Studio Ghibli’s second film, directed by Isao Takahata rather than studio head Hayao Miyazaki, is a breathtakingly powerful war drama following two Japanese children in the waning days of World War II. Focusing squarely on the children’s perspective, the personal tragedies and struggles of wartime rather than any bigger-picture or adult view, gives rise to a very measured and mature depiction of the wartime experience. The conflicts between individualism, pride, national and familial duty, the general struggle to survive, they’re all realised hauntingly well.
The voice actors for the children do great work, and animation allows the film to zero in on depicting the children in a very considered, powerful way that may not have been possible in live action. The illustrated outlines of the film are brown rather than the black usual for the medium, giving the film a unique, soft palette, drearier and less contrasted than typical animation.
It’s a devastating film that handles its emotional weightiness deftly. An easy example of the power of the medium when branched out for different types of stories. Four and a half fruit drops and a watermelon.