Hotaru no Haka
(Grave of the Fireflies)
|Synopsis - Chapter One: Opening|
"September 21, 1945. That was the night I died," intones the eerily red spirit of Seita, a fourteen year old Japanese boy, to the camera. He turns away to see an image of his body, sitting at a great column inside one of Japan's train stations, just before his death. He (the ghost) steps towards the body, which is dressed only in a ragged, partly patched pair of pants with a rope as a belt and a dirty grey undershirt with no sleeves. The dying Seita is breathing shallowly, his head hanging until his chin almost touches his chest. The tiles around him are dirty with feces and urine.
The camera pulls away to show him and the other tramps, but also the people of the train station, who pass by saying things like, "Damn tramps;" "Disgusting;" and "It's disgraceful having these bums here." One lady leaves a rice ball beside Seita, but he's too weak (or too lost in his grief) to even look at it, let alone pick it up with his hands. In his mind, Seita hears a little girl call out for her mother. It's his sister, Setsuko, a forever four-year-old.
"What day is it?" he thinks to himself, then he collapses. A fly lands on his cheek and crawls around, then flies off. "Setsuko," Seita says.
That night, janitors come to clean up and find Seita and several other tramps, all dead or almost dead. The first one pokes Seita with the end of his broom, and of course Seita doesn't move. "Another one," he says, then examines the dead boy. He discovers an old candy tin, opens it, and tastes a bit of whatever is inside. He asks his co-worker what it was, but he tells the first janitor to just throw it away. He takes the tin outside and pitches it into a field, startling the fireflies into flight. The lid pops off, and bits of cremated bone fall out. They are the bones of Setsuko, Seita's sister.
As the fireflies fly up from their grass perches, Setsuko's spirit appears, the same eerie red as her brother, and stands up from a crouch. She looks around, a little disoriented, then notices the dead body of her brother lying in the train station. She almost goes to him, but Seita's spirit catches her shoulder. She smiles, and he nods. He reaches down and picks up the rusted candy tin, and suddenly it is like new again. He gives it to Setsuko, and they walk off together as the title card appears.
A train of the same eerie red color appears at the station, and we watch it leave a tunnel with only Seita and Setsuko on board, sitting side by side, as fireflies float around. Setsuko tries to open the candy tin, then hands it to Seita, who opens it. They share some candy.
The colors abruptly change to fire red, and the two characters watch as a squadron of American B-29s drop fire on the city. We see the bombers up close, leaving streams of clouds behind them. On the ground, an officer of some kind gives the warning of the air raid, directing everybody to get to a shelter.
Seita is in his backyard, burying a blue pot of provisions (butter, pickled plums, etc.) in a hole he just dug up. His mother and sister come out into the back foyer. The mother ties a hood on Setsuko's head, despite the girl's protestations about the heat. As soon as it's tied on, Setsuko runs out to her brother, just as he starts shoveling dirt back into the hole. The mother, who has a heart condition and needs to leave immediately, tells Setsuko to behave and mind her brother, and tells Seita to get to the shelter as soon as he's finished. Seita tells her to hurry up and go instead of worrying about them, and reminds her to take her medicine with her.
After she has left, Seita picks up Setsuko and sets her on the porch. He grabs his canteen, duffel bag, and a long narrow piece of fabric that he uses to tie Setsuko to his back. He rushes inside, grabbing Setsuko's doll, some photographs, clothing, and such. They hear a warning bell and yells of "Air raid!" Seita leaves behind what's left and runs to the front foyer, where he quickly puts on his boots. When they hear the whistle of bombs, they lay down quickly, shielding theirs eyes. The whistling stops, and they run outside. Above them, they see the bombers, and then they see the bombs: flaming tubes of napalm falling all around. Seita leaps back into the house, just as some of the bombs strike the ground and buildings around them. His house is already smoking when he stands up, so he carefully carries his sister back out into the street, where there are empty buckets and unused mops leaned up against the buildings. Seita looks around at the little flaming tubes in the street, which seem so impotent on the stone street.