Thursday, August 30, 2007

Grave of the Fireflies

I watched a movie on Wednesday that hit me in the gut: Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies. It's not an easy film to watch. Like any good Indie, it has a quality about it that is kind of slow and contemplative. It sure isn't a date movie, but it is well worth watching for a number of reasons.

First of all, it introduced me to something in our history that I knew nothing about. We've all heard of the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which have been cited as primary causes of the end of the war, but I had never heard of what came before: firebombings. Firebombing had been used in Europe in the bombing of Dresden, but it was the U. S. General Curtis LeMay who would perfect the procedure in the Pacific arena (B-29's over Korea).

The concept was utilized a number of times before LeMay decided to outfit the B-29 bombers with more explosives, and on March 9-10, 1945 the tactic was eployed to devastating effect over Tokyo . The death toll from that one night range from 80,000 - 100,000 people in one night (see: The Atlantic, B-29's over Korea, Wikipedia, AP story).

"The conflagration caused by the incendiary bombs quickly engulfed Tokyo's wooden residential structures, creating a firestorm that replaced oxygen with lethal gases, superheated the atmosphere, and caused hurricane-like winds that blew a wall of fire across the city. As a result of the attack, 10 square miles of eastern Tokyo were entirely obliterated, and an estimated 250,000 buildings were destroyed. " (from The History Channel).

I feel cheated that I never learned about this. I consider it to be a dark blot on our history, and I'm no pacifist. But when innocent civilians are massacred in a hellish inferno I think that's a pretty dastardly deed! So we didn't have concentration camps, but what the hell is this about anyway? Who are we? We're the frickin' United States-land of the free and home of the brave. I'm not saying this to cast doubt on our nation, but to to remind we who may one day have some say in the bigger goings-on to remember that even though war is necessary, the killing of innocents is intolerable. We get pissed when a few terrorists kill under 4,000 people on September 11. We are incensed when less than 3,000 people are killed in a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, but we never even hear or care about one night in which our forces slaughtered over 80,000 people-the large majority of whom had nothing to do with the war effort!!!!

I could go on, but you get the point. The firebombings continued over Japan until June and proved to be quite "successful," destroying the urban centers of some "66 Japanese cities" (The B-29 Strategic Air Campaign Against Japan
by Henry C. Huglin
, see p. 232 and following under Incendiary Strikes from The Strategic Air War Against Germany and Japan: A Memoir, by Haywood S. Hansell Jr.).

Grave of the Fireflies chronicles life in the shadow of these raids. It follows an orphaned brother and sister and how they cope with life in such a climate. Some might consider this movie anti-war or anti-American propaganda, but after reading the facts on the issue, they seem to have played the material pretty straight. In fact, the film in no way lets any one off the hook. More screentime is dedicated to showing the villainy displayed by the protaganist's own countrymen and, unfortunately, by the protagonist himself.

The movie's great. The way Takahata portrayed the little sister, Setsuko, was so inspired. I saw my daughter in that little girl, and even though the movie seems to plod along at times, like life, you get to the end of it and look back, and those little moments that seemed insignificant mean so much more than the explosions and one-liners we like to pretend really matter. The film taught me something new about history, and in a gut wrenching scene toward the film's end, reminded me that pride can be just as devastating as the worst firebombing.


Jessica said...

I saw that movie a couple of years ago...very good and very sad. I cried.

Bradley said...

Excellent recommendation, I want to see it now.

Joel Spencer said...

Dang Ford, you're one well-spoken dude. I need to check back here often so that I can learn some more. I knew that I should have paid more attention in school.

brianmetz said...

nice. I shall check this out.

Ben Francis said...

Man I just started watching that movie and its got like a scratch that makes it stop 19 minutes in. Anyways I love you man and miss you and the family. Praying for you!

WT said...

One of the saddest and most heart wrenching films you can see but a great film that everyone should try and watch, young or old.