Reviewed by Robert Pardi

This anime landmark prompted critic Roger Ebert to say that "it belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made." September 21, 1945: As Allied forces bomb Japanese cities, teenaged Seita (voice of J. Robert Spencer) and his younger sister, Setsuko (Rhoda Chrosite), await word about their father, a naval hero. Their mother (Veronica Taylor) is fatally burned in the firebombing of Kobe, but Seita lies to his sister, saying she's being cared for at the hospital. The orphans have no choice but to move in with an uncaring aunt (Amy Jones), who initially welcomes the provisions the children bring. But after she badgers them into selling all their mother's possessions, Seita and Setsuko run away. The siblings find an abandoned cabin in the suburbs and set up meager housekeeping; there Seita learns that his callous aunt has told Setsuko that their mother is dead. When Seita is unable to trade any more merchandise for food, he's reduced to stealing from farmers to keep himself and Setsuko from dying of malnutrition. Setsuko starves anyway, and Seito's only hope is that things will improve when Japan surrenders. Although director Isao Takahata uses animation as vividly as his better-known compatriot Haya Miyazaki (SPIRITED AWAY, 2001), Takahata's mines a more realistic narrative vein in this bleak film. Based on Akiyuki Nosaka's semi-autobiographical novel, Takahata's alternately sweeping and intimate animated feature is a moving depiction of the fates of cast-off children who become casualties of war.