In 1985 Isao Takahata co-founded the internationally renowned Studio Ghibli. He directed far fewer films than his more well-known co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, but Grave of the Fireflies stands among not only the finest Studio Ghibli movies but is routinely hailed as one of the greatest, and most gut-wrenching, animated films of all time.
Roger Ebert put Grave of the Fireflies in his pantheon of 'Greatest Movies' and his 4/4 review well explains why.
The film opens on an evening in 1945, after Japan's surrender at the end of World War II; and in a train station, the young Seita dies alone. The rest of the movie tells us, in flashback, how things have come to this.
Seita and Setsuko are two young Japanese children growing up in the waning days of the war. Much to Seita's pride, their father is in the Japanese navy, and they live fairly content lives in Kobe despite rationing and the other privations of war. When their mother dies from burns suffered during an American fire-bombing raid, a distant aunt takes them in - and conflict eventually forces the children to try to survive on their own.
At first, Seita and his little sister enjoy their idyllic lives in the country, but harsh reality eventually settles in as Seita begins to understand the difficulties of taking care of a young child when both food and compassion are scarce.