Grave of the Fireflies Gets a Second Live Action Adaptation!

Hey Moonies! When I read this quick blurb on Anime News Network yesterday, I figured there had to be a little bit more to this story – and it turns out there was. I don’t honestly think that the few English news outlets that did report this have done this news story enough justice! And we have managed to find out a few things that they haven’t bothered to tell.

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies) was originally a semi-autobiographical novel by the Japanese Author, Akiyuki Nosaka. It was based on his tragic experiences during World War II in which he lost his sisters and his adoptive father. The novel was written as a kind of apology to his younger sister which died of malnutrition. It won the prestigious Naoki Literary Prize in 1967. Unfortunately, aside from a shortened English translation which appeared in the journal Japan Quarterly, the novel has never been released in the English language (though a full translation does exist in German). We have also learned that an Iranian shop owner in Fukui is leading a translation of the novel in Persian because she has experienced the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war and thought this novel expressed the misery of enduring a war perfectly. She hopes that more children can read this story so they don’t feel so alone in these times, and that this novel can help bring peace to her home country.

In 1988 an animated adaptation was released by Studio Ghibli , and was directed by that other legendary director Isao Takahata. Though the animation style was simple, the tale of the two siblings and the tragedies they endured during the war was no less heartbreaking. The movie did not do well in theaters back then because it was too sad – and I can attest to that from personal experience. Many years ago I had the opportunity to see this film at a local arthouse cinema , and it was presented for free by the Japanese consulate. At the end of the movie there was not a dry eye in the house and to this day it is still the most moving anime I have ever seen. Roger Ebert has also echoed these sentiments:

“When anime fans say how good the film is, nobody takes them seriously. Now that it’s available on DVD with a choice of subtitles or English dubbing, maybe it will find the attention it deserves. Yes, it’s a cartoon, and the kids have eyes like saucers, but it belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made.”
The film went on to win awards internationally. The DVD was released by Central Park Media (sadly it was not one of the films part of the deal with Disney) and is very hard to find in stores.

In 2005, a Live Action version was produced to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the end of World War II, and aired on NTV’s Drama Complex Movie Block. This one was longer than the animated movie, and told the story from the point of view of the aunt – and showed how the war forced people to make cruel sacrifices. This one is available on DVD without subtitles (but if you know where to look there are subtitles available). Ebert mentions in the link I have provided that the film might not have worked as well if it was a live action adaptation. Even the original author agreed, saying that there would have been no other way to make this movie. Now though some of the animation was cheezy in the live action film, it didn’t take away from the power of the story. It starred actors Nanako Matsushima as Aunt Hisako, Ishida Hoshi as Seita, and Mao Sasaki as Setsuko. Hard core horror movie fans may recognize Nanako as she played Reiko in the original Japanese movie, The Ring.

A few days ago, news broke out that a second live action adaptation is in production. Until now, this production was kept a secret by the production company and distributor, Pal Project. This secrecy is much like the TV movie. Barely anyone knew of that one until just a days before it aired. It was originally supposed to be directed by Kazuo Kuroki, who is well known for his war dramas in Japan. However, he died of a stroke last year, and a new director, Taro Hyugaji has stepped up to the plate. Taro recently directed the hit drama Tagatameni (Portrait of the Wind) and served as an apprentice to Kazuo on the award-winning movie Ashita (Tomorrow) back in the eighties. He got this apprenticeship just after he had graduated college and it was quite a shock for him! In the article, Taro was quoted saying that Kazuo’s films were not Anti-War, per se but more about human life during the war – and this is why his films are everlasting. He wishes to make this film for the generation who does not know war so they may see what it is like. He hopes that this film will not make Kazuo and Akiyuki ashamed and looks forward to the challenge of making this film. As of this writing there is no word on any of the cast. It is scheduled to begin shooting in September and will be released sometime next summer or fall.

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