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Film review: My Neighbour Totoro (U) ** Grave of the Fireflies (12A) ***


Marking the 25th anniversary of their release, two anime features from Japan's Studio Ghibli offer a chance to reappraise the house style.

Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbour Totoro is a surrealist woodland fantasy. Elements of Alice tumbling down the rabbit-hole are discernible in the story of two sisters' adventures with the "soot sprites" and furry grey troll Totoro.

A giant "catbus" looks entirely the invention of Miyazaki. A childlike sense of wonder will be helpful going in; otherwise, you may find it all impossibly fey and whimsical.

Grave of the Fireflies is altogether more serious, a desolate account of war and its privations. After their mother is killed in the firebombing of Tokyo, teenager Seita and his sister Setsuko are thrown on the mercy of unsympathetic relatives. (Their father is serving in the navy).

When this refuge is lost, the siblings retreat to the countryside to scavenge for food. Director Isao Takahata is unsparing on the horrors of civilian life in wartime, not only in the images of charred corpses but in a sense of a country starving to death.

Its fractured time-line – the story begins at the end – sharpens the poignancy.