Cartoons draw wrong conclusions on second world war  

Japanese anime regarding the conflict may be beautiful and heart-rending to watch, but one should not forget who started hostilities and spread horror   

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 3:08am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 3:08am

Unlike most Western cartoons, Japanese anime covers the whole range of cinema, from violent pornography and gangster comics to child animation and high art. Most of us in Hong Kong grew up on anime; some of us still haven’t outgrown it.

But it’s precisely when it is a work of art that it can become insidious. One such masterpiece is Grave of the Fireflies, directed by the legendary animator Isao Takahata, who died earlier this month. His worldwide fans celebrated the war anime, which was profiled by the BBC this week.

Wartime animation Grave of the Fireflies is a depressing masterpiece

The 1988 anime is well-known to many Hongkongers. It is beautiful and heart-rending to watch, as the two lovable characters, a teenage brother and younger sister, go from despair to starvation and death at the closing months of the second world war. 

The little sister carries a tin can containing sweets, which has since become iconic due to the popularity of the movie. When the siblings run out of sweets and have nothing to eat, the brother mixes some water in the can with sugar residue for his sister to cheer her up. After she dies, he keeps her ashes and bone fragments in it. 

The anime is not just sad, but infuriatingly manipulative. Many professional film critics, however, think otherwise. The late critic Roger Ebert called it “one of the greatest war films ever made”. Really?!

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As a tribute to perverse marketing, replica cans were later sold with the smiley faces of the brother and sister printed on them. It was enough to make you ill.

Then, in 2013, came another war anime, The Wind Rises. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, probably the most famous Japanese animator today, it was loosely based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the genius engineer who designed the legendary Mitsubishi A5M and A6M Zero warplanes.

There was no blood or firebombing of cities. It was all quite idyllic because Horikoshi was shielded from all the horrors. The anime was more like a sentimental love story, in which his beloved died from a terminal illness.

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No one would accuse Takahata and Miyazaki of being right-wing warmongers. In fact, their masterpieces advocate an exemplary pacifism.

But watching them, you might forget who started the war, spread it far and wide, and caused untold horror and suffering to millions across the region.