Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka) (Blu-ray) (1988)

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Released 10-Dec-2014

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Anime Main Menu Audio & Animation
Storyboards-Alternate Angle
Deleted Scenes-Storyboards
Audio Commentary-Director
Theatrical Trailer-Isao Takahata (Director)
Trailer-Studio Ghibli Collection
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1988
Running Time 90:25 (Case: 88)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Isao Takahata
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Tsutomu Tatsumi
J Robert Spencer
Ayano Shiraishi
Rhoda Chrosite
Yoshiko Shinohara
Veronica Taylor
Akemi Yamaguchi
Amy Jones
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $39.95 Music Yoshio Mamiya


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Linear PCM 44.1/16 2.0
Japanese Linear PCM 44.1/16 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     When it comes to Japanese animated features, Studio Ghibli is unparalleled, with the animation purveyor’s list of triumphs including Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and the transcendent Spirited Away. Another of the studio’s highly acclaimed titles is 1988’s Grave of the Fireflies, an adaptation of Nosaka Akiyuki’s novel of the same name, set in Japan during World War II. Still as vital, powerful and unbearably poignant in 2015 as it was back in the 1980s, this haunting yet admirably unsentimental animated endeavour is ultimately a moving story about the relationship between a brother and sister facing poverty and isolation, set against the backdrop of a devastating war. A survivalist drama, Grave of the Fireflies informs us of the collateral damage caused by the Japanese firebombing by the United States in WWII, shining a light on one consequence of warfare that’s often overlooked.

     The film is largely told through flashbacks, focusing on the final months of WWII. In 1945, bombs are being dropped across Japan by American pilots, leading to mass devastation. During a bombing raid, Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi) and his little sister Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi) are forced from their home and separated from their parents. Desperate for food and shelter, the pair moves in with their aunt, but she’s distant, and her hospitality becomes increasingly frosty. Ultimately, Seita and Setsuko are driven to a life of fending for themselves, with Seita trying his hardest to shield his sister from the horrors occurring all around them. Tragically, the war takes its toll on the supply line, with food and water becoming scarcer as time goes on.

     Grave of the Fireflies holds up due to the power of its themes and of director Isao Takahata’s storytelling, even if the animation has dated to some extent, lacking the precise fluidity of more recent animated productions. The artists at Studio Ghibli spend years on any single production, meticulously hand-drawing every frame, and the artistry is staggering to behold. The visuals are often haunting, effortlessly capturing the time and place, while the colour scheme underscores the downbeat nature of this tale. Curiously, even though this is a downbeat movie, it’s not boring or insufferably dour, with the production being bolstered by the rich artistry in each frame and the unforgettably poignant soundtrack by Michio Mamiya.

     Although Grave of the Fireflies is often perceived and labelled as an anti-war film, this notion has been challenged by a number of critics, as well as director Takahata himself. War serves as more of a background detail than a primary focus here, but the movie undeniably has things to say about the futility and price of warfare, showing that civilians far away from the battlefield are still affected by all the fighting. Takahata, who actually co-founded Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki, presents the narrative in a matter-of-fact fashion, eschewing sentimentality and manipulation, and the resulting cinematic spell is effective and often enthralling. Moreover, the characters are not degraded, nor is their suffering fetishized. Better yet, the characters are handled with nuance.

     A haunting standout in the Ghibli catalogue, Grave of the Fireflies has lost none of its potency or emotional power, and remains an essential watch for anime enthusiasts and film buffs. With its harrowing themes and visceral imagery, the movie proves that the animated format is not merely a children’s medium, and can be used to tell rich, complex stories. There is a reason why Grave of the Fireflies has endured for years as one of the greatest animated movies of all time.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Madman presents Grave of the Fireflies in 1080p high definition via its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, utilising the customary MPEG-4 AVC codec. The movie is pushing thirty years old, so while it looks respectable on Blu-ray, it’s by no means a knockout.

     The HD image is clean, with no flecks, scratches or any other visible forms of print damage. Colours also look great, if perhaps a tad faded at times. However, it does look as if a certain degree of DNR was applied to create the transfer. Thus, while the animated lines are sharp and well-defined, detail looks average, and there’s a certain haziness to areas of the frame that look like the result of grain being scrubbed away, taking the detail along with it.

     Nevertheless, I did not notice any bothersome aliasing, banding or other encoding anomalies. Grave of the Fireflies overall looks fairly good on Blu-ray, but there is room for improvement. Judging from reviews and screen-shots of overseas releases, it looks as if all regions received a similar transfer presumably created from the same HD master, so at least we are not missing out on a superior image.

     There are only English subtitles available on this release, and they’re both easy and pleasurable to read, which is good news if you’re wanting to watch the movie in Japanese. No complaints on this front.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Two audio tracks are available on Madman’s Blu-ray; an English dub (which the disc defaults to), and the original Japanese soundtrack. Both are lossless Linear PCM 2.0 tracks. I sampled both, though I was more interested in the Japanese soundtrack for obvious reasons.

     Despite its age, Grave of the Fireflies sounds sensational on Blu-ray, with the sound remaining clear and crisp. Dialogue is well-prioritised, always coming through with exceptional precision for both the Japanese and English tracks. The beautiful score by Michio Mamiya is likewise well-handled, mixed professionally and never overwhelming the dialogue.

     Out of the two tracks, I preferred the Japanese option. Not merely because it’s more faithful, but also because I found the English dub a bit paint-by-numbers, lacking in passion.

     Owing to its origins, the soundtrack is not reference material, but it does well considering the source. There is some noticeable separation, and the track possesses sufficient oomph to make for an involving viewing experience.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     A modest selection of extras.

Alternate Angle Storyboard (HD; 90:25)

     This is a picture-in-picture track, with storyboards appearing in a window throughout the film. Budding artists, or anyone with an affinity for learning about the painstaking process of creating hand-drawn animated movies should find this to be a welcome inclusion.

Deleted Scenes Storyboards (SD; 2:29)

     Two deleted scenes are presented here, playing one after the other, in storyboard form. Worth watching.

Director’s Commentary

     Isao Takahata sits down for a commentary track, recorded in Japanese with English subtitles. Interestingly, this is a different stream to the movie; you cannot switch to the commentary through audio options whilst watching the film. Takahata is soft-spoken and deliberate, with plenty to say about the production process, themes, music, and the staff who helped bring the movie to life.

Theatrical Trailer (HD; 1:41)

     As described.

Studio Ghibli Collection Trailers (HD; 15:39)

     Phew, there’s a lot of stuff here. You’ll find an anti-piracy ad, a short for “The Art of Studio Ghibli,” and trailers for Princess Mononoke, My Neighbours the Yamadas, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Tales from Earthsea, Ponyo, Arrietty and From Up On Poppy Hill. If this is your jam, have at it.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The American release from Sentai Filmworks contains the storyboard picture-in-picture track, the deleted scene storyboards, and a trailer, missing the director’s commentary available on our edition. So that’s a win over the Region A release.

     However, the UK release from Studio Canal contains the following extras:

     Well, I am undeniably torn. The UK release misses out on the director’s commentary, but adds extras interviews and a documentary. Call this one a draw.

Summary

    An incredible animated movie gets a solid Blu-ray release courtesy of Madman. Video is respectable though not without faults, while audio is exceptional and the special features are of good value. A recommended purchase.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Monday, November 23, 2015
Review Equipment
DVDPlayStation 4, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42LW6500. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationLG BH7520TW
SpeakersLG Tall Boy speakers, 5.1 set-up, 180W

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Not a film to watch more than once... -