September 21, 1945… that was the night I died.
Just watched this powerful, gorgeous film again last night (you can find complete versions online at surfthechannnel.com).
Animation or no, it’s one of my favorite films of all time. The ineffable beauty of childhood innocence and the brother/sister bond comes up against the unspeakable evil of the firebombing of a nation, already defeated, whose buildings were mostly made of paper and wood. Not to mention the indifference of an adult population with its own survival issues.
What imagination: the visual pairing of dying fireflies with scenes of incendiary devices trailing gently down from the American planes. What acid observation: the doctor tells the boy Seita that Setsuko, his deathly ill younger sister, needs food, not medicine, and turns his back.
(FWIW I just read that in its theatrical premier in Japan, it played on a double bill with another Studio Ghibli masterpiece, My Neighbor Totoro. That seemed weird to me at first glance, but on reflection makes perfect sense).
From this very nice site centered loosely around the new Wild Things movie, some perspective on how ground-breaking (and/or disruptive of the social order) Sendak’s book was on publication, from children’s librarian and scholar Sheila Egoff.
While the illustrations disturbed those adults who saw the “Wild Things” as ferociously threatening rather than humorously subservient to Max’s will, the extreme reaction to Sendak’s work intimated that there was more at stake than a matter of interpretation of the pictures. As it turned out, this as yet unformulated anxiety was justified. Sendak’s underlying theme that a child has unconscious needs, frustrations, and fears unsettled society’s hitherto conceived ideals of early childhood and the book itself broke the stereotypic mold that had held for almost a hundred years.