“Watch these for yourself before sharing with kids depending on their maturity level. Death, war, orphans, neglect, disease, independence, and responsibility are explored in these selections. All are worthy of viewing if only for their visuals as they contain sad portions or themes.” -Cinda
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Summary: As the Empire of the Sun crumbles upon itself and a rain of firebombs falls upon Japan, the final death march of a nation is echoed in millions of smaller tragedies. Seita and his younger sister Setsuko are two children born at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and now cast adrift in a world that lacks not the care to shelter them, but simply the resources. They are forced to fend for themselves in the aftermath of fires that swept entire cities from the face of the earth.
Recommendation: I heard the warnings that this was the saddest anime ever… I’m not certain I agree. It is sad, certainly – we’re not just talking about fireflies being dead here. But overall, it is lovely and heartfelt. The strength of character is takes for Seita to think of and care for his sister in the stress of bombings and loss is impressive. The love between these siblings is addictive – I could totally watch it again. The introductory chapter is the most harrowing to watch.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)
Summary: Found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter and his wife, a tiny girl grows rapidly into an exquisite young lady. The mysterious young princess enthralls all who encounter her, but ultimately she must confront her fate, the punishment for her crime.
Recommendation: The crime mentioned above is misleading – but I don’t want to spoil the whole thing by telling you what is really going on. Suffice to say, this movie is accomplished with a different art form from the traditional Ghiblis you are already familiar with. Almost watercolor in style, it has a lot of movement and tumbling, falling or running around the more sedate moments of reflection. Little Bamboo/Princess is adorable and could have thrived if left to her adoptive parents’ original village, but her dad was right; she gets many more opportunities than before due to his insistence. When she comes up with a plan to challenge her suitors, she simply repeats back the words they used to charm her – GENIUS! I was really cheering for her at that point, hoping she’d best them all (including her sweet father with all his hopes and efforts toward improving her station). It ends with a sad note, removing Princess from what she wants to do and where she wants to stay, everyone in tears. But as some cultural differences show us, what is ‘right’ is not always comfortable.
The Wind Rises (2013)
Summary: Jiro dreams of flying and designing beautiful airplanes, inspired by the famous Italian aeronautical designer Caproni. Nearsighted from a young age and unable to be a pilot, Jiro joins a major Japanese engineering company in 1927 and becomes one of the world’s most innovative and accomplished airplane designers. Jiro meets and falls in love with Nahoko, and grows and cherishes his friendship with his colleague Honjo.
Recommendation: This is a great story for anyone already familiar with the Japanese side of the early 20th century. I started off thinking this was a meet-cute romance amid war, but it is half biopic and half philosophy, full of questions about any inherent responsibilities of artists and engineers for what they help create. The name ‘zero’ is not mentioned anywhere in the movie, but this artistic plane does end up with the maneuverability and speed of a genius designer. You’ll want to look up the real history of the Japanese Zeroes of WWII either before or after viewing this movie (or, like me, during for context).