Japanese Film Festival Day Five: Glass Rabbit

This was the day billed as “children’s day”. I attended only one of the three films – although I did come back on Day 10 for the encore of Swing Girls. Sadly, I know no one who went to see Boy Meets Ghost; its quality shall forever remain a mystery.

The film I did see was a parade of recycled crying animation, but it was good nonetheless.

Glass Rabbit

MacGuffin powered war drama

The titular glass rabbit is nothing but a narrative device to set a story in motion. Rather than being a story about the joys of glass blowing, this is a story about the horrors visited upon the Japanese by World War II.

Toshiko lives in Tokyo with her glass blowing family. Japan declares war on the US and everyone celebrates. Then, as the US makes inroads into Japan, the people realise that war isn’t such a good thing after all. Toshiko suffers greatly as a result.

Movies about surviving World War II in Japan can spread it on pretty thick and, being animated, this particular film will inevitably be compared to Grave of the Fireflies. They’re both based upon semi-autobiographical novels, but their leads deal with the issues that they face in significantly different ways. Takagi Toshiko is of the group of Japanese people who fought to stay alive during the war and, despite all of the terrible things that happen to her, there is a prevailing sense of determination about her and everyone that she meets.
People die all around them in horrible ways, and the survivors mourn, but those outside of the military have no time for survivors’ guilt. They themselves don’t want to be mourned.

It’s not a very difficult film, and is clearly designed for children, but it surprises with its not quite total opposition to the war. It’s nice to see that, when the radio announces that Pearl Harbour has been bombed, all of the listeners cry out in celebration. As the war progresses, Japan’s hatred of America changes into one of resentment of the sanctions and difficulties imposed on the lives of the common citizen.

The way that some of these messages are conveyed are slightly too common. The death of a key character is done in the form of a “sudden close up, fade to matte” shot, but director Shibuichi Setsuko doesn’t have the skill of someone like Dezaki Osamu in this regard. The frequent use of the same footage of Toshiko running away from hardship crying quickly grows tired, and the Aryan gunning sequence is nothing short of surreal in its fluidity.

Glass Rabbit does not quite succumb to the idea that the Occupation was met with open arms: one of the sentiments expressed is “if we were going to lose, why did we go to war in the first place?” There is a deep resentment of all of the lives taken by American forces – because if you’re not in the war yourself, it’s difficult to think of lives that your side has taken. The soldiers – or at least Toshiko’s brothers – have different ideas, and the exorcism of hatred with the revelation of analogous humanity is more satisfactory than trite.

Triter is the sweeping finale, achieved by people throughout Japan reading the nation’s now thoroughly outdated constitution, and begging the people of the world to turn more towards pacifism. It’s an admirable message, but it didn’t need to be hammered in by an end credits sequence hat involved the children of the world dancing in a circle.

While not an essential addition to any anime war library, Glass Rabbit has a story to tell. If the hardships visited upon Toshiko seem laid on too thick, all one has to do is remember that the war was actually like that. Um … never again?

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