A visually sumptuous, dream-like and disarmingly strange teen romance-fantasy delivers something strikingly original.
Featured picture ©2017 ‘Fireworks, Should We See It From The Side Or The Bottom?’ Production Committee
Fireworks—Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? (2017)
Directors: Akiyuki Shimbo and Nobuyuki Takeuchi
Starring: Suzu Hirose, Masaki Suda, Mamoru Miyano and Takako Matsu
Screenplay: Hitoshi One, based on the story by Shunji Iwai
Running time: 90 minutes
On a sleepy summer day in a seaside town, a beautiful high school girl asks the boy who likes her to run away with her. Their adventure includes parents in pursuit, a magical sphere and a day that keeps repeating itself.
“Strong performances, luminous animation and a looping plot will entrance and challenge both anime buffs and broader audiences.”
Japanese anime had a banner year in 2017 in terms of quality, popularity and reach. The year saw Makoto Shinkai’s 2016 gender-swapping fantasy Your Name continue its global box-office conquest while Sunao Katabuchi’s In This Corner of the World reinforced animation’s ability not only to build new worlds but to recapture real worlds now lost, and to draw powerful stories within them.
Directors Akiyuki Shimbo and Nobuyuki Takeuchi’s Fireworks (full title: Fireworks— Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?), based on a 1993 live-action TV film by Shunji Iwai, most definitely positions itself in the Your Name school of supernatural high school love stories. It comes with a fine pedigree boasting a script by Hiroshi One (Moteki and Scoop!) and the voices of young adult superstars Suzu Hirose and Masaki Suda.
The action takes place on a single summer day in a sleepy seaside town. The local boys argue about the nature of reworks and whether the shape of the bursts vary according to perspective: at if viewed from the side and round when seen from below. Meanwhile the love-struck Norimichi and Yusuke both long to accompany their beautiful classmate Nazuna to the village’s annual fireworks festival. Though neither can muster the courage to ask for a date they decide to settle the issue in the high school pool; the winner of a swimming race earns the right to approach Nazuna. Norimichi wins but Nazuna—who suffers in an abusive home environment—suggests that instead of the festival they flee the village completely. Their escape goes terribly, tragically awry until Norimichi discovers a magical orb which allows him to rewind time and relive the day again and again.
Fireworks grafts the closed time-loop themes of Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow onto a Japanese rural teenage romance. It questions the linear nature of time while asking us to give philosophical consideration to the infinite possibilities implicit in our every act of will and in every whim of circumstance.
Animation director Shimdo’s visual style is distinctly different from the oceanic vistas we expect from Miyazaki or Shinkai. Blending 3D animation with hand-drawn 2D, he creates bold, hallucinatory images. Against often photo-realistic backgrounds, he brings his characters into extreme close-up; Nazuna’s huge, luminous eyes contain worlds of vulnerability and mischief. This level of scrutiny demands nuanced performances and Hirose and Suda—two of the best young film actors of their generation—are equal to the task. The fact Norimichi is a head shorter than Nazuna is a nice touch that increases our sympathy for his character.
Fireworks errs in positioning itself too close to the orbit of Shinkai’s masterpiece. The supernatural story of teenage romance and escape in the rural seaside setting will lead audiences to expect another Your Name. It is not a comparison many films could survive but Fireworks is something very different. Shot through with a giddy, ecstatic melancholy, Shimbo and Takeuchi’s film is visually sumptuous, dream-like and, at times, disarmingly strange and disorienting. But then, isn’t that pretty much exactly what young love is supposed to feel like?
Fireworks’ Canadian premiere will be presented as a special screening of the JCCC’s Toronto Anime Matsuri on Sunday, February 18, at 2 pm.