Heartbreaking movie, heartbreaking music, heartbreaking album. Just heartbreaking.
Reader review by Jon Turner
Grave Of The Fireflies was maybe the most heart wrenching anime I have seen so far (Windaria is second only in comparison to this). Based on an autobiographical story of the same name, the film tells the story of two children, 4-year old Setsuko and 14-year old Seita, struggling to survive during the last days of World War II in Japan. They are bombed out of their home by air raids, forced to live with a cruel aunt, run away to a cave by the pond, and both end up getting seriously ill... what a story! Watching Grave Of The Fireflies brings tears to even the iciest of eyes.
The music to the film is similarly tear-jerking. This is no lighthearted, pleasant romp, nor is it a soundtrack that will leave one with a smile. This is a gloomy, depressing, yet beautiful soundtrack. In fact, it's so depressing, that I don't think it is a good idea for one to listen to on a clear, sunny day. This is not to say that there's nothing sweet about it, however. The opening theme is a sad yet happy song that has a sweet feeling to it. Perhaps this is because it has an innocent, lost feeling, or that it's just so gorgeous that it tugs the heartstrings of one who listens. In addition to that track, there are plenty of lovely moments which seem to recall the joys of childhood (in addition to a beautiful, haunting motif for the fireflies), but even these moments are overshadowed by a heavy amount of sad music (it's also ominous on two tracks).
At one point, we get to hear a big band playing a marching song (on track 13), and this is during the scene where Seita sees an image of the Japanese Army in the Fireflies. This may come across as out-of-place to an otherwise depressing soundtrack (it's happy sounding, too), but it's a nice, though brief, touch. In fact, I wonder what march song this is? I certainly have never heard this one before.
Despite this brief break, and a couple of happy moments, the soundtrack is overall sad and depressing. Nevertheless the music to Grave Of The Fireflies is a master work of tragedy, loss of life, and afterlife, and it really brings the movie to life. Yoshio Mamiya deserves kudos for pulling off this job.
The album release, however, is another matter. Although the music from the film is here, this album is actually recorded from the soundtrack of the film. In other words, we hear sound effects and Japanese dialogue. We rarely get to hear the music without the distracting dialogue or sound effects, however, there are some such moments: the last few seconds of track 14, and the lovely, heartbreaking music played over the closing credits, which is the last three minutes of the album.
This album can be seen on two levels. On one level, it will be a treat for fans who have seen the film and can understand Japanese. On another level, it's a very questionable purchase, because, even though there are moments where we will be laughing out of joy (especially the scene where Setsuko and Seita are at the beach, or moving into their new home in the cave by the pond), it can be overall uncomfortable to listen to, especially during the saddest parts of the movie, most of all when Setsuko cries. (We hear her wail on at least two out of 18 tracks. It's painful to listen to.) In addition, there are occasionally some very long pauses before sound effects, and/or dialogue, but this is because the film used silence frequently to emphasize the drama. In the movie, all of this worked just fine, but on CD, it is restricted only to the die-hard fans of the film. Those who haven't even seen the film will probably be baffled by the whole thing, though they might enjoy the music.
Is this CD worth the purchase? Well, that depends on how big a fan you are of the movie. I listened to the whole thing once... and I'll probably never encourage myself to do so again, because by the time this album was over, I was crying all over again. Yes, I really was. Even though I saw the film only two times (and cried both times), in English-dubbed form, I was still reacting the same way, because, even though the language was in Japanese, I knew perfectly well about what was going to come. I guess it's powerful, no matter what language one hears it in.
But enough about myself, how about everyone else? Those who loved the film will surely find it to be a treasure, but others should think twice before spending their money on a 58-minute album with long pauses, sound effects, and dialogue, even with the emotional music. Probably the best thing to do before buying this album is to see the film first. That way you'll be able to decide for yourself whether you want to cry all over again.