Roger Ebert Pays Tribute to Grave of the Fireflies

In this interview for the 2002 Central Park Media DVD, beloved Chicago movie critic Roger Ebert paid tribute to Isao Takahata's seminal 1988 masterwork, Grave of the Fireflies. Ebert was not only an early champion of the films of Studio Ghibli, but a champion of anime at a time when the mainstream movie community refused to touch the medium with a ten-foot pole. Thank God that he stuck his neck out and promoted these great movies.

Ghibli Blog would never have existed if not for Ebert's Greatest Movies columns, and especially his essay on Grave of the Fireflies. I watched the movie on VHS in 2001, and it took me two days to make it entirely to the end. I was too emotionally overwhelmed to make it more than halfway.

After a few days had passed, I was genuinely curious. How could animation create such a beast? What mad genius imagined such a thing as "realistic animation"? This wasn't a cartoon, not like Disney or Bugs Bunny or even known anime classics like Akira or Ghost in the Shell. This was more like an Ozu film, or Schindler's List.

What really blew my mind in those days was the sheer obscurity of it all. Nobody knew that Grave of the Fireflies even existed. Ebert was the only film critic who had even mentioned the movie, much less praised it. And nobody knew anything about the director behind it, or anything about his career. What else did this guy make? Did he make other movies like this one? Where can I find those movies? What were they like? Were they any good? All answers were either met with shrugs or silence. Nobody seemed to know the answers, and nobody seemed interested in discovering those answers.

Two years later, I had my own arts website, and Fireflies was the first posted movie review. I worked and worked endlessly to write that essay. I soon followed up with more reviews of Studio Ghibli movies as I could discover them. The import titles were virtually impossible to find, and relying on "fansub" translations online meant extremely slow downloads on Kazaa or Napster. We're talking 56K phone lines. It took me weeks to download copies of Omohide Poro Poro, Pom Poko, Porco Rosso, Mimi wo Sumaseba and Umi ga Kikoeru. Eventually, I was able to buy DVDs that were released in Japan (expensive) and Hong Kong (cheaper but lower picture quality). Thankfully, most of these movies included subtitles so that I could follow along.

It is only now, in 2018, when we finally have all Studio Ghibli feature films available on home video in the USA. Isn't that crazy? Thankfully, it is now extremely easy to discover all these amazing movies. You'll probably have to purchase Isao Takahata Blu-Rays online, as most retailers have pretty poor selections. But at least they're available.

Thank God for Roger Ebert for awakening us to these amazing worlds. And Thank God for Paku-san for creating those worlds.

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