As perennial host of the Scotland Loves Anime festival Jonathan Clements noted in his introduction to the film, it’s hard to separate Fireworks from the work of Makoto Shinkai. His latest film, Your Name, was an international sensation, though in truth Shinkai’s star has been ascending for some time on account of his arresting visual style and affectingly sincere take on young romance. All the attention has sparking renewed interest in his influences, Clements tells us, and among those who’ve benefitted from the Shinkai bump is Shunji Iwai. The present screening is the proof; Fireworks is in fact an animated remake of the Iwai’s 1993 film of the same name, Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?
Even in the absence of this knowledge, it would be hard not to draw comparisons between Fireworks and Your Name. Like Shinkai’s film, Fireworks is a teen melodrama featuring a non-linear narration which hinges upon a fantastical plot element. It too harbours a nostalgia for the heightened emotions and carefree whims of youth, though proves neither as moving nor enlightening on these subjects. Rather, Fireworks is a charming, serviceably entertaining romp that’s occasionally compromised by an unfortunate sense of humour.
It begins conventionally enough; Norimichi is a highschool student in a sleepy seaside town in rural Japan. He and his friends are planning to see the annual fireworks display, if for no other reason than to settle an argument – one of the boys contends that fireworks explode in all directions, blossoming into sphere-like arrangements, while another insists they’re flat circles. Meanwhile, a girl called Nazuna is planning to run away from home due to her mother’s decision to move the family to a different town.
After a chance meeting at the school swimming pool, Norimichi and Nazuna’s stories become intertwined. Norimichi finds himself drawn to Nazuna, while she sees him as her ticket out and the evening’s festivities as an ample opportunity to skip town. What follows is an endearing passage of naive courtship, including an awkwardly intimate shared bicycle ride lifted more or less note for note from From Up On Poppy Hill and some lovely scenes of wind turbines. Things don’t go quite as Nazuna planned, however, and soon enough the jig is up – or it is, at least, until Norimichi happens upon a mysterious glass ball which, when he throws out it of frustration, lets him relive the day’s events from the beginning. Maybe if he chooses differently this time, he and Nazuna can stay together?
Much like it’s Groundhog Day premise, nothing about Fireworks is especially novel. And as anime teen romances go, it falls short of the emotional peaks reached by the likes of Your Name, A Silent Voice and the recent television series Kids on the Slope – for a film about altering fates, Norimichi and Nazuna’s connection seems ironically prescribed rather than discovered. That said, there’s plenty interesting about Fireworks’ execution. As the recurring question about the true shape of fireworks suggests, the film is interested in perspective in a Schrödinger’s cat sort of way, wherein the world can seemingly exist in multiple states at once. Its visual style reflects this, mixing 2D and 3D animation techniques to create an onscreen world which is at once both flat and round. The motif returns at a pivotal moment, too, when Norimichi sees visions of various possible futures inside tiny balls encased in shards of glass – many worlds contained in objects both round and flat. There’s an intuitive coherence to it all that feels satisfying in a poetic sort of way, and seems to echo the young imaginations of its teenage cast. Fireworks captures a time in life characterised by big dreams, when the world is bursting with simultaneous possibilities.
It’s faithfulness to the teenage mindset unfortunately also extends to the noxious attitude many adolescent boys have towards women. Mere moments into the film we’re subjected to a scene in which Norimichi’s school mates ogle their teacher’s chest, followed by a voyeuristic, American Pie style montage of their female peers, a sequence made all the more uncomfortable by coming soon after an offhand comment about sexual harassment. A generous reading might see such moments as comparable to the similarly objectifying aspects of Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, an attempt, perhaps, to reflect the way in which raging hormones can have a pathetically outsized influence on immature male minds. Even with the benefit of the doubt though, the film portrays the boys’ salivating perspectives with an eagerness that’s both gratuitous and insulting.
But I do want to give Fireworks the benefit of the doubt, mainly because Nazuna is such a strong-willed and charismatic character. She claims ownership all the film’s best scenes, including the majestically animated swimming race in which she trounces both the boys, and throughout the film she implores Norimichi to take responsibility for determining his own future. If Fireworks is a coming of age film, then Nazuna is the catalyst for that transformation, time and again asserting herself as the master of ceremonies despite being mostly viewed from Norimichi’s perspective.
Whether or not Fireworks was conceived as a canny cash grab on the back of Shinkai’s recent success, it’s still an entertaining film with a few tricks of its own. While unlikely to dethrone either Your Name or A Silent Voice as a new favourite, fans of those films will find plenty to like about Fireworks provided they can endure the odd blip of puerile “comedy”.
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