Here are the two Japanese movie posters for Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies. The first poster is the most common image associated with the movie, as it's always used for DVD covers throughout the world.
Grave of the Fireflies is a critically important movie, not as much for Japan, but the rest of the world. To most of us, this was our introduction to animation as serious drama, as historical melodrama, as heartbreaking tragedy. It's true that most of the world grew up watching Heidi in the 1970s and 1980s, but this is the film that Takahata is most famous for. This film has done more to shatter and reconstruct what I believed was possible in animation than any other single movie.
Now here's a question for the Takahata faithful: is this is greatest film? Is it really? I have to admit I don't watch it much, but this is for two reasons. One, the experience of watching Grave of the Fireflies my first time was so overwhelming, so emotionally overpowering, that I have come to experience that sense of grief with the picture. It's become a reflex. Two, I don't want those feelings to become diluted with too many viewings. I think there are some movies that are special enough to me that I don't want to see them endlessly. I want to live with the memories of the experience.
To my mind, there is a difference between "greatest" and "most watched." The great movies, the ones that move you and shape direction of your life, are kept in reserve and pulled out on special occasions. Grave of the Fireflies is such a movie for me.
After my first viewing, that is, after I finally managed to make it to the end on the second try, I was consumed by two questions. How was such a thing even possible in animation....and what else does this Takahata fella got? I've been on that wild journey ever since.