What They Say:
Based on a story by Shunji Iwai (The Case of Hana and Alice, A Bride for Rip Van Winkle), animation by studio SHAFT and directors Akiyuki Shinbo (Puella Magi Madoka Magica, March Comes in Like a Lion) and Nobuyuki Takeuchi (Bakemonogatari) bring this sci-fi tinged story of young love and teenage turmoil to life. While a classroom argument rages about how fireworks look from different angles as they burst forth in the night sky, the reserved Norimichi and his best friend Yusuke are about to compete for an even more explosive event in their young lives – the opportunity to spend some time with a girl named Nazuna with whom they are both smitten. The lucky winner is to be decided by a simple swimming contest, but the effects of this race are far more seismic than Norimichi could have imagined.
When a mysterious glowing ball offers Norimichi a second chance at victory, he comes to learn that even the slightest changes in perspective can make a striking difference to the world around him – a daunting face that might also be the key to helping Nazuna resolve the troubles which plague her…
With this getting a cinematic release in Japan and a limited cinema release in the west (including the UK), Fireworks has a 5.1 English/Japanese audio track with the audio being superb in the DVD version I reviewed – watched in both languages and no adjustments were required, the combination of the beautiful music and superb voice work (the dub in the behind the scenes segments showcase that they actually hired teen actors rather than adults who sound like teens for more authenticity), being strong and recognizable as well as understandable for the characters played, it is a great listen on either format.
The menu is pretty standard, showing clips of the movie with a musical loop in the background, your selections are below it of Play, Scenes, Set Up and Extras – it goes pretty quickly almost like a Blu-Ray with selections (the music still loops in Set Up but not during scenes or extras strangely) – with set up you can select the 5.1 options in Japanese/English and subtitle options for the hard of hearing, based from the original Japanese, in French or without. Very standard but very accessible and quick with returning to the main menu with no pausing so one of those DVD releases which is as close to a Blu-Ray release as possible.
We have two extras on this release – we have the theatrical trailers for both east and west, with the big extra being Behind The Scenes with the English Cast. Whilst about 10 minutes long, it does a great idea of discussing the movie with a lot of the primary players – we have Michael Sinterniklaas(Voice Director) talking about the animation, how it slowly evolves, the music, etc, then we have Stephanie Sheh (Casting Director) who talks about translating, spotting the script, rewriting, casting young actors, then we have Ryan Shanahan (VA Norimichi) talking about Norimichi’s character, getting into the character, and finally Brooklyn Nelson (VA Nazuna), who talks about Nazuna’s character – all of them talk about challenges in working on Fireworks, shooting schedule with the younger actors, would they change the past? It’s short but rather in depth for the time it gives.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Fireworks is an extended version of a live action movie/play of the same name originally released in 1993 – also known as Uchiage Hanabi, Shita kara Miru ka? Yoko kara Miru ka? The extended length compared to the 50-minute live action gives a bit more in-depth to some of the ‘what if’ scenarios of the original and with the animation created by SHAFT it is definitely an experience to watch. However does making it longer make it better?
The story is basically a teen romance with a mix of mystery and supernatural in the background – the translation is ‘Should We See It From The Side or the Bottom?’ which is a question asked throughout the movie of the fireworks the group is going to see yet it is basically just the holy grail for the real meat of the movie, which is the time travel incident – indeed, you will get some Re;Zero vibes but fortunately none of the characters die for the time to reverse…just how it happens and why it happens…well, it’s part of the problem as you will see…
The story revolves around two characters, Norimichi Shimada, a young boy who is hanging with his friends ready to see the fireworks, and Nazuna Oikawa, a beautiful girl who Norimichi and his friend Yusuke seem to have a crush on. While the boys bet of whether the fireworks will be flat or round when watched from the side at the lighthouse they are planning to hang out seems an odd thing to focus on, it does hold some importance later when things get a bit strange when we see Nazuna pick up a strange jewel on the beach…
We see Norimichi and Yusuke at the pool on clean-up duty, and Nazuna just shows up in her swimsuit lying down, Norimich being very nervous to remove a dragonfly from her face when the two boys decide to have a swimming race with the winner wanting to do something (Yusuke says he’ll confess to Nazuna for example) – Nazuna, however, wants in and her bet is that the boys have to do what she says. Norimichi gets distracted and hurts himself whilst Nazuna asks Yusuke to go to the fireworks festival with her. It is here we learn of Nazuna’s troubles…she is leaving the next day to move away with her mother and new stepfather as she is remarrying and she clearly doesn’t want to. Then whilst Norimichi is at Yusuke’s place as they are doctors, Yusuke says he has to bail on Nazuna because he doesn’t want to break the promise with their friends (in reality, it seems he knows Norimichi also likes Nazuna which leads to some conflict a bit later) – and Nazuna enters and we see she actually wanted to go with Norimichi all along. She confesses she wants to run away but they are found by Nazuna’s mother who takes Nazuna home by force with Norimichi helpless to do anything. She drops the jewel from before which he picks up, and when he overhears Yusuke apparently insulting Nazuna (rather was trying to pretend he didn’t like her) he punches him in rage, and then throws the jewel away…
….which seemingly makes time drift backwards.
This is where the problem with the movie hits with me as it is a big issue on two points. The first is that there is no real explanation for why it does this, it just does. And secondly, because things don’t really change until the end of the movie, it doesn’t really make any of the characters engaging like you would actually care about them as they aren’t developed well enough – even with the extended time compared to the original…
Back to the story though, we return to the swimming race – this time Norimichi isn’t distracted knowing what happens and wins but this time Yusuke sees them and is jealous that he is with Nazuna and ditched the guys to go with her (it is here that Norimichi realizes he is in a different time line because the fireworks were flat compared to round previously, the title now making more sense) but are caught again when trying to elope by Nazuna’s mother and stepfather. So he has the jewel again and throws it to cause another time loop, this time back to the station, where they avoid the parents and escape on the train.
This time, they head to the lighthouse when both the parents and Norimichi’s friends see them on the train (bit of a coincidence) leading to them actually being knocked off the lighthouse by Yusuke – here, before they fall into the sea he uses the jewel one more time wishing for a day together, which changes the time completely into a glass prism where the town is trapped inside making things look weird. It’s here that the jewel is now left and a cameo firework maker from the start returns to fire the jewel into the sky which showcases various alternate realities and futures. It ends with the two kissing in the sea and wondering where the future now leads with a very ambiguous ending when the teacher calls out Norimichi’s name and there is no reply, with Nazuna desk also empty…
This one is a hard one for me to say that I loved to be honest. On one hand, the animation and music is superb – it flows fantastically and it is a true spectacle throughout, and the ending, in particular, is very unique as you wonder if the two did elope, if they went to a different reality, did they drown in the sea, etc – it is up to the viewer’s interpretation and is the one bit of intelligent writing and storytelling. On the other hand, it isn’t developed enough that you care enough for these characters are they are very one-dimensional. Nazuna, for example, wants to elope because she doesn’t seem to get along with her mother and new stepfather, but it isn’t really explained well – the family doesn’t really get a chance to discuss things with her or Norimichi, it is just drag her back home, and Nazuna herself doesn’t explain really any deeper issues other than she doesn’t like it and wants to leave home. Norimichi as well is pretty plain as well, and doesn’t really have any character other than wants to be with her vs. being with his friends. The time travel mechanic isn’t well explained either – you are unsure if he is just traveling to the past or if it is a different world/time completely – it really isn’t well explained even during the final reality as you don’t see the reactions of Norimichi’s friends, the teachers, etc. It makes the movie easy to watch granted as the story is quite easy to follow but it also means you can’t get fully immersed into it despite the visuals and sound because the story is very linear. Granted the romance aspect is a sweet touch as you feel that there have been feelings for a while, but because of the unknown timeline of how the two have known each other, it isn’t made very clear.
The thing is, there is nothing about the movie I say is bad – it just is there. It’s very generic despite the melding of sci-fi with school drama, the elements of time travel just are there and can’t really be explained, and the characters are very flat and whilst not horrible, just are there and don’t add anything in depth to make this movie memorable. In the end, it is an average movie but with some stunning depth in the visuals and the sound which can make it worth a watch at least.
Fireworks ironically tries to be more in-depth with the longer running time than the original and yet doesn’t take advantage of that adding to the story, instead focusing on returning and changing time to turn it into a teen romance which whilst cute, doesn’t really make you root for the characters or not like them. Indeed, none of the cast is really hateable, just not ones you enjoy their character for, they are just there part of course for the story. The plot is simple, the visuals are great but it is just polished for an OK product.
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: November 26th, 2018
Running Time: 90 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.