First off, I have to admit that I wasn’t the biggest fan of this movie, and I’m not the biggest fan of Isao Takahata in general(I’ve only seen this and Kaguya-hime, though, so maybe I shouldn’t judge just yet). Hotaru no Haka, aka Grave of the Fireflies, was part of a double feature together with Tonari no Totoro, and I have to say that I was vastly more interested and vastly more invested in Totoro than in Grave of the Fireflies.
That said, I absolutely cannot end on that note, because Grave of the Fireflies has something that Totoro doesn’t: Risk and uncertainty. Totoro is a safe movie, in many senses of the word. It’s cute and it can be a tearjerker if you happen to identify a lot with the characters, but if it’s not, it is on no level offensive or off-putting. Grave of the Fireflies, on the other hand, is very risky. It can be off-putting and horrifying in a non-enjoyable way(which it fortunately was not for me), and it can be boring(which it unfortunately was for me). And it has ambition. The Wind Rises is my favourite Miyazaki film, and that’s because it tried to do many of the same things that Fireflies did, albeit in a different style.
Grave of the Fireflies is, in some ways, a very uncensored depiction of the part of WWII that took place in Japan. In that sense, watching it was a completely new experience for me, and I can’t discount that. It tried very hard to tell a story of the war, and at that it was definitely successful, at least on paper. But that was kind of the problem for me. I prefer to learn about war through documentaries, biographies and other books that deal with the war on a larger scale, not through personal stories about individual people. I do acknowledge the value of personal stories as different and unique perspectives in a genre where looking at things from multiple perspectives is very important, but it just happens to not be my kind of storytelling method.