The story is set in World War II, in the eyes of the Japanese. It focuses on a brother Seita and sister Setsuko. Already, at the very first scene, you see the bleak picture that war paints. You see people in rags, emotionally dead... physically dying from starvation. One of them is Seita, and at that very moment, I was certain that I was going to choke from emotion in several parts of this show, and I was going to be very disturbed at the end of the show.
When the show ended, I was filled with mixed emotions. The cards that Seita and Setsuko were dealt with were quite ugly. But they had hope: they had a chance to live with their aunt who provided for them. They had a roof over their head, which made them so much better than many.
Here is where the debate begins - Seita, old enough to help out in household chores, get a job to provide more for them, or help out during raids, opted to laze around and play with his little sister, Setsuko, too young to understand what was really happening. The auntie gets frustrated with him and he is too proud to carry his weight and instead, opts to live alone with Setsuko.
And that's when things got really bad. Malnutrition and Setsuko's diarrhea drove Seita to start stealing from others. And this inevitably leads to the first scene of the show.
Which leads me to this conundrum: Did Seita deserve the viewers' pity? Was it not his excessive pride and sloth that lead to his demise? Could the future have been brighter had Seita apologized to his aunt? Was it right for him to merely live a carefree life with Setsuko amidst all the bullets, air raids, and destruction?
Nevertheless, this story disturbed me tremendously. It's amazing how an old piece like this could graphically depict the bitter times so well. I find myself remembering some scenes from the show every now and then and shivering unconsciously. The people at Studio Ghibli are amazing.