“Grave of Fireflies” might not seem like the type of film that warrants a sequel, but director Isao Takahata once had a plan to make a film that was in many ways a follow-up (or more literally, a predecessor) to his famous tearjerker. According to Little White Lies, the project was entitled “Border 1939,” and it was meant to depict the beginning of World War II in Japan, while “Grave of Fireflies” is set during its conclusion.
In his outline for the film, Takahata described the setting as 1930s Seoul, under the control of the Japanese. The story would revolve around Akio, a Japanese student going to school there. When he discovers that his friend is still alive despite reports of his death, Akio travels to Manchuria to find him, learning that his friend is part of the anti-Japanese resistance there. As a means to prove himself to the resistance fighters who’ve taken him in, Akio volunteers to escort a woman back to her homeland.
“Border 1939” stands out from Takahata’s other films in its vast scale and epic, thoroughly heroic story. Takahata was clear about his intentions for the film, which were as follows — to prove the “real world” is an appealing setting for anime films, to educate Japanese youths about their country’s ugly history, and to inspire viewers to question how they build their sense of identity. Although “Grave of Fireflies” certainly has some anti-nationalist impulses, many viewers see it as a tragic, self-contained story about family, rather than an explicitly political work. Had “Border 1939” been made, it likely would have explored these political questions more explicitly.