The Importance of Sakuma Drops Candies in the Tomb of the Fireflies

Studio Ghibli The Grave of the Fireflies, which is based on the semi-autobiographical short story of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka, was released in 1988 and has since become a timeless classic. The film, directed by Isao Takahata, follows the tragic story of Seita and his younger sister Setsuko, who must learn to survive the harsh realities of war after their home is destroyed in a firebombing.

From the start of The Grave of the Fireflies, the Sakuma Drops, which Setsuko wears preciously, have such character and meaning that they almost become a third protagonist in the film. Although the meaning of these sweets is never directly explained, they can be linked to the film’s historical context and its themes of innocence, childhood, and even death.

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What are Sakuma Drops?

setsuko falls fireflies sakuma drops

Sakuma Drops are a type of Japanese hard candy made from real fruit juice. They were first developed by Sojiro Sakuma, a Japanese-style pastry chef living in Tokyo. In 1908 (during the Meiji era), the Sakuma Candy Company would be established and the candy, with its distinctive tin can packaging and unconventional taste, would take Japan by storm. While the candy’s eight flavors (grape, apple, lemon, strawberry, pineapple, Japanese peppermint, chocolate, and orange) have remained largely the same over the past 100 years, its packaging has changed frequently, making boxes now iconic a highly sought after collector’s item. Object.

The company has also gone through multiple transitions since its inception. When the Pacific War began in 1941, it became increasingly difficult for Japanese companies to gain access to foreign products. The following year, the Food Management Law was enacted, which instituted a national food rationing system for all Japanese citizens. This made sugar a luxury and sought-after item that was nearly impossible to obtain through legal channels unless provided by a person’s employer.

Ultimately, these challenges, along with the destruction of the company’s factory in a bombing raid, led to its closure in 1945. Fortunately, the Sakuma Candy Company was restored shortly after the war by Nobunosuke Yokokura , a Tama-born businessman, who previously had a deep relationship with the company before it dissolved.

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Sakuma falls as a symbol in the Grave of the Fireflies

seita and setsuko fall fireflies sakuma drops

Whenever the word “candy” is mentioned, it can evoke a variety of different feelings, from the joy the candy often brings to happy childhood memories. They are often given by parents on special occasions, to be good or just because they care.

For Setsuko, Sakuma Drops provide respite from the world around her. She was plunged into the darkness of war, which resulted in her mother’s death as the family home was destroyed and made unwanted by her relatives. Unsurprisingly, that’s a lot for a four-year-old to process both intellectually and mentally. Whether Setsuko has a tantrum or behaves well, she is rewarded by Seita with one of the candies from her box. While a candy doesn’t offer a solution to the hopeless situation she’s facing, it does offer a moment of relief where she can savor something pure and innocent.

Both the Sakuma Drops are a symbol of hope for the film’s protagonists, but also of despair. As the story progresses, the candy box empties, and with each candy eaten, the characters sink deeper into despair. Although Setsuko realizes that she must ration her supply if she wishes to continue having her momentary escapes of happiness, it is inevitable that they will all eventually fade away. When the sweets have all been eaten, Seita uses the box to create sweet-tasting water which he offers to his sister. This would be Setsuko’s last taste of happiness, as shortly after this scene, they are pushed onto the streets of Kobe to fend for themselves.

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When Setsuko dies, Seita places her body in a coffin along with her belongings. After placing the box next to his sister, he stops and picks it up. For a moment, Seita stares at the now rusty box and finally decides to keep it. After cremating Setsuko, Seita uses her as a way to store her ashes, replacing the sweets she once loved. It’s a stark reminder that our time on this planet is not eternal. Like the sweets Setsuko enjoyed, there are only so many – eventually, they have to run out. However, the Grave of the Fireflies manages to end on a somewhat happy note if the viewer remembers the start of the film.

After Setsuko’s ashes are dumped in the grasslands by a patrol officer (and Seita himself dies), the two siblings are finally reconnected. Right now, the Sakuma Drops are returning to their former glory, emphasizing that hope has returned. Seita and Setsuko are now at peace and no longer need to suffer from the difficult world they lived in.

As the film draws to a close, their souls tower over the modern metropolis of Japan, indicating that they are now timeless and able to see their country restored. Not only these characters were able to regain their dignity, but also Japan after the end of the war. It is a sign of hope that the darkest chapter in the country’s history is coming to an end and that its citizens will never again have to face the horrors experienced by these characters.

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