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LEARNING GUIDE TO:

Grave of the Fireflies


This Guide is being revised but in its present form is quite useful. It is scheduled to be finalized on November 26, 2011.
SUBJECTS — U.S./1941 - 1991; World/WW II and Japan; Cinema;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Human Rights; Surviving;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Caring.
Note to Teachers: This movie is an excellent tool for education when shown on its own or along with TWM's Mass Casualties Lesson Plan.
Age: 13+; Not Rated (there is no sex or graphic violence shown in ths film); Animated in the style of Japanese Anime; 1988; 89 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.

Description: For several months before the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. had complete command of the skies over Japan. During this time, the 7th Air Force was systematically burning to the ground the major Japanese population centers. Seita and Setsuko are brother and sister, ages 15 and 5, respectively. Their father is a naval officer who has not been heard from for some time. When their mother is killed in an air raid, Seita and Setsuko find shelter with relatives. However, a quarrel ensues and they leave to make their home in an abandoned bomb shelter. The two children must somehow keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. One of their few entertainments is to watch the fireflies, which serve as a symbol for their spirits and a motif throughout the film. Everything is in short supply in war-ravaged Japan. With no adult to look after them, the children gradually succumb to hunger and die.

Benefits of the Movie: This is a heartbreaking film depicting the horrific consequences of the Second World War and its effects on civilians. It also provides a clear example of the tragedy hidden behind the euphemism of "collateral damage."

"Grave of the Fireflies is an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation. Since the earliest days, most animated films have been 'cartoons' for children and families. Recent animated features such as The Lion King, Princess Mononoke and The Iron Giant have touched on more serious themes, and the Toy Story movies and classics like Bambi have had moments that moved some audience members to tears. But these films exist within safe confines; they inspire tears, but not grief. Grave of the Fireflies is a powerful dramatic film that happens to be animated, and I know what the critic Ernest Rister means when he compares it to Schindler's List and says, 'It is the most profoundly human animated film I've ever seen.'" Roger Ebert's Review in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Possible Problems: Minor. This is an upsetting movie about an upsetting topic which students need to study. There is no sex or graphic violence.

Parenting Points: Tell your children that this is a very sad movie. Give them a brief background about the brutal nature of Japanese Imperialism, the livid anger of the American people over the atrocities committed in the name of Japan, the massive pay-back visited upon Japan by the United States, not only through the atomic bombs, but also through the conventional bombers of the Army Air Forces.



Helpful Background

The information contained in this section should be known by classes before they watch the film. It will increase their appreciation of the movie.

The Second World War was a "total war" in which the entire economy and all scientific and industrial capacities of the combatants were harnessed to the war effort. Thus, factories and means of transportation were considered legitimate targets. Many of these targets were in civilian areas.

In addition, attacks on civilians were used to terrorize the opponents and break their will to resist. In both cases, the war of terror on civilians was begun by the Axis countries. The Germans bombed London and other cities in Britain early in the war. The goal was to destroy the morale of the British people and soften up the country for a German invasion. The Germans also killed millions of people in the areas that they controlled. Twelve million people died in German concentration camps, six million Jews and another six million non-Jews, such as political opponents, the Roma, the handicapped and the mentally ill. An estimated 20 million citizens of the Soviet Union were killed by the Germans.

The Japanese army also murdered millions of civilians:

From the invasion of China in 1937 to the end of World War II, the Japanese military regime murdered near 3,000,000 to over 10,000,000 people, most probably almost 6,000,000 Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos, and Indochinese, among others, including Western prisoners of war. This democide was due to a morally bankrupt political and military strategy, military expediency and custom, and national culture (such as the view that those enemy soldiers who surrender while still able to resist were criminals). STATISTICS OF DEMOCIDE, Chapter 3. Statistics Of Japanese Democide, Estimates, Calculations, And Sources by R.J. Rummel, University of Hawaii, accessed on November 23, 2011.
Conditions for Allied prisoners of war in Japanese prison camps were extremely brutal.

The Allies (the U.S., Britain and the U.S.S.R.) had been appalled by the German and Japanese attacks on civilians. As the war progressed, the people of the Allies and their governments became furious and willing to kill massive numbers of civilians to attain victory. Think of what the reaction was for 9/11, in which about 3000 people were killed. What if there had been one-hundred 9/11s?

The Allies repaid the Germans and the Japanese for their atrocities against civilians, primarily by devastating German and Japanese cities from the air. By early 1945, the U.S. had almost complete control of the skies over Japan as well as bases close enough to the Japanese home islands for sustained bombing runs. In Japanese cities, most buildings were constructed of wood and paper. Realizing this, the Army Air Forces favored incendiaries that burned vast areas. Before the end of the war, 66 major urban centers in Japan were severely damaged by air strikes, in addition to the two cities that suffered atomic bomb attacks.

It is true that the U.S. dropped leaflets before the raids warning civilians to evacuate the city. However, as a tactic of psychological warfare, the U.S. dropped similar leaflets on cities that were not going to be attacked, disrupting economic activity and causing confusion and panic. As a result, many Japanese ignored the warnings and died when the attacks came.

The incendiary attack on Tokyo, the most destructive air raid in history, occurred on March 9 & 10, 1945. One thousand U.S. bombers dropping incendiary bombs created a fire storm that devastated 15 square miles of the city and killed approximately 100,000 people, with hundreds of thousands injured. "In the aggregate some 40 percent of the built-up area of the 66 cities attacked was destroyed. Approximately 30 percent of the entire urban population of Japan lost their homes and many of their possessions." United States Strategic Bombing Survey Summary Report (Pacific War) July 1946, p. 17 Total civilian casualties in Japan, as a result of 9 months of air attack, including those from the atomic bombs, were approximately 806,000. Of these, approximately 330,000 were fatalities. These casualties probably exceeded Japan's combat casualties, which the Japanese estimate as having totaled approximately 780,000 during the entire war." Ibid. p. 20. Some of these casualties were children or were the parents of children, leaving their children orphaned.
The growing food shortage was the principal factor affecting the health and vigor of the Japanese people. Prior to Pearl Harbor the average per capita caloric intake of the Japanese people was about 2,000 calories as against 3,400 in the United States. The acreage of arable land in Japan is only 3 percent of that of the United States to support a population over half as large. In order to provide the prewar diet, this arable acreage was more intensively cultivated, using more manpower and larger quantities of fertilizer than in any other country in the world; fishing was developed into a major industry; and rice, soybeans and other foodstuffs amounting to 19 percent of the caloric intake were imported. Despite the rationing of food beginning in April 1941 the food situation became critical. As the war progressed, imports became more and more difficult, the waters available to the fishing fleet and the ships and fuel oil for its use became increasingly restricted. Domestic food production itself was affected by the drafting of the younger males and by an increasing shortage of fertilizers.

By 1944, the average per capita caloric intake had declined to approximately 1,900 calories. By the summer of 1945 it was about 1,680 calories per capita. Coal miners and heavy industrial workers received higher-than-average rations, the remaining populace, less. The average diet suffered even more drastically from reductions in fats, vitamins and minerals required for balance and adversely affected rates of recovery and mortality from disease and bomb injuries.

Undernourishment produced a major increase in the incidence of beriberi and tuberculosis. It also had an important effect on the efficiency and morale of the people, and contributed to absenteeism among workers." Id. pp. 20 & 21.
Before the atomic bombs were detonated: Yokohama, about the size of Cleveland was 58% destroyed; Tokyo, about the size of New York, was 51% destroyed; Nagoya, about the size of Los Angeles, was 40% destroyed; Osaka, about the size of Chicago, was 35% destroyed; Siumonoseki, about the size of San Diego, was 37.6% destroyed; Kure, about the size of Toledo, was 42% destroyed; Kobe, about the size of Baltimore, was 56% destroyed; Omuta, about the size of Miami, was 36% destroyed; and Wakayama, about the size of Salt Lake City, was 50% destroyed. Many other Japanese cities also suffered massive damage. For these numbers and more comparisons, see 67 Japanese Cities Firebombed in World War II and Strategic bombing during World War II from Wikipedia. See also Maps of Fire Raid Damages to Three Japanese Cities
Note to Teachers: Before showing the film, tell students that the movie is based on a book written by a man who, with his sister, tried to survive after the Americans bombed their city.

 






LEARNING GUIDE MENU


Benefits of the Movie
Possible Problems
Parenting Points
Selected Awards & Cast
Helpful Background
Follow Up Exercises and Assignment


QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:   The Second World War was a "total war" in which the combatant countries put their entire economies and most of their industrial capacities into the war effort. Thus, many economic assets of the combatant countries were targeted by their adversaries. In addition, during the Second World War, first the Axis countries and then the Allies, used attacks on civilians to terrorize the populations of their enemies. In light of these facts, were Seita and Setsuko "collateral damage?"

Suggested Response: The answer to this question is both yes and no. Seita had worked in a steel plant; that was clearly part of the war effort. However, Setsuko was too young to contribute to any war. In addition, as children merely trying to survive, they weren't contributing to Japan's war effort and, in that sense, their injuries were collateral damage. It is also true that the practice of bombing civilian areas, started by the Germans when the Luftwaffe bombed London, was used to terrorize the enemy's population and try to force surrender. It didn't work with the British and it didn't work with the Japanese, until the U.S. significantly upped the ante with atomic bombs. Although, if the atomic bombs had not been used in August of 1945, the U.S. Army's Seventh Air Force would, in time, have reduced every Japanese urban population center to rubble using conventional incendiary bombs. It is hard to think that Japan could have survived as a nation if that had occurred.











WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.











Admiral Yamamoto in 1939: "Japanese cities, being made of wood and paper, would burn very easily. The Army talks big, but if war came and there were large-scale air raids, there's no telling what would happen." Spector, Ronald (1985). "Eagle Against the Sun." New York: Vintage Books. p. 503.






FOLLOW UP EXERCISES

Section One: The Difficulty of Thinking About Mass Casualties
  • Before class, write on one section of the board the following quotes: Stalin: "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic." and Adolf Eichmann: "One hundred dead are a catastrophe, a million dead are a statistic." At the beginning of the class, ask if anyone knows who these people are and what they did. (Josef Stalin was dictator of the Soviet Union from 1924 to 1953 and probably the most accomplished mass murderer of all time. Adolf Eichmann was the man in charge of Hitler's "Final Solution". After WW II, he escaped to Argentina and hid there for many years. When his location was discovered, the Israeli secret service (the Mossad) kidnapped Eichmann and took him to Israel. He was put on trial, convicted of genocide, and executed.)

  • On another section of the board writ the numbers 806,000 and 330,000 across the top of the blackboard space in your classroom. Based upon your introduction to the movie, the class should know what the numbers mean.


  • Ask the class if anyone has an idea about how to help people think about the deaths of 330,000 people so that it's more than just a statistic. You probably won't get any takers, but if anyone comes up with a good idea have the class go through the exercise. (And please send it to us so that we can publicize it.)
Section Two: The Consciousness of Each Person is an Entire World
  • Tell the class that it has been said that "each person's consciousness is an entire world". For emphasis you might want to write the phrase on the board in a different color and in larger letters than the quotes from Stalin and Eichman. This phrase should remain on the board through the rest of the lesson.


  • Instruct the class to take a piece of lined paper and to write their name, the period, and the date at the top. Then instruct them to write the phrase "Each person's consciouness is an entire world." just below their identifying information. Finally, ask the students to think of a person living in their family or community. It can be a child or an adult. It can be themselves or another person. Give the class ten minutes to write down on a piece of paper a list of the most important things about the world of this person's consciousness. They should include information on their life: what motivates them, what interests them, who are their family and friends, what they like to do, what they're good at, which are their prized possessions, and what they love about their home. Tell students that they can also describe their fondest memories, detail their dreams for the future, and explain what makes them unique or different. Tell the class that the lists will be graded on imagination, effort, grammar, and penmanship.

  • When time is up, ask for volunteers to read their lists to the class and select three. Collect the other lists and time the presentations of the volunteers. Compliment the volunteers on their work.

  • Say something to the effect of "That's three people and we've just begun to explore their worlds." Tell the class that it took about 30 seconds (or however long it took) to read just a short description of a small part of the life of a person. And there was much more to each of these lives than what was just described. Comment that the 330,000 Japanese people killed in the air raids had their own worlds just like the people the class has written about and "just like all of us in this room." (All quotations in this exercise are only suggestions as to phrasing. Put them into your own words and tailor them to the class.)

    Then remind the class that most of the people who were injured or died suffered burns. Burn injuries are very painfull and burning to death is one of the most painful ways to die.
Section Three: Thinking of the Survivorsl

  • Ask the class to describe the lives of the survivors. Look for the following: memories of their friends or loved ones who died or were injured; survivor guilt; their own injuries, like disfiguring burns, or loss of function of their arms, legs or hands; living in housing that had been damaged, being orphaned and living without parents, etc. Some, like Seita and Setsuko, will not themselves die immediately but will suffer for a while and then become fatalities. Their injuries may kill them slowly or they may starve to death.

    Section Four: Remembering the Dead
    • Tell the class "Every human being has the right to have their life remembered, by people they loved, people they helped, co-workers or fellow students, and friends." Remind them that earlier in the day it took only 30 seconds (or however long it was) to think of just a small part of the lives of other human beings. And we had just scratched the surface of the world that was their consciousness. If we took just 30 seconds to read a list of the important parts of the worlds of the first 330,000 people who died from the bombing campaign, it would take us 165,000 minutes, which comes to about 115 days reading 24 hours a day. (If the figure you use is different than 30 seconds, the numbers will be different. You may want to do the math for or with the class.) (The same exercise can be done with the 12 million people, 6 million Jews and 6 million others, who died at the hands of the Germans in the Holocaust.) Ask whether they now understand the full meaning of the deaths of 330,000 people. The correct answer is probably "no, we're just beginning to understand the horror of it all."




    Links to the Internet:
  •   BUILDING VOCABULARY: "total war," "collateral damage," "incendiary"











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    Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

    Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.









    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

    Selected Awards: None.

    Featured Actors: Tsutomu Tatsumi as Seita (voice); Ayano Shiraishi as Setsuko (voice); Yoshiko Shinohara as Mother (voice); Akemi Yamaguchi as Aunt (voice)

    Director: Isao Takahata.
    This is Learning Guide was written by James Frieden. This Guide was revised on December 1, 2011.




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