Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka) (Studio Ghibli Collection) (1988)

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Released 11-Feb-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Anime Main Menu Audio & Animation
Storyboards-Alternate Angle
Trailer-Spirited Away, Final Fantasy Unlimited, Last Exile
Trailer-Revolutionary Girl Utena
Interviews-Crew-Isao Takahata (Director)
Biographies-Crew-Isao Takahata (Director) And Akiyuki Nosaka (Author)
Featurette-Japanese Release Promo
Featurette-DVNR Featurette
Gallery-Locations, Then And Now
Theatrical Trailer-US, Japan
Featurette-Historical Perspective
Featurette-Interview With Roger Ebert (Film Critic)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1988
Running Time 90:24 (Case: 88)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (51:49)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Isao Takahata

Madman Entertainment
Starring Tsutomu Tatsumi
J Robert Spencer
Ayano Shiraishi
Rhoda Chrosite
Yoshiko Shinohara
Veronica Taylor
Akemi Yamaguchi
Amy Jones
Case Amaray-Opaque-Dual-Secure Clip
RPI $39.95 Music Yoshio Mamiya

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

21 September 1945 — that was the night I died

    This film opens with the death of the central character — and then it goes into flashback to show the events leading up to that scene. It starts sad, and gets sadder.

    This back cover of this DVD has some lovely quotes, such as: "the most profound, moving, tragic, and uplifting program I have yet reviewed" (Video Rating Guide for Libraries). I'm not sure that I completely agree. I definitely agree with "tragic", though. I found this film also somewhat depressing, not so much because of the content, but rather what the content implied. You will see a lot of rave reviews for this title, so I feel justified in pointing out that although the manner of telling the story is skilful and compelling, the content of the story is rather bleak. I'd also suggest that you not sit down to watch this over dinner.

    This film is set in Japan, in 1945. No, it is not concerned with the atomic bombings (everyone I mentioned the film to asked that question). It is concerned with a boy called Seito, who is 14 years old, who is looking after his sister, Setsuko, who is 4 years old, after their mother dies. Their mother dies after their entire town is razed by the Allied fire bombing of Japan. (The bombing of Britain was terrible, and the bombing of Dresden appalling. But consider the idea of using fire-bombing against a country where the vast majority of homes were made of wood and paper... This film, without saying so explicitly, does lead you to the conclusion that any such bombing campaign is terrorism, pure and simple, no matter who does it, or their claimed justification.)

    Seito starts by taking his sister to live with a "distant" aunt who lives in Nishinomiya. Their aunt is not particular pleased to see them, and her hospitality becomes increasingly frosty as time wears on. Eventually it gets to be too much and they move out, going to live in a deserted bomb shelter or mine (it's not clear which it is). Seito tries his hardest to care for his sister, but food is hard to get, and there's a limit to how much he can scavenge. He starts stealing food, even though he knows that the farmers around him have little enough. When his sister falls ill he takes her to a doctor, only to hear that her problem is simple: malnutrition — she, like he, is literally starving (it is disturbing how little the doctor is surprised — this problem was not uncommon then).

    I've seen a number of films that focus on children during World War II, but none nearly as dark as this one. Even so, the story makes compelling viewing. It is told very simply, from the viewpoint of a single boy, and it never lets go. That's the mark of a master storyteller at work.

    This film was completed in Japanese in 1988, so the animation is old-style cel animation, and not the most technically advanced you'll ever see. It wasn't released in English until 1998. The DVD did not appear until later again, because they went to the trouble of doing a complete digital restoration. The results of the restoration are impressive (there's a demonstration of the difference in one of the extras).

    This is not a happy story, but it is certainly one you will remember.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    This transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with 16x9 enhancement. I think that the original aspect ratio was 1.85:1; if so, this is quite close. There are no obvious framing problems.

    The image is generally fairly sharp, with occasional lapses (such as the loss of focus at 31:17). There's not a lot of film grain to worry about (it's always quite light), and no low level noise.

    Colour has been handled very well indeed, probably as a result of the digital restoration. The drab colours of war-time are faithfully conveyed. There are no colour-related artefacts.

    There are very few film artefacts. There is very little in the way of aliasing (except on the closing credits) or moiré, which is a pleasant surprise. There is some visible edge enhancement, but it's mild enough not to be too distracting. There are no MPEG artefacts.

    There are subtitles in English, but nothing else (no "signs only" subtitles). I watched them, and they are easy to read, and seem well-timed to the Japanese dialogue.

    The movie disc is single-sided and dual layered, formatted RSDL. The layer change is at 57:29, and it's on a still image, so it's not too obvious, but on a slow player it may be noticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The soundtrack is provided in English and Japanese, as you might expect, both in Dolby Digital 2.0, not surround encoded, at 224kbps. The English soundtrack is a bit quiet — I raised the volume 3dB before I was happy — you might want to raise it 5dB. The Japanese soundtrack, on the other hand, has occasional moments of noise, but they don't interfere with appreciating the film. I listened to both soundtracks in full.

    The English dialogue is easy to understand, and seems a very good match to the animated mouth movements. The Japanese dialogue sounds clear enough, too.

    The score, from Yoshio Mamiya, is superb, and one of the highlights of the film. It uses a variety of instruments and styles.

    This 2.0 soundtrack provides nothing for your surrounds or subwoofer to do.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu is animated (just fireflies moving) with music. It is easy to use.


Alternate Angle Storyboards

    These run throughout the film. We can watch the movie, or the storyboards, with our choice of soundtrack. A cool extra (especially if you like storyboards...), but if your DVD player (like mine) has an "alternate angle present" indicator on-screen, you might want to work out how to disable it, or it will be displayed for the entire movie, which gets tedious.

Madman Propaganda

    Four trailers in standard Madman presentation:


    These extras are all in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

Interview: director Isao Takahata (17:39)

    This interview is in Japanese with burned-in English subtitles. It is quite interesting, and provides some of the insights we might have otherwise received from a commentary (there is no commentary).

Biography: author Akiyuki Nosaka

    This is a fairly brief (3 page) bio of the author of the book on which this film is based.

Biography: director Isao Takahata

    This is a short (5 page) bio of the director.

Japanese Release Promo (6:36)

    This includes some words from the author, from the director, and from the art director. There's a fair bit of noise in the sound on the first two.

Bonus Storyboards

    These are storyboards of scenes that are not in the finished film, or scenes which were shortened in the finished film. Think of these as deleted / extended scenes. Each one is introduced with a few words.

Featurette: DVNR (4:24)

    This shows the changes they made using Digital Video Noise Reduction, which was one of the things they used in the process of restoring the film.

Art Gallery (3:09)

    This is a montage of images, also available via DVD-ROM.

Gallery: Locations, Then and Now (2:08)

    This is a series of shots showing places that feature in the movie, what they looked like then, and what they look like now, if they are still in existence. Note that some buildings which survived WWII did not survive the big Kobe earthquake.

US Trailer (2:08)

    The Roger Ebert trailer that we have seen on several Madman releases now.

Japanese Trailer (1:46)

    The original Japanese trailer, which is, unfortunately, not subtitled.

Featurette: Historical Perspective (12:25)

    This piece talks about what things were like in Japan at the time this film is set. We hear from husband and wife, Professors Theodore Cook and Haruko Taya Cook. Some of what they have to say is quite interesting, but I dislike his vocal delivery; it doesn't help that there is a lot of noise in the audio on this featurette.

Interview: Roger Ebert (12:07)

    If you have seen the US trailer for this film then you've seen the gist of this interview. This is Roger Ebert burbling on enthusiastically about anime in general, and this film in particular. Not my favourite extra. Full of spoilers, too.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 1 version of this disc was released a little while ago. I am unsure if there have been multiple releases in Region 1; the copy I have is marked "Collector's Series". It, like the R4, is a two-disc set.

    The Region 4 version is missing:

    The Region 1 version is missing:

    The trailers on the first disc (their equivalent to the Madman Propaganda) are different, but I've never counted that as significant.

    The transfers are similar in quality. Interestingly, both show some interleaving when you single-step the movie, but on neither disc is the interleaving visible when playing the movie at normal speed.

    I slightly prefer the cover slick and DVD labels on the R1, but that's a very minor point. Other than that, these seem to be very much equivalent — you can buy either version with confidence.


    A dark, even gloomy, movie that is nonetheless well worth watching. It has been given a really good transfer to DVD.

    The video quality is good.

    The audio quality is good.

    The extras are extensive, and pretty much complete.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Monday, March 15, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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Comments (Add)
Tony - How good is the artwork though? - Rodda (This... is my *bioom* stick!)
The real story is even sadder (spoilers) - Fred (read my bio) REPLY POSTED
Artwork, etc -
NIce to see more Ghibli releases but..... - Stimpy (da, what's a bio Ren?)
Video quality -