Hotaru no HakaGrave of the Fireflies (火垂るの墓, Hotaru no Haka) is a 1988 anime movie written and directed by Isao Takahata for Shinchosha. This is the first film produced by Shinchosha, who hired Studio Ghibli to do the animation production work. It is an adaptation of the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka, intended as a personal apology to the author's own sister.
Some critics—most notably Roger Ebert—consider it to be one of the most powerful anti-war movies ever made. Animation historian Ernest Rister compares the film to Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and says, "it is the most profoundly human animated film I've ever seen."
Taking place toward the end of World War II in Japan, Grave of the Fireflies is the poignant tale of the relationship between two orphaned children, Seita (清太) and his younger sister Setsuko (節子). The children lose their mother in the firebombing of Kobe, and their father in service to the Imperial Japanese Navy, and as a result they are forced to try to survive amidst widespread famine and the callous indifference of their countrymen (some of whom are their own extended family members).
The movie begins in Sannomiya Station, and shows the second main character: Seita, dying from starvation there in rags. A janitor comes and digs through his things, and finds a candy tin, containing Setsuko's ashes. He throws it out, and from there springs the spirit of Setsuko, Seita and a group of fireflies. The two spirits provide narrative throughout the story. The film is, in effect, an extended flashback to Japan, at the end of World War II during the Kobe firebombings. Setsuko and Seita, the two siblings, are left to secure the house and their belongings, allowing their mother, suffering from a heart complaint to proceed to a bomb shelter. They are caught off-guard by a batch of bombs dropped in their vicinity, although they survive unscathed. Their mother, however, is caught in the air raid and dies from burn wounds. Having nowhere else to go, Setsuko and Seita go to live with their aunt, and write letters to their father. On the second day that they stay there, Seita goes out to get the left over supplies which he had buried in the ground to preserve before the bombing which killed their mother. He gives all of it to his aunt, but hides a small tin of fruit drops. This tin of fruit drops later proves a recurrent icon in the film. Following cruelty from their aunt, who gives them barely enough food, insults them and sells their mother's kimonos for rice, which she keeps for herself, Seita and Setsuko finally decide to go and live in an old, abandoned bomb shelter. Gradually, they begin to run out of rice, and Setsuko begins to starve. In desperation, Seita removes all the money from their mother's bank account, when he learns of his father's death. He buys a large quantity of food, and rushes back to the shelter, where he finds Setsuko hallucinating. She is sucking marbles which she believes are fruit drops and offers him 'rice balls' which are really only made out of mud. Finally, she dies of starvation. Seita cremates her, using supplies donated to him by a farmer and leaves her ashes in the fruit tin, which he carries with his father's photograph, until his death.
At the end of the film, the spirits of Seita and Setsuko are seen—no longer raggedy and etiolated but healthy and well-dressed—sitting side by side as they look down on the modern-day city of Kobe.