PANG Ho-Cheung

PANG Ho-Cheung
With Hong Kong director PANG Ho-cheung after interviewing him in 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

ACF 1733: Review of Blu-ray edition of GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES

Grave of the Fireflies / Hotaru no haka
Directed by Isao Takahata
Screenplay by Isao Takahata
Based on a novel by Akiyuki Nosaka
Japan, 1988, 89 minutes
Published by Sentai Filmworks
Dstributed by Section 23 Films
SRP: $29.98

Last week the animation classic  Grave of the Fireflies was released for the first time on Blu-ray. It's the tale of 14 year old Seita and his 4 year old sister Setsuko at the end of World War II. Their father is away serving on a naval cruiser. After their mother dies in an aerial bombing, they go to live with an aunt on their father's side. She increasingly resents their presence and makes life unpleasant for them. Seita decides they should leave, and the young pair go off to fend for themselves, living in a shelter dug out from the side of a hill that's by a large pond. Their lives are initially pleasant, even bucolic, but become increasingly difficult and ultimately desparate.

Grave of the Fireflies is one of the many outstanding animation films that have come from Studio Ghibli, which was co-founded by directors Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki in 1985. I first saw the film about ten years ago as a promotional preview DVD from Central Park Media, which went out of business several years later. GotF was, and remains, one of the most powerful, heart-wrenching films I've ever seen. This is made even more so by the contrast between the horrible conditions for the Japanese as the end of the war approached and the beauty of the film's animation.

And that beauty is magnificently rendered in this Blu-ray edition. It may have been a long time coming, but it's been well worth the wait; the digital transfer is simply spectacular.

There are three audio options: a new English soundtrack, a Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles, and the original English version from 1988. The original English audio masters have been lost, so the audio quality of it is of somewhat lesser fidelity than the other two, which are both bright and crystal clear.

Extras include the option of watching the film as a series of storyboards and sketches, two deleted scenes with Japanese audio and English subtitles, and the Japanese trailer. There are also clips of six other films available from Sentai Filmworks.

This Blu-ray edition of Grave of the Fireflies is a must have regardless of whether or not you're a fan of anime, it's that terrific a film. If you happen to still have an old VHS or DVD version and are wondering whether or not you should replace it, give the matter no further thought.

Buy this Blu-ray edition or put it on the top of your list of holiday gift requests. You'll come back to watch it again and again, and wonder at the beauty and brilliance of it every time.

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