of-​miyazaki-​part-​3

And now Hope offers her perspective. I know her Month of Miyazaki was planned pretty well in advance, but it's very convenient that it comes out the same week as Bennett's. On purpose, coincidence?
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errinundra
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PostPosted: Thu May 24, 2012 2:20 am Reply with quote
@Key,

I won't address your points line by line. I don't want to get into a "my quote / your quote" debate that, too often, achieves little other than to engender rancour. Instead I'll put my case why I think Grave of the Fireflies isn't a masterpiece. I intend to addess your points within that format. Please note that I am not arguing that it is a bad film; only that it isn't the masterpiece people say it is.

My basic thesis is that the film indulges in sentimentalism. Not only is that a fault in itself, but the sentimentality undermines other, worthy qualities in the film. So, what do I mean by "sentimentalism"?

Macquarie dictionary wrote:
1. sentimental tendency or character; predominance of sentiment over reason.
2. weak emotionalism; excessive indulgence in sentiment.
3. a display of sentimentality.


I also found these great quotes when looking up Sentimentality in Wikipedia. They nicely express my point.

Oscar Wilde wrote:
A sentimentalist is one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it.


James Baldwin wrote:
Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel...the mask of cruelty.


I know all generalisations are dangerous but a feature of Japanese narrative art is its productive blending of sentimentalism and irony. After all, Japan is the country that gave us seppuku and Hello Kitty. This creative blending is true from Akira Kurosawa to Satoshi Kon. You can see it in Rurouni Kenshin and Haruhi Suzumiya. To me, it's a signature quality of anime in general. When the sentimentality begins to overwhelm the irony then the narrative begins to lose its way. The Key's Visual Arts series are notorious for going too far down the sentimental path. Makoto Shinkai is another that too often gets it wrong. You can even see it in anime fanservice. The sentimentality of crotch shots and bouncing breasts is frequently leavened by an ironic trope awareness. If the viewer finds the irony stale then the image is reduced to sentimental soft porn. But I digress...

Isao Takahata is, in my opinion, a director who too often veers into sentimentality. You can see it other of his films also: Pom Poko, Gauche the Cellist or Only Yesterday. I think that Grave of the Fireflies is afflicted with it, which is a shame because the World War 2 setting, the artwork, and the ironic presentation of the dilemmas and choices of Seita are all praiseworthy. If irony is embodied in Seita, then sentimentaliy is embodied in Setsuko, a quintessential moe character from before the word's invention. The emotions she encourages are entirely sentimental. She has none of the ambiguity of Seita. You could go so far as to say she is simply a prop for his personal crisis. A tabula rasa. If the fictional character has no complexity or ambiguity, I have little pity for them.

But that still isn't the central problem. The film does have subtle and interesting things to say and they all revolve around Seita. What are his choices? Why are they the only choices? Why does he make his decisions? What do those decisions have to say about the times he lived in? What are the implications of those decisions. Is there an allegorical point? (Unlike you, Key, I believe there is. That we may disagree on that point is, in my view, a strength of the movie - I love ambiguity.) These are fascinating questions. If I'm crying over Setsuko I'm not paying attention to these questions. If I'm rolling my eyes over Setsuko I'm equally likely to ignore these questions. That is how the "No Place Like Home" scene undermines the themes of the movie. I would like to turn your question around: what, precisely, does the scene achieve, other than a sentimental response in the viewer. If that is all it is, then it is, at the very least, a waste of time.

I have nothing against scenes that cause the viewer to cry. I have cried in many movies. If a work of art is to be called a masterpiece then those tears must serve a greater purpose than a simple emotional hit. They don't in Grave of the Fireflies; it is not a masterpiece. The collapsed house scene in Barefoot Gen is a masterful segment because it reinforces the themes of the movie. That is why I say it is a more honest movie. Yes, it is artifice just like the ghost scene in Grave of the Fireflies but it carries a conviction lacking in the newer movie. I don't consider Barefoot Gen a masterpiece for pretty much the reasons you give, but, for all its faults, it is indeed "more informative than sentimental".

But, above all, I think sentimentalism is a cheap response to war. War is the absolute worse thing that humans do. The topic is too important to trivialise with sentimentalism.

For all that, I am a relativist and a post-modernist. Your reading of the film is as valid as mine. That a film from Japan can encourage a sophisticated discussion between people as far away as the United States and Australia is a wonderful thing. I appreciate the challenge you laid down for me in your post and enjoyed spending time trying to think clearly and express accurately what I believe. Thanks.
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errinundra
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PostPosted: Thu May 24, 2012 3:29 am Reply with quote
By the way, I've just watched the video mentioned in the OP for the first time. Any parallels between the arguments and examples presented there and in my posts are purely coincidental.
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ailblentyn
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PostPosted: Thu May 24, 2012 2:25 pm Reply with quote
errinundra wrote:
That is how the "No Place Like Home" scene undermines the themes of the movie. I would like to turn your question around: what, precisely, does the scene achieve, other than a sentimental response in the viewer.
I think the scene is so much more complex than that. You probably won't agree, but here's how I watch it. In short, the words of the song definitively tell me how to interpret the images, in accordance with the usual hierarchy of language (and music) vs. the visual. And then further reflection unsettles this interpretation --- and me as a viewer.

The nostalgia in the song paired with images of Setsuko playing happily first makes me teary spoiler[for her life]. Yes, this response is sentimental: spoiler["Poor little thing! She died so soon", etc.]

And then two things happen:
1) I remark that the images that nostalgia must interpret as a happy past are actually frightful. They show her always alone, playing with the stones she will soon be eating, or playing at soldiers, which is a (sentimentally) ironic image of horror.
2) I remember that the song that is providing the pat interpretation of the montage is of course being supplied by the gramophone of a family who have no conception of the siblings' existence or their story. This for me is a sharp reminder of the separation between the characters and the interpreting narration of their story. Maybe I as viewer, with all my sentimentality, am on the side of the upper-class returnees in this divide, with no ability or claim to empathise with Setsuko and Seita.

To me this sequence seems BOTH sentimental AND pessimistic about the role of art and memory. Which then I think explains my response to the other spoiler["ghost" sequence], the one which closes the film. The end to me seems especially beautiful because it restores to art (/memory/imagination) the power to do something for the characters. A bit of the Atonement thing, if you will.

You don't view it that way, but I think it must be acknowledged that there are two ironies operating in the "No Place Like Home" scene (my points 1 and 2 above), which are ripe for interpretation and make it more complex than pure heart-string tugging.
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errinundra
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PostPosted: Thu May 24, 2012 5:48 pm Reply with quote
@ailblentyn,

I admit I presented Setsuko as a one dimensional element in my post above (I get carried away with my own rhetoric at times) but I have argued all along that the film has a rich vein of irony. While I haven't previously thought about that scene along the lines you have, I think what you are saying is right. (I hope that doesn't sound patronising.)

I'll restate my thesis: the sentimentality of the film is excessive and dishonest and distracts from the its otherwise worthy and sophisticated qualities. There is rich and complex undercurrent that is submerged by the sentimentalism.

At the risk of putting words in Key's mouth, he seems to be arguing that these undercurrents aren't essential and that the film is great because of its emotional impact. Key, of course, can speak for himself and I'm sure he can set me straight if he wants.
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ailblentyn
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PostPosted: Sat May 26, 2012 5:36 pm Reply with quote
I'd also be interested in hear Key (obviously a thoughtful viewer) expound. I just couldn't help butting in at the suggestion that the scene was not working in a complex way.

I do have to say I'm in the camp that doesn't find sentimentality in itself a turn-off, and regards its relegation by 20th century Western criticism to the margins as unfortunate. (And I'm all for the re-embracing of melodrama and so on...)

By the way, the idea of the author of The Happy Prince and Other Tales railing against "sentimentality" makes me guffaw.
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Maidenoftheredhand



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PostPosted: Sun May 27, 2012 10:06 pm Reply with quote
I largely agree with Ailblentyn in this thread in the fact that I don't see why I a little sentimentality is a bad thing. At least I never felt emotionally manipulative when watching the film. It's not something I would watch often but I do still think it is a great film.

The fact that it is a representation of the writer's guilt (and a more personal story) made the film even more interesting for me. However I don't think it makes the story any less sad that it could have been prevented. Yes Seita the main character made some bad choices but I also have to sit back and say why did he have to make those choices in the first place. For all of Seita's pride and bad choices, he was still a child himself. It's really easy for an adult to say that the tragedy could have been prevented if you just did this or this but if you were a 14 year old boy stuck in that situation you might not be as mature as you think.

I also don't really think the film judges anyone (even the aunt). I think it just shows what war did to Japan and its people. The movie might not be purposely making an anti-war statement but that doesn't mean it doesn't say something very compelling about war itself.

I also always like war films that show very little war. The movie was much more focused on the people left behind then the fighting & killing that war brings.

It was also interesting to me that GOTF was a double feature with Totoro. The two films on the surface couldn't be more different but if GOTF is almost like a loss of innocence of society because of the war, I feel Totoro (which I believe took place in the 1950's in a post war society) could be a reflection of a return to innocence for Japan.
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rheiders



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PostPosted: Mon May 28, 2012 1:03 am Reply with quote
ailblentyn wrote:


And then two things happen:
1) I remark that the images that nostalgia must interpret as a happy past are actually frightful. They show her always alone, playing with the stones she will soon be eating, or playing at soldiers, which is a (sentimentally) ironic image of horror.
2) I remember that the song that is providing the pat interpretation of the montage is of course being supplied by the gramophone of a family who have no conception of the siblings' existence or their story. This for me is a sharp reminder of the separation between the characters and the interpreting narration of their story. Maybe I as viewer, with all my sentimentality, am on the side of the upper-class returnees in this divide, with no ability or claim to empathise with Setsuko and Seita.


My brain honestly isn't functioning at a high enough level to join the debate right now (it's midnight where I am). But I had to thank you for giving your opinion on this scene! GOTF is actually one of my favorite Ghibli films (I know--What's wrong with me!?), but this was the one scene I always had a problem with. It seemed to be a shallow grab at the viewer's emotions, a problem that (in my opinion) the rest of the movie doesn't have. Even though the rest of the movie does try to make you emotional, there's always several layers of meaning behind it, and it doesn't feel forced. This montage felt unnecessary and forced to me, especially the part where she looks at the camera and salutes while wearing a bowl as a helmet. But your interpretation gives me a whole new way to look at it that I had never noticed before! So thank you! Very Happy

(Sorry if that was unreadable. I think it's time for me to hit the hay. x.x)
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ailblentyn
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PostPosted: Mon May 28, 2012 4:50 am Reply with quote
Thanks! That makes my morning. Very Happy
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dan7el



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PostPosted: Mon May 28, 2012 11:31 am Reply with quote
Finding this thread on this site is really awesome. I watched the review and for the most part agree with the reviewer. I rented Grave of the Fireflies from Netflix some time ago and did not cry, did not feel like crying, and wondered why.

I felt completely manipulated.

I felt like the film wanted me to to cry, but I couldn't find the need for it within myself.

In the scene where the older brother spoiler[is looking at his dead sister in the box, and her face is framed "just so" in the picture, and we pause] -- I felt like the director was just asking me. Isn't this sad? Shouldn't you be sad?

Then also, the older brother acted pretty stupidly. Perhaps I never really "connected" with the characters because, as the reviewer indicated, there really wasn't much character development.

What I do know is that I definitely felt that this film was specifically designed not so much to tell a story but to tug on my emotional heart-strings. That in and of itself isn't necessarily bad, it's just that I didn't feel that it did that even well enough.

I didn't really like the movie either. I wondered if perhaps there was something overall wrong in my response. Maybe not.
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