Film Review: Fireworks

A schoolboy in love tries to turn back time in this anime feature.
Specialty Releases

You can’t judge a book by its cover—or a film by its title.

Hearing that there’s a new Japanese film out called Fireworks—and that it’s the remake of a previous ’90s hit of the same name—you wouldn’t be out of line to expect another iteration of the great Takeshi Kitano crime thriller from 1997.

But you’d be wrong.

This Fireworks is, in fact, a remake—and expansion—of a 1993 TV teen romance, “Fireworks: Should We See It From the Side or the Bottom?”, released to theatres in ’95.  A prettily imagined anime feature, this new film has no brooding cops, no ruthless criminals, no gangsters at all.

Also, not much of a point.

The tricky story revolves around a gaggle of geeky 14-year-old schoolboys, big on pranks and pent-up sexuality, low on maturity and manners. Their current obsession is Nazuna, a quiet, self-contained schoolgirl—and a mysterious beauty that one boy in particular, Norimichi, is determined to solve. And maybe even save.

Because Nazuna is set to leave town with her mother, and her mother’s new husband. And Nazuna would rather run away herself, would rather do anything than that.

It’s a small story, and what makes it somewhat interesting is a bit of magic in the plot—a glittering glass ball that Nazuna has found at the beach. For some reason, it can reverse time—and when Norimichi discovers this, he uses it to try, again and again, to rescue her. Rescue attempts that always seem to fail, thanks to meddlers who don’t understand.

There’s a lovely idea for a romance here—sort of combining the let’s-fix-the-past hook of Richard Curtis’ About Time with the precocious passion of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom—and yet the film doesn’t know what to do with it.

A chief problem is Nazuna, who never becomes more than a plot device. It’s her story, really, her heartbreak, yet we don’t learn much about her past, and her future is disconcerting, to say the least. (She figures she’ll lie about her age and work as a “bar hostess.”) What’s really in her heart, her soul? She’s an afterthought, a manga pixie dream girl here only for boys to obsess over.

Nor does the animation make her, or any of the other characters, come alive. Certainly anime has its own, well-accepted style—the gigantic shiny eyes, the stiff motions, the exaggerated expressions of pain or joy. But after a while, the same old tropes get trying. There’s something wrong about a cartoon feature in which every background has been slaved over, yet every character looks the same.

And so, despite its novel plot, and some lovely music and incidental artwork—the title fireworks, the rugged seaside and that glittery magic ball are all beautifully rendered—the film quickly drags (it is about twice as long as the original, live-action TV feature it’s based on).

Not helping, either, is a constant debate running through the picture about perspectives—i.e., are fireworks flat if you see from the side? And round if you see them from the bottom? The teenagers argue this constantly, and frankly, in the end, I don’t know and I don’t care.

Because either way they’ve still got more dimensions than this.

Click here for cast and crew information.