Film Review: Grave of the Fireflies

Studio Ghibli is a film franchise globally known for its popular movies, such as Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro. Compared to other animation studios like Disney or Pixar, Studio Ghibli creates memorable movies with plots that surpass the typical hero’s journey or romance trope. With a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, Grave of the Fireflies isn’t an average film. It leaves viewers with a long-lasting emotional experience; one cannot even fathom its beauty, especially since its drawn entirely by hand. The movie is terribly sad and ends with a bittersweet ending, albeit its simple story moves viewers to tears and reveals nothing but the tragic, cruel truth of war.

Made in 1988 by film director Isao Takahata, the movie depicts a story of two Japanese siblings, Setsuko (age 4) and Seita (age 14), living in the midst of World War II. After surviving a U.S. bombing in Kobe, Japan, and becoming orphans, they move into their aunt’s house. With a staggering family relationship, the siblings decide to leave the house and find their own place. Unfortunately, living progressively becomes more difficult; as food grows scarce and less people are willing to help them, the struggle for survival grows stronger and their will to live diminishes. The movie is based on the novel titled Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka, conveying a recollection of the author’s own experiences before, during, and after the firebombing of Kobe in 1945.

To begin with, the art style is extremely detailed; every drawing depicts something new, with different emotions drawn out from each event. Viewers are able to understand the characters’ thoughts and feelings simply through facial features. Each background drawn has clear details that bring life and realism. The plot and method of storytelling is well-thought out, intertwining artistic and literary beauty. To elaborate more would spoil some of the movie, but the plot often shifts between its beginning and conclusion, reaching a midpoint at the movie’s end. Even though the characters don’t explain much and the plot can seem drawn out at times, every small event builds up to one meaningful, heart-throbbing ending.

What I most enjoy about this movie is its message; the perspective of watching two children suffering is difficult enough to bear, but it teaches the audience about war’s negative impacts, of how many innocent lives are harmed by another group’s disagreements. In reality, the movie was not made to entertain–it was made to inform, to warn others about the consequences of violence. As a result, there’s no honor or glory; those who truly suffer are the ones who were never part of the conflict.

The personal impact of this story is often too difficult to put into words. In a mix of both horrid and beautiful scenes, each holding its own meaningful touch to the story, Grave of the Fireflies is a movie that’s been underrated and forgotten for years. And yet, once you watch it, even if it’s just once, it’s difficult to forget.

– Natisha P.

Grave of the Fireflies is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, is one of the most well-known and classic plays ever written. Centered around the thrilling love story of Romeo and Juliet, the story has comical, romantic, and adventurous elements. 

The two lovers hail from two enemy families and are not destined to ever meet, let alone fall in love. However, despite their fate and differences, they meet and fall in love at first sight. Immediately after they meet, they make plans to get married and are wedded the next day. Shortly after the wedding, Benvolio and Mercutio encounter Tybalt. Romeo arrives, and Tybalt challenges him. However, Romeo politely declines because he just got married to Tybalt’s cousin, so he did not want to fight with his kin. Instead of fighting Romeo, Tybalt starts a brawl with Mercutio, which results in the death of Mercutio. At the sight of dead Mercutio, Romeo chases Tybalt down in a fit of rage. This results in the death of Tybalt, and Romeo flees the scene. The Prince approaches the scene and orders that Romeo should be banished. The two lovers, Romeo and Juliet, are separated from each other just as quickly as they got together. Romeo leaves for Mantua after spending just one night with Juliet on Monday, while Juliet’s father, who is ignorant of her marriage to Romeo, tells her that she is to marry Paris on Thursday morning. Paris converses with Friar Laurence about his wedding to Juliet the next morning, and Friar Laurence concocts a plan with Juliet to get her out of it. They agree that Juliet will take a drug that will cause her to look deceased so that she could sneak away with Romeo eventually. The plan foils when the news does not reach Romeo in Mantua, and instead, Romeo is told that his bride has passed away. When he reaches her tomb, he consumes a poison concoction, which kills him. Dramatically, Juliet awakes just a moment after his death, and she wakes up to her dead lover. In an act of rashness, Juliet stabs herself with a knife, and the whirlwind romance of Romeo and Juliet dramatically ends after 5 days. 

This story, written by William Shakespeare is very iconic and has been adapted to fit with popular culture and trending times through history. It has been made as several movies, countless stage plays, and numerous book adaptations. The basic plot of the story is captivating to audiences of all ages, and it proves to be a successful and entertaining story to this day. 

-Karis K.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy: 9780451530271 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

In the book, Hardy described the impact of the emerging industrialization and urban civilization on the old, rural Wessex area, exposing the false morality that imprisons people’s thoughts, emphasizes chastity, and represses women’s social status. The tragic fate of Tess reflects the background of the times: economic poverty, the unfair legal system, hypocritical religion, and the hypocritical morality of the bourgeoisie. Tess’s tragedy is the product of society at that time, so Tess’s tragedy is also a social tragedy. The tragedy of Tess, a beautiful girl with a pure heart, is caused by the ugly social reality. As a poor woman with a low social status, Tess was inevitably oppressed and humiliated, both materially (including economic, powerful and physical) and spiritually (including religious, moral and traditional concepts). As a victim of society, Tess is not only hard-working and brave but also pure and kind. She was born poor, but full of beautiful ideals. In order to realize this ideal, she went out three times. But she was alone, and each time she was hit harder and harder. Tess’s tragedy not only has its deep economic and class roots but also has its moral and religious, legal factors.

Tess’s economic and class status decided that she was in a passive position in front of the morality, religion and law that served the bourgeoisie. The tragedy of Tess is that a pure and kind woman was destroyed by the decadent ethics, hypocritical religion and unjust legal system of the bourgeoisie. And Tess’s own bourgeois morality and religious morality consciousness also caused her own tragedy to some extent, because she could not get rid of the shackles of those traditional morality to herself, which was the weak side of her character. In addition, the emerging bourgeoisie represented by Alec d’Urberville was the direct cause of Tess’s misfortune, while the traditional ethics represented by Angel was an invisible and more terrible spiritual persecution. The value of this image of Tess is precisely that she dares to challenge the forces that oppress her. However, in the face of powerful social forces, her resistance inevitably brings tragedy. Her tragic fate seems to be a personal one, but in fact she symbolizes the whole fate of the British farmer at the end of the 19th century. Hardy used Tess’s tragic life to forcefully attack the patriarchal society in the Victorian era.

Women living in this patriarchal society are doomed to be oppressed and controlled, unable to escape the tragic fate. In the eyes of the guardians of the mainstream discourse in the patriarchal society, women are always in the position of dependence and subordination. The innocent victim, Tess, is considered to be the opposite of the mainstream ideology, the patriarchal society and a deviant prostitute and demon girl who is not tolerated by the society. To the destruction and oppression of the patriarchal society, although Tess began to fight and even shouted out the essence of the oppression of the patriarchal society on women, she still failed and could not get rid of the powerful and invisible control network of the patriarchal society in the end and went towards destruction. The application of painting art in the environmental description of Tess of the D ‘Urbervilles, especially the application of color and light, has an important influence on the characterization, atmosphere contrast, theme analysis and readers’ psychological reception of this work. It presents the tragedy of love and marriage in the heroine Tess’s short life in a real and appealing way, which makes readers empathize with this tragic struggle of life.

Although the scenery is based on the scenery from nature, the scenery as a landscape actually no longer exists because they have become a background, reflecting and coordinating the feelings and experiences of the characters. Whether it is a grass, a tree, a flower, a cloud or a field, Hardy reproduces it not in the way a photographer does, but in the way he paints. With the help of color, light, line and other means of painting, the writer tries to explore the color relationship between the sky and the ground, during which there is an invisible contrast effect, reflecting his sensitivity to width and strength. Hardy presents the picturesque rural living environment, lifelike characters and wonderful and moving details to the readers, giving them beauty and enjoyment. At the same time, through the pictures of specific life, he spared no effort to depict the complexity of the characters and reveal the moral theme and tragic theme of the work. In the novel, the description of each scene is to reveal a certain course of the law of Tess’s spiritual development, which also echoes Tess’s character and destiny. Before each appearance of Tess, Hardy spent a great deal of time describing the environment there.

The various stages of Tess’s life, such as the quiet valley of Brie and its surrounding mountains, meadows, valleys, and rivers, the beautiful tablecloth, and the desolate and bitter robin, give the reader a general view. The use of painting art makes the text appear in front of the reader like a picture, which is organically integrated with the characters and plots in the novel. Here, art follows nature, and the artist’s hand involuntarily obeys the eye’s sense. By means of artificial or natural symbols it is possible to reawaken in our imagination images similar to the real things. By means of the art of painting, the essence of a particular aspect of external things is captured, and a certain aspect of human mood is associated with it, which, in the form of words, arouses in the mind of the reader the kind of feeling needed. In this way, Hardy skillfully conceived, combined the changes of natural environment with the ups and downs of characters’ fate, and used special environment description to render the relationship between people, between man and nature, and between man and society, which constituted the incomparable peculiar charm of the novel. The emotions of the characters and the changes in the mood and color of the environment constitute an inseparable whole. The environment portends to reflect the character’s fate and emotion, and the character’s emotional fate endows the environment with more spirit and vitality. The emotional appeal of the environment and the soul of the character form a whole, and complement each other.

-Coreen C.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Wait, Romeo and Juliet, that’s the one about love right?  Yes, my friend, that is the one about love, but also it explores so much more.  In the sixteenth century play, two rival clans, the Montagues, and the Capulets has a child, Romeo and Juliet, who fall helplessly in love with each other but are not permitted to be with each other and as a result of this, through an elaborate plan which backfires, ultimately each takes their own lives. 

On a surface level, it is a story about love. But deeper down is the story’s true motifs, rejection of stereotypes.  For example, when Romeo and Juliet come to the conclusion that they are from rival houses, this does not hinder their romance. They put their families’ differences behind them without even a thought. Juliet rebels against her father’s patriarchal control over her by refusing the arranged marriage he attempts to force upon her. Also, she is a renegade in the sense that she was ahead of her time in the ways of intellect. Juliet always thinks things through or has a plan. Her character beats the old fashioned notion of girls being simple creatures that act on a whim and can’t be logical into the ground.  Friar Lawrence breaks the mood by telling Romeo to buy illegal drugs. 

All around in this story, people are rejecting the stereotypes that others represent and rejecting the ones that they represent as well. Today, if we were collectively wise enough as a society to reject stereotypes, think of how much more in unison we would all be. Now, of all times, we should be looking past stereotypes. Over four hundred years ago Shakespeare wrote this revolutionary play about looking past stereotypes and some of us are too ignorant to get it through our skulls. Remember this, a stereotype is merely a figment of one’s imagination. The more you believe it, the more you put it in the forefront of your mind as you go through life, the more prevalent you make it. As the monster you thought was in your closet as a kid, the more you thought about it, the more real it seemed.  The more you see the stereotypes, the more of a monster you become.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “It is in your hands to create a better world for all those who live in it”

Treat others how you would like to be treated.  Don’t be the monster in the closet that you were scared of as a kid. 

-Ainsley H

Romeo and Juliet, and collective works of William Shakespeare, is available for checkout form the Mission Viejo Library

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Caesar is one of William Shakespeare’s best plays. It not only portrays the friendship of two major characters but also describes how democracy, instead of tyranny, is the best way to govern a nation and protect the rights of its citizens.

In this post, I would like to explain why, Brutus, in my opinion, is a patriot instead of a traitor. First, he killed Caesar because he thinks that it is the only way to save Rome from a dictatorship. Signs of corruption and power in Caesar warns Brutus that a tyrant is in sight. Therefore, he killed Caesar for the common good and to ensure democracy.

Another reason why killing Caesar can be justified as a way of patriotism is because the benefit equal representation in Senate brings outweighs the loss of Caesar. The plebeians do not know how the government operates, and therefore, they don’t know Caesar’s selfish plans and his personality. Hence, it is Brutus’ responsibility to assure that the Roman citizens’ rights are not taken away. If Brutus is already aware of others will accuse him of murdering his best friend and be entitled to that of a traitor, yet he still chooses to do it, this proves that he is a person who values his country above his personal relations.

-Coreen C. 

Julius Caesar is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

Amazon.com: An American Tragedy (Signet Classics) (9780451531551 ...

The novel is divided into three volumes. The story is based on a real criminal case in New York, and the hero Clyde Griffiths is also based on a real person. Clyde grew up in a poor religious family and preached on the streets for a living. Young and frivolous Clyde worked as a waiter in a luxury hotel in Kansas City, because of bad friends, all day long indulges in alcohol. In order to avoid trouble, Clyde went to New York to seek refuge with his uncle and fell in love with Roberta Alden, a poor and virtuous workwoman. Later, Clyde met the beautiful daughter of Sandra Finchley, which was enough to lift him out of poverty and into the world of high society. Before long, Roberta became pregnant and even asked to marry Clyde in secret. Poor women workers or rich women? In desperation, Clyde conceived the idea of murdering Roberta. Unexpectedly the matter does not carry out according to his wish and Roberta dies accidentally.

Clyde was subsequently brought to justice. There was an election in the United States, and the attorney general put pressure on investigators to prove Clyde was the murderer. Clyde was still condemned to the electric chair after his assistant fabricated evidence and his lawyer made a lot of money. God could not save him, and his parents still decried worldly materialism and praised God’s mercy. Is it the American dream or the American tragedy? This novel will give you the answer. The novel deeply shows the live view of the American people in the early 20th century that money is the most important, desire is inflated and the general sense of disillusionment. The novel An American Tragedy not only reveals the serious consequences of the hyperinflation of egoism but also reveals the corrosive and toxic effect of the money-oriented American lifestyle on human crime.

-Coreen C.

The Three Theban Plays: Tragedy, Tragedy, and more Tragedy!

Image courtesy of Britannica.com/biography/Sophocles

Oh, Sophocles–the man, the myth, the legend. According to my English teacher, he’s arguably one of the greatest playwrights of all time (don’t worry, Shakespeare, we haven’t forgotten you either). But personally, I kind of…yeah, okay, I have to admit it…despise plays (insert drop the mic gifs here). I mean, reading about two people yammering on in verse to one another for three hundred pages, versus being immersed in a totally epic duel between Harry Potter and Voldemort? I think the choice is obvious here, but who knows, maybe it’s just me.

So how do you get an anti-play person to read one? Answer: assign it for English homework! Now, English Honors as a freshman is pretty fun; I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t enjoying it so far. Then, well, the tables turn big time when the teacher straight up announces, “Class, we’re going to reading Oedipus Rex from Sophocles’ Three Theban Plays!”

English took a pretty big plunge down the “Favorite Classes List” after I heard that one.

I’d started dreading going to class, and all because of one dumb play. When you start enjoying Honors Algebra 2 Trig more than English, you know you’ve run into a serious problem, because I was always sort of a bookworm (where are my Percy Jackson fans at? Just checking).

Anyways, we started doing some background learning about Greek plays, especially tragedies. The Greek part interested me a little, since I’m a total mythology fan, but the Theban Plays looked pretty boring to me. I’d never read tragedies before–again, the awesome sword-fighting stuff in fiction books literally kills me, no pun intended.

So anyway, I pretty much figured out (with a considerable lack of enthusiasm, may I add) that the main characters of the play were this guy named Oedipus, who’s king of Thebes, his wife Jocasta, a blind prophet named Tiresias, Jocasta’s brother Creon, a Shepherd, a Messenger, and friends. So yep, boring.

I figured Greek tragedies, how tragic can they get? Probably a lot of death and stuff, but super tragic, as in “oh nooo, what a poor guy!” sort of thing? No way.

Ha…ha…nevermind.

I’m not really going to go into detail about what exactly makes Oedipus Rex tragic, because it’s, um, really tragic. But if you do read it, whether for fun or for school, let this be a warning that this sort of tragedy is unexpected. You might expect to feel sad or something along those lines (at least, that was what I was anticipating), but I ended up being…disgusted. Revolted. The whole, “WHAT?!” moment.

I know this is infuriating, but no, I simply cannot tell you the crux of this tragedy. If you’ve already read this particular play, good for you! We can be mildly–or highly–disturbed together! Just a side note, though: I’d only recommend this play for older readers, as the content gets pretty icky as the play goes on.

So after this whole ordeal? I actually think the Theban Plays are a pretty good read (collective gasp). I think I was too stuck up on my own definition of tragedy–the whole cliche, feeling depressed afterward, stuff like that. Nah, Oedipus Rex was more, “WHAT NO WAY DID HE JUST–NO, EW, ARGH, THAT’S NOT POSSIBLE, HOW COULD–NO, STOP RIGHT NOW!”

But anyways, Sophocles himself wrote one rollercoaster of a play, which, yes, I would like to commend him on. The use of dramatic irony, keeping the audience in suspense as Oedipus’s life unravels and chaos falls upon the city of Thebes, is incredible. And, I have to admit, interesting.

Besides, Greek tragedies–despite all their horror–reveal important life lessons through the Chorus, our a group of singing, chanting men who represent the city’s citizens. Again, read the play for yourself to discover the ultimate moral; I’ll have to keep you in the dark again.

So if you do decide to read the Theban Plays, well, I wish you the best of luck. But for now, I’ve got a character analysis on Oedipus I’ve got to write, which I’m totally looking forward to…but anyways, happy reading!!!

-Katherine L

The works of Sophocles are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

I read this play last year and had my own thoughts on there. I did like the characters despite their overdramatic characteristics. Moreover, the plot was generally not tedious and did offer some twists which I like such as Juliet faking her death and Romeo not receiving the letter explaining all of it in time.

Through this play, I also learned how family feud can lead to very bad results. If both families would just allow this pair of young lovers to unite then nothing of this sort would have occurred at all. It also shows how distant and nonchalant are parents toward the psychological activities of their children. All they possibly think about is the reputation of their standing in society and who they think upon marrying their child with will bring them the most benefit. Nonetheless, I was touched by the avid love between Romeo and Juliet and how they were willing to sacrifice everything for each other’s sake.

One of the other things that I find interesting is the duel scenes. Originally, Tybalt might not have hated Mercutio and Romeo so much if it wasn’t for the fact that they are rival families. So again the theme of family feud plays a part where blinded hatred caused the two to break the probable peace between them since Romeo and Juliet were already married. So overall, my opinion on this play is that although it can be overdramatic and a little unrealistic in our life, it teaches the fact that parents should give enough attention to their children to prevent any suicidal thoughts.

-Coreen C.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Mountaineer Jon Krakauer had a long-lasting dream, ever since he was a little boy: to climb the world-famous Mount Everest.

Into Thin Air is, as Krakauer puts it, not exactly an autobiography but merely his own account of what really happened on the peak of Everest in the terrible tragedy in 1996.

Many people died on the expedition to Everest, like renowned guides such as Rob Hall and Scott Fischer. It appalled me to see the harsh conditions in which the climbers labored through, the various health conditions they had to endure, and just how difficult the fact of breathing was at such a high altitude.

I really enjoyed reading this book; usually autobiographies are not my favorite genre, but this one blew me away. Krakauer is very meticulous in detail, and he describes everything that happened on that mountain very specifically. I really appreciated that; I felt like I was there on the mountain with him and the other climbers, and knew exactly what he was experiencing.

The way he also described the feeling of being stranded and blinded in the middle of the snow storm on top of the world was superb. I mean, I was grabbing the book and frantically flipping through the pages, wanting to see if everyone made it out okay. They didn’t, to my horror.

In fact, in this book, I learned quite a lot of things that I had never known about mountaineering before, like these spikes on a climber’s boots known as crampons to help grip the ice, or how the climbers had to do acclimatization exercises before actually attempting to ascend the mountain.

Throughout the book, many brave climbers prevailed, and the cost of sacrifice and loss was sorrowful. Even though I had not known these people previously, I felt bad for their untimely fate. But many were brave and loyal enough to go back and and try to save their fellow climbers, and many that are alive today from the incident of 1996 thank those courageous climbers.

I’d highly recommend this book to everyone; this is one of my favorite reads! From action-packed to intense scenes, horrifying terrors to unthinkable grief, and courage and loyalty of many climbers on Everest in 1996, this book is truly excellent.

-Katharine L.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Othello by William Shakespeare

Image result for othello cover

Let’s get this out of the way: this play is one of Shakespeare’s many tragedies, and as always, everyone dies at the end. I did write about one of Shakespeare’s other tragedies, Hamlet, which is my favorite Shakespeare play. However, although it is not my favorite, Othello is also a very good play, full of jealousy, lost love, and has a way better love story than Romeo and Juliet or Twilight.

We meet Othello, who is the greatest man in Venice. He is handsome, kind, charismatic, humble, and courageous. He is also a very strong leader of the Venice army, has a very beautiful and perfect wife, and is about to be promoted. So why he is set up for a tragedy? There are two reasons. The first is that he is a Moor, who are known for their dark skin, and Venice is full of people who think that Othello used magic and witchcraft, as it was assumed all Moors could do this, in order to marry the one he loved. The second is that he promoted a foreigner, Cassio, as his right hand man instead of Iago, the most manipulative man in Venice. Thus, Iago hatches a plan that brings Othello, his new wife Desdemona, and Cassio into ruins, all because he had the “green eyed monster” of jealousy inside of him.

This play is great not only because of the plot, but because of the ties to today’s time. The people of Venice, especially Iago, sometimes scorn Othello because he is a foreigner Moor with dark skin, just like how there are many people in the world who are racist today. Additionally, there is also the theme of jealousy that can be seen today. Iago is like the person at a workforce who is envious of someone who received a higher position and decided to destroy that person with a scandal. Finally, there is also the theme of women, which lays out questions for both Shakespeare’s time and ours. In a place and time where women were not thought of as much, the women in the play have a lot of questions to answer. If it gave their husband the world, should they be dishonorable? If every action they had done was perfect except for one lie, can they ever be trusted again? And should they obey every wish of their husband, even if they don’t know why they have to do it or if it is evil?

For the genres, in case one likes these genres, there are politics, a better love story than Romeo and Juliet, tragedy, and much more.

I hope that you can read this amazing play!

-Megan V., 12th Grade