Grave of the Fireflies

A teenage boy and his young sister struggle to survive the Allied assault on Japan in this wrenching antiwar drama (1988), which rivals the films of Hayao Miyazaki in elevating anime to the level of fine art. After their mother dies in a firebombing, the children move in with their paternal aunt, hoping in vain that their father will return from the emperor’s navy. Eventually the aunt’s harsh treatment drives them to a bomb shelter in the country—where dancing fireflies mirror the incendiary devices dropped from Allied planes—and as starvation pushes Japan toward surrender, the little girl begins to die from malnutrition. Writer-director Isao Takahata, a frequent collaborator of Miyazaki’s at Studio Ghibli, adapted a partly autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, and his handling of the tragic story is masterfully understated.