FIREWORKS (90 NR)

FIREWORKS

SUMMARYBUY TICKETS

Shy Norimichi and fast-talking Yusuke are goo-goo-eyed over the same classmate, Nazuna. But Nazuna, unhappy over her mother’s decision to remarry and leave their town, plans to run away and has secretly chosen Norimichi to accompany her. When things don’t go as planned, Norimichi discovers that a glowing multi-colored ball found in the sea has the power to reset the clock and give them a second chance to be together. But each reset adds new complications and takes them farther away from the real world — until they risk losing sight of reality altogether.

Directors: Akiyuki Shimbô (as Akiyuki Shinbô), Nobuyuki Takeuchi (co-director)
Writers: Shunji Iwai, Hitoshi Ône (screenplay)
Stars: Suzu Hirose, Masaki Suda, Mamoru Miyano

EVENING SCREENINGS: Subtitled in English
MATINEE SCREENINGS: Dubbed w/ English Audio

REVIEW

Japanese animation is often less innocent than it looks from afar, but I’m inclined to take the sunlit charm of Fireworks more or less at face value. Directed by the team of Nobuyuki Takeuchi and Akiyuki Shinbo – the latter best-known for the surrealistic “magical girl” series Puella Magi Madoka Magica – it’s a remake of a 50-minute live-action TV movie made in 1993 by Shunji Iwai, not easily obtainable in the West though apparently beloved at home.

The film reprises many of the elements of last year’s anime hit Your Name: young love, metaphysical questioning, and a tranquil small-town setting with streets sloping down to the waterfront.
The film reprises many of the elements of last year’s anime hit Your Name: young love, metaphysical questioning, and a tranquil small-town setting with streets sloping down to the waterfront.

In Japanese, the original Fireworks and the remake share a longer title, which has been translated as Fireworks, Should We See it From the Side or From the Bottom?, alluding to a debate among a group of schoolboys about whether fireworks, as viewed in the sky, are round or flat.

You can see why Anglophone distributors didn’t run with this translation, which seems a little off: can’t an object be round and flat at once? But even if some of the poetry has been lost, it’s possible to sense the underlying philosophical questions we’re being asked to ponder: whether time is cyclic or linear, and whether dreams have substance in their own right.

It’s a while before these puzzles start to seem relevant to the plot, which initially resembles an instalment of a teen soap opera, set over the course of a single day. The hero Norimichi (voiced by Masaki Suda) and his friend Yusuke (Mamoru Miyano) are both smitten with their classmate Nazuna (Suzu Hirose), though too nervous to confess their feelings to her directly.

Which of them will get the chance to escort her to the annual fireworks festival in the evening? An impromptu swimming race doesn’t entirely resolve the question, which is complicated by Nazuna’s secret plan to run away to the city to escape a difficult family situation (though one which, thankfully, isn’t too explicitly traumatic).

The film reprises many of the elements of last year’s anime hit Your Name: young love, metaphysical questioning, and a tranquil small-town setting with streets sloping down to the waterfront. As in Your Name, the characters are idealised but cartoonish in the usual anime manner – spiky hair, saucer eyes – while the backgrounds have a liquidity that approaches photorealism: reflections in water, simulated lens flare, drifting clouds.

A similar hyper-realism is present in close-ups of objects, most crucially a glass orb which Nazuna salvages from the ocean at the start of the story. When it falls into Norimichi’s hands, it gives him the power to rewind time and make different decisions – allowing us to witness multiple variants on the same situations, as in a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

While the film makes no effort to provide a logical explanation for anything, the idea of time as a circle, flat or otherwise, is central to its design. There are more circular or revolving objects here than in any film I’ve seen since Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson: wind turbines, bicycle wheels, bubbles, eyes, the beams of a lighthouse, ripples in the water when characters plunge in.

Lyricism is the film’s dominant mode, but the early scenes also incorporate touches of earthy humour, in scenes of Norimichi on the toilet and of boys ogling a teacher’s breasts (more spheres). As events cycle around, we gradually move away from realism, the visual style shifting accordingly: the full-blown fantasy sequences, where characters spin away into the sky, have a touch of 1990s Disney films such as Beauty and the Beast.

Fantasy and reality start to look like two sides of the same coin, and (as so often in anime) this can be said of nature and technology as well. Beneath its calm surface, the town like the film itself is a kind of machine, made up of interlocking moving parts – though unlike in the considerably more elaborate Your Name, the coherence remains more on the level of imagery than plot.

Indeed, part of the film’s charm stems from its refusal to insist too strongly on meaning, at least when this might impede the main goal of creating something pretty to look at. Even at its most solid, the world sketched here has an unreality which is appealing in itself: the wind turbines spin much more quietly than you’d expect, and the grass beneath them is mysteriously still.

– Jake Wilson, The Age