In my experience, Japanese animation rarely features simplicity as one of its main assets. Japanese animation is traditionally complex, detailed, and at times, very dark in it’s subthemes. Nobuyuki Takeuchi and Genki Kawamura’s most recent film, ‘Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?’ challenges these norms, and does so magnificently. Based on the 1993 live-action drama of the same name, this film is unassuming yet captivating. The story follows the problems facing a group of kids caught in the precarious time between child and adult, and yet at no point makes you feel as if you are watching a teenage soap opera.
The problems are seemingly minor, Norimichi and his friend Yusuke are both pining after their unhappy classmate Nazuna, who is – unknown to them – planning to run away from home with one of them after her mother announces she is getting remarried. Meanwhile, Norimichi and Yusuke’s friends are arguing over a question that remains central throughout the film: are fireworks flat or round when seen from the side? As the annual fireworks display is happening that night, this becomes a crucial question that starts to attract bets and drastic action between the boys.
At the pool, Norimichi and Yusuke make their own wagers on a swimming race. Norimichi declares that if he wins Yusuke must buy him a One Piece manga; Yusuke states that if he wins, he’ll ask Nazuna to the fireworks. The situation is made more complicated when Nazuna – who was previously sunbathing near the water – demands to be included. She bets that when she wins, the boys must do whatever she tells them to. The result directly influences the remainder of the film.
It is this dance between choices and consequences that drive this film. Similar to what happens in Groundhog Day, the main characters in Fireworks continually ‘redo’ the day over by the means of a glass artefact, resetting at crucial times in which a decision was made. In this way the film takes on a semblance to a Choose Your Own Adventure book, breathing life into what can happen if we do something slightly different. The film producers have orchestrated this beautifully, taking what could very easily turn into an annoying structure and ensuring that it is used at just the right moments to create maximum effect.
Everything in this film has been done at nearly the exact right time; perfect dialogue is woven together with incredible visuals to form an emotional experience. The voice actors deserve a lot of credit here, they’ve done an incredible job to bring the drawings to life. The music too is exquisite and used perfectly throughout the whole film. Brought together, the result is an audio-visual treasure. There are a few odd moments in which you aren’t sure whether to laugh or cringe. One of these was the Disney scene (you’ll know it when you see it), plus in my opinion the ending was a little strange. Despite this, somehow it all works.
If I had to use only a few words to describe this film, I would describe it as ‘delightfully innocent’. It’s a breath of fun fresh air in a world that is getting progressively darker and more intimidating. And yet it is relevant, for no matter what stage of life you are at, you are always reminiscent of a young child on the cusp of adulthood trying to figure out what life means. Simply, Fireworks is a breath-takingly honest movie for all ages.
Score: 7 out of 10.