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September 21, 1945
That was the night I died.

The film opens in a subway station in Japan. A boy, Seita, is slumped up against a column in the station. His clothes are ragged, body covered with dirt…frailed arms and legs fall beside his body. He is looking down, breathing slowly. People walk pass him in the busy station. Many do not look at him, and those who acknowledge him....some leave food, some jump away when they see him. "It's disgraceful, having these bums here." Seita slumps to the ground. By nightfall, he whispers his last word: "Setsuko."

A custodian comes by and pokes the body with his broom. He is dead. Another one. There are many young boys in the subway station…each slumped up against a column, or a wall…some sleeping, some perhaps also dead. A fruit drops can falls from Seita's body. The custodian throws it outside into the bushes. The lid drops open from the can and fireflies from the bushes float into the sky. The spirit of a young girl Setsuko rise from the light of the fireflies. She sees into the station and the body of Seita. Her eyes widen at the sight but before she can reach out to him, a hand falls onto her shoulder. It is Seita. He is smiling. She smiles back at him.

[Opening Credits]

The movie flashes back….American airplanes fill the sky. The rumblings of the airplanes are heard from afar. Below in Japan, women, children and men are running towards the shelter. Seita wearing a soldier's jacket is in his backyard, burying a large pot of household items as the air raid siren sounds. His mother and younger sister, Setsuko are preparing to leave. Setsuko's innocent giggles accompanies the sound the sirens. Seita tells his mother to head to the shelter first. He will follow with Setsuko.

Seita finishes burying the pot, puts Setsuko on his back, takes the photo of their father, a naval Captain, out of the frame and rushes to the shelter. As they leave the house, the first of the fire bombs falls around them. They run back into their house to see smoke starting to fill their home. Amidst the fire, and the crumbling of their neighbourhood, they quickly run towards the shelter.

Fire, people, terror, and fear fill the streets. Seita continues to run as more fire bombs fall from the planes. He runs to the beach where families are sitting beside boats, ready to push off to the ocean if the worse should come. Seita finds a shelter, and together with Setsuko they wait for the air raid to end. Seita reassures Setsuko that their Mom is in the shelter and will be fine.

The airplanes finally leave. But the black rain from the bombs begin to fall.

Seita and Setsuko head back to their homes to find that their entire town has been flattend by the bombing. What's left is smoke rising from the ruins. Setsuko asks, "What will we do?". "Dad will make them pay for this," is Seita's reply.

Bodies lie on the field, covered by ashes. Cries from people who realize their loved-ones are injuried or dead. Seita and Setsuko passes by and watches the scenes before them. Along with the other people in their town, they head to the elementary school to get first aid service. That is where they'll look for their Mom.

At the school, a neighbour runs up to Seita. Their Mom is hurt. He must go see her immediately. She will attend to Setsuko. Seita finds their Mom. She is completely wrapped in bandages. Her blood is seeping through the bandages. The attendant gives Seita his mother's ring.

Seita goes to find Setsuko. She is completely unaware of her mother's condition. Seita drops their mother's ring into Setsuko's toy purse for her to keep. Seita tells Setsuko that their Mom is in the hospital and they will be going to their Aunt's house in another city tomorrow. Setsuko wants to see her Mother. "Maybe tomorrow," said Seita, "It's too late now." Tears stream down her face. Setsuko cries softly. Seita starts swinging himself around the exercise bars on the playground.

The next day, after dropping off Setsuko with their distant Aunt, Seita watches as his mother's body is cremated.

That night Seita arrives at their Aunt who has prepared rooms for them to stay. Seita tells Setsuko that when their Mom is a little better, he will take Setsuko to see her.

The next day, Seita goes back to their home to dig out the pot that he buried from earlier. He takes out jars of food, and other things that he could salvage.

His aunt is really happy to see all the things that Seita brought back. With only war rations, many items once common are now precious and few. She wants to know if he has been to the hospital. Seita finally tells his Aunt that his Mother is dead. She advises him to tell write to his Father with the news immediately.

That night, Seita takes Setsuko out for a night stroll. He gives her a fruit drop from the can of candies that he found earlier. They smile and laugh amidst the fireflies that dance through darkness around them.

When they go back to the house, their Aunt is scraping the bottom of the rice pot. They missed dinner.

10 days has passed since Seita and Setsuko first arrived at their Aunt's house. After sending a letter to his father through the naval office, his Aunt wonders why they still haven't heard back from him. At dinner, Seita, Setsuko and their Aunt are joined by her daughter and a boarder. They are involved in the war effort. The Aunt fills the boarder's and her daughter's bowls with rice and soup as she compliments them on their hard work. She gives only soup to Seita.

Seita and Setsuko spend their days in their room. One day, Seita takes Setsuko to the beach. At the beach, they think back to the old times there when their Mom was still alive. Seita notices that Setsuko has developed a rash on her back. The attack sirens suddenly sound.

Back at the house, their Aunt advises Seita to trade his mother's kimino for food since she won't need them anymore. Setsuko is napping on the floor in the room. She wakes up to shout no when her Aunt is leaving with the kimonos. Her cries fill the room. She finally realizes their Mother is dead.

In exchange for the kimonos, Seita gets a whole jar of rice. He is very happy. Setsuko sites in the corner and starts to cry.

That night, they get full bowls of rice.

More time passes. Setsuko doesn't want to eat rice porridge anymore. Their Aunt is preparing lunch of rice balls for the others. Seita tells Setsuko they will have that too. But their Aunt proclaims they will have rice porridge for lunch as well. "You think a lazy slug like you deserves the same as people you who work for our nation?!" She feels Seita is old enough to understand that everyone needs to help in with the war effort. When Setsuko whispers that it is their rice, the Aunt asks if they feel she is cheating them. In that case, they can make their own dinners from now on. She points out to Seita that he has other relatives in Tokyo. He should write to them to see if he can stay with them because their town could be bombed at any time. Alone, Seita admits he doesn't know their addresses.

The next day Seita goes to the bank. He learns that his Mom has 7000 Yen. He tells Setsuko not to worry because that is enough for them. He writes another letter to his Father and tells him to write back soon. Seita and Setsuko go to the store to buy their own stove.

Seita and Setsuko start making their own dinner. The Aunt's daughter asks why her mother scolded at them again. The Aunt thinks they need to apologize before things can return to before.

The rations are getting smaller and smaller. Setsuko is crying more at nights. Their Aunt is more resentful of their presence and lack of gratitude. She tells them they can live in the shelters for all she cares. Seita decides that is what they'll do.

They find a little shelter cut from a small hill. Seita and Setsuko are excited. They rummage through the fallen buildings looking for anything they can use. Then they pack up their bags. Their Aunt asks where they are going. Seita says they don't know. She tells them to take care of themselves. They leave. She is surprised and concerned when they don't look back.

Seita and Setsuko start living at their shelter. The pass their days happily, setting up their new home, making their own food, and spend their nights among the fireflies.

Seita tries to buy more rice. However, as the local farmers tell him, there is nothing left to buy. He advises Seita to swallow his pride and apologize to the Aunt and go back to her. Seita refuses.

On their way back to the shelter, Seita and Setsuko are attacked by an airplane. They jump into a tomato patch for protection as the plane passes. While there, Seita starts taking tomatoes for them to eat.

Seita starts stealing food at night. One night, he is caught and is beaten up badly by the owner. He is dragged to the police station. While the owner wants to press charges, the police officer helps Seita by pointing out the owner will get into a lot of trouble for hurting a kid so badly. The owner leaves, and the police sets Seita free.

Setsuko is getting sick. Seita spends more time stealing. He runs into houses that are emptied during raids to steal any food that he can find.

Finally one day, Setsuko collapses. Seita takes her to the doctor. She is malnutrtioned. Medicine or a shot can't help her….what she needs is food. The doctor has already turned away to look after the next patient when Seita screams outloud, "Where do I GET food?!" On their way home, Seita picks up fallen ice pieces from a cart carrying blocks of ice and feeds them to Setsuko. Seita resolves to withdraw all the money from the bank account and get food for Setsuko. Setsuko begs Seita not to leave her behind. She'd rather not have the food. Seita promises to go buy food then never leave her again.

At the bank, Seita overhears the men talking about surrender. They have lost the war? The great Japan Empire? What about the fleet? His Father? All gone, he is told. "Sent to the bottom. Not one left afloat." Shocked. Seita runs outside and falls to the ground.

He runs back to the shelter. Setsuko is lying on the ground. Completely weakened, she cannot move on her own. Her glazed eyes stare absently to the roof of the shelter. Seita is shocked to see she has put marble in her mouth thinking they are fruit drops. Seita goes to his bag to get her the food that he bought. Setsuko picks up a rock and tells him to have one. She whispers that they are rice balls. Seita's eyes are filled with tears. He realizes how sick his sister has become. He gives her a slice of watermelon that he bought. She thanks him. Then closes her eyes.

She never woke up again.


Life has returned to normal in Japan. Music and laughter fills the air, the sun shines brightly. Seita buys a coffin for his sister.

Seita watches until all of the coffin is burned. He puts Setsuko's ashes into the fruit drops can. That night, he lies in the fields and watch the fireflies fill the skies. He packs up his bag, the fruit drops can, and leaves the shelter behind.


The movie flashes through time once more. The spirit of Seita is now with Setsuko. They are together once again.

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