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The deaths without a place to return to (Excerpt)
By Hayao Miyazaki

Asahi Journal, August 5, 1988.

Translated from Japanese to English by Ryoko Toyama
Edited by Eric Henwood-Greer

Translated without permission for personal entertainment purpose only. This is not, by any means, an accurate word for word translation, and the translator is solely responsible for any mistranslation or misunderstanding due to it.


[This is from an article about books, and Miyazaki-san was reading a book called The Desert Monastery, which is about Coptic monks. Hence the reference to Coptic monks.]


Why didn't the two ghosts of the brother and sister who died from starvation meet the ghost of their mother? Did those two and the mother go to different worlds? If they had died even though they had wanted to live, and had their regrets left in this world, the two ghosts should look like they are starved, just as they were before they died. Why do they look as if there is nothing wrong with them physically?

Just as Coptic monks passed the Nile to the west after cutting off all the relationships they had in this world, those two went to another world while they were still alive. The underground shelter which the two had moved into was, as the monastery in the middle of the desert was, the grave which those two chose for themselves while they were still alive. Some pointed out the incompetence of the brother, but his will is firm. His will was, not to protect their lives, but to protect the innocence of his sister.

Their biggest tragedy is not that they lost their lives. It is that they don't have a heaven where their souls can go back to, as Coptic monks did. Or, it is that they can not become ashes and return to the earth, as their mother did. But those two remain there, just as they were in the moment of the happy michiyuki.[1]

Is his sister like Mary (the Virgin) in the eyes of her brother? There is no longer pain in their world, which is now complete just with the bonds between the two siblings. They are floating, smiling to each other.

Grave of the Fireflies is not an antiwar movie. Nor is it a movie to appeal (to the audience) the importance of a life. I think it's a terrifying movie which depicted deaths without a place to return to.

Notes from the translator
1. In Japanese literature, lovers who are not allowed to be together run off, often to die together. This journey of lovers is called michiyuki --ryo


Additional notes from the translator


In Japanese belief (I think it's more or less the same in the West), a dead becomes a ghost when one had strong feeling such as hatred or regret towards someone or something in this world when one died, and can't cross over to "the other world" (nirvana). The feeling (usually negative one) binds the ghost to this world. Therefore, ghosts usually look terrible, because they look like just when they died. (It's the same in the West. A beheaded Queen roams around the castle searching for her head-- that kind of thing.)

So, if those two became the ghosts because they had some regrets left, they should look terrible. They should look just like when they died. So, they should look like starved children (just skin and bones).

People usually become ghosts (so we believe) because they died even though they wanted to live more. And that's why they still have negative feeling, and that feeling hold them down to this world. If you accept the death, and welcome death as a relief, you wouldn't become a ghost.

So, in that sense, those two ghosts are not the ghosts. If they didn't leave any negative feeling to this world, why are they still floating around? Why couldn't they go wherever their mother went? That was the Miyazaki-san's question. And his take was that, "It was the movie which depicted deaths without a place to return to." Those two wanted to be just by themselves. They didn't even want their mother.


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