Review

by Kim Morrissy,

Fireworks, Should We See it from the Side or the Bottom?

Synopsis:
Fireworks, Should We See it from the Side or the Bottom?
One day during summer vacation, a group of boys tries to view a fireworks display from the town lighthouse to see if they look round or flat when viewed from the side. Meanwhile, one of the boys, Norimichi, receives an invitation from his crush Nazuna to run away with her.
Review:

Fireworks doesn't start off on its best foot. Its first thirty minutes amble somewhat aimlessly, with its themes never in clear focus. In isolation, there are evocative and striking shots, but the dutch angles and extreme closeups strike an ominous tone that doesn't suit the mood of this sweet love story. The character animation frequently doesn't mesh with the lush background art, and the CG animation stands out harshly. The overall effect is garish and disjointed, leaving the audience to wonder what mood the film is even trying to convey.

Eventually, however, Fireworks finds its footing, and the story comes together for a resounding, emotional climax. The visual presentation improves by leaps and bounds too, featuring some breathtaking colors and special effects. In those final moments when the fireworks spread across the night sky and the world comes alive with color, Fireworks is perfect. The film is worth watching for those final minutes alone.

Fireworks is an odd duck among anime films. It's an animated remake of a 1993 live-action drama of the same name. I haven't seen the original, which was directed by the Japanese film legend Shunji Iwai, but just from watching the anime version, I could immediately appreciate why it might have been regarded as a modern classic. Fireworks tells a simple story of adolescent longing and possibility, but the plot's simplicity allows for a rich texture of emotions and moods to shine through. There's a time travel gimmick but it's never fully explained. Instead, the focus is on the main characters and the intensity of their desire to create a happier future.

SHAFT's version of the film is at its best when it uses its arthouse visuals to express these simple, powerful emotions. There's very little dialogue or exposition to explain the characters' backstories or why they feel the way they do, but those details are ultimately irrelevant when the visuals convey their raw feelings so comprehensively. For instance, one of the standout scenes is an extended musical sequence where the heroine Nazuna imagines herself as a princess. We don't need to be told why she longs to escape her fate. The princess represents the girl that Nazuna longs to be, and when she tries to reach out and grasp the hand of her other self, her desperation to attain that ideal says everything the audience needs to know about her.

On the other hand, the SHAFT house style works significantly less well when it's just trying to spice up mundane scenes. It feels at times as if the film is trying too hard to make every scene look distinctive without purpose. For example, an early scene shows the hero Norimichi in the bathroom, filmed from above so that he looks small and weak. The framing seems to suggest that Norimichi is in a position of discomfort, but in context the scene has nothing to do with that at all. These visual quirks don't really add anything to the film except to broadcast that it was made by SHAFT.

It's also a shame that the production values of this film are frequently underwhelming. The poor CG integration sticks out like a sore thumb, threatening to break the viewer's immersion during key moments. Any time a character rides a bike, their bodies and facial expressions become flat and wooden. There are also cases when the characters look noticeably off-model, as well as times when the animation looks unfinished. The animation production was apparently delayed, and the final product looks as if too many shortcuts were taken, especially for the transitory scenes.

At least the soundtrack is always thoroughly on-point, successfully conveying tenderness and high emotion even when the visuals falter. Special mention must also go to the female rap singer DAOKO, who sang the ending theme and insert song. Contrary to her usual singing style, her songs for this film are wonderfully gentle and melancholy. She also sang a cover of original drama's theme song, called “Forever Friends,” which is used as an insert song in one of my favorite scenes in the film. The music certainly elevates the movie experience moreso than usual.

The voice acting also suited the tone of the film very well. It's become a trend in anime films to cast live-action actors in the lead role, and that continues here. Suzu Hirose is great as Nazuna, portraying just the right mix of vulnerability and youthful wistfulness to make the character seem like more than just the “alluring heroine” stereotype she could easily have been. Masaki Suda's performance as Norimichi is also down-to-earth and believable, even if his voice sounds too deep and gruff to match the character design.

Fireworks has enough strengths for me to recommend, even if does have its fair share of flaws. Rarely in this film do the art, music, and storytelling work in sync, but when they do, the result is impressive. If you can handle the slow start, Fireworks evolves into a wonderfully emotional experience, full of infinite possibilities.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : B
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : A

+ Last few minutes are gorgeous, great music and voice acting, simple yet emotionally compelling plot
Weak production values, SHAFT's visual quirks don't add to the story, slow start

Chief Director: Akiyuki Simbo
Director: Nobuyuki Takeuchi
Screenplay: Hitoshi Ōne
Music: Satoru Kousaki
Producer: Genki Kawamura

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Fireworks, Should We See it from the Side or the Bottom? (movie)

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