“Even the wisest cannot tell. For the mirror shows many things: things that were, things that are and some thins that have not yet come to pass.” —Lady Galadriel, The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring
On the day of Moshimo’s local fireworks festival, Norimichi Shimada and his friends make a bet as to whether or not fireworks are flat or round when viewed from another vantage point. On the way to school, Norimichi notices Nazuna standing by the seaside, who’s found a small glass ball. Nazuna later encounters Norimichi and Yūsuke at the pool, when the two are assigned to clean up the pool deck. She challenges them to a race and makes a request of the winner. When Yūsuke wins, she asks him to meet her later, but after she returns home and hears of her mother’s remarks, she decides to run away from home. She encounters Norimichi at a local clinic and mentions to him that she was hoping that he’d win. Norimichi later runs into Nazuna’s mother, who drags her back home and causes the contents in Nazuna’s suitcase to spill out. When Yūsuke and the others arrive, Norimichi realises that Yūsuke did not meet with Nazuna and throws the glass ball at him. Subsequently, Norimichi finds himself back at the school pool, wins the race and promises to meet up with Nazuna. He finds Yūsuke in his room and manages to shake him off, taking Nazuna to the train station. Before he can board the train, Nazuna’s mother and her boyfriend arrive, separating the two, leaving Norimichi to rejoin the others. At the lighthouse, the fireworks take on a flat shape, and Norimichi later fights with Yūsuke over Nazuna. Throwing the glass ball again, Norimichi sends himself back to the point before Nazuna’s mother arrives, and this time, fends off her boyfriend, buying the pair enough time to board the train. Nazuna and Norimichi then share their thoughts for the future, and Nazuna sings as the train passes through a tunnel. However, they are spotted by Yūsuke and the others, leading them on a wild chase that leads back to the light house. Up here, Nazuna and Norimichi view the fireworks, which morph into flowers: despite the surrealness of the moment, Nazuna asks Norimichi if it is satisfactory that they are together. Before Norimichi can answer, Yūsuke arrives and pushes him off the lighthouse, leading Nazuna to fall, as well. Norimichi returns to the train, and this time, pushes Nazuna out of sight when passing the train crossing. The train continues on a track over the ocean, and enters a surreal space, seemingly inside the lighthouse itself. Norimichi and Nazuna share their final moments together and kiss while the lighthouse enclosure around them crumbles, with shards hinting at their futures littering their surroundings. Nazuna expresses her desire to meet him again, wondering what awaits them, and swims off. The next day, Norimichi is absent from their class’ roll call. This anime adaptation of the 1993 film captures the youthful approach to budding romantic feelings amongst three classmates and was released in Japan in August 2017, making use of the supernatural to drive its narrative forwards over its ninety-minute runtime.
Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?, Fireworks from here on out for brevity, is a love story at its core; as an adaptation of the 1993 iteration, its central premise is set around the idea of being able to make use of do-overs. Norimichi and Yūsuke both have feelings for Nazuna, who returns Norimichi’s feelings. The friendship between Yūsuke and Norimichi becomes increasingly strained throughout the movie’s run, and this rift continues to challenge Norimichi’s pursuit of time with Nazuna. It is through the inclusion of a glass ball capable of turning back time, through a supernatural trinket, that Norimichi is able to explore what challenges might lie in a relationship with Nazuna, and also, what outcomes might ensue if he should persist. That Norimichi requires divine intervention in the form of time travel, and moreover, multiple do-overs, in order to reach a point where he and Nazuna share a kiss, illustrates the finicky, uncertain nature of love and relationships. There are numerous what-ifs, and Fireworks seems to suggest that the way to starting and maintaining a relationship lies in a razor’s edge. Each do-over that brings Norimichi closer to Nazuna, however, comes at a price. As he works out those impediments that stand between him and Nazuna, his world becomes increasingly surreal environment. From fireworks defying the laws of physics, to the Puella Magi Madoka Magica-like world that is presented, Fireworks makes extensive use of imagery to evoke the idea that starting a relationship is a very tumultuous, phantasmagorical experience. Whether or not the events depicted on the night of fireworks actually occurred remains ambiguous, emphasising to viewers that falling in love is dream-like in nature: you have absolutely no idea of what you are doing, but it is exciting and, one way or another, it is over way too fast. What actually happened between Norimichi and Nazuna remain unexplored, leaving audiences to fill in the gaps. Norimichi and by extension, the viwer, is thus left with many unanswered questions, and having experienced what falling in love is like, is not content to merely sit on his hands. His absence at the closing of Fireworks hints at his having cut class to be with Nazuna, who, despite Norimichi’s efforts, was forced to move anyways.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Summer is my favourite time of year: the days are long and warm, inviting to adventure. Explorations come in many varieties, and love is a possibility, as well. By contrast, I feel that winter is the least romantic time of year: the miserable weather and days of seemingly eternal darkness is a dampener on the mood. For this post on Fireworks, I will feature thirty screenshots and my customary quip that thirty screenshots does not fully cover everything in this film, but nonetheless should offer a reasonable breadth for some of my thoughts on this film, which I’ve been interested in seeing since it screened in Japanese cinemas last August.
- Feeling somewhat like Typhoon Noruda‘s Noruda, Nazuna’s character has only a limited timespan to develop over Fireworks‘ runtime. From what audiences gather, she’s not particularly sociable and doesn’t get along with her mother, but beyond this, is also counted as being quite beautiful, enough to capture Norimichi and Yūsuke’s attention. At the movie’s start, she finds a glass ball that is beautifully rendered, and while it initially looks to be of limited significance, this little device is a Chekov’s Gun that plays a nontrivial role in the events of Fireworks.
- Miura is Norimichi and Yūsuke’s instructor. Her figure and assets draw the interest of the male students in her class, especially those of Norimichi’s friends, who wonder what her measurements are. Miura only has a minor role in Fireworks, but she is voiced by Kana Hanazawa, who most will better know for her role as Garden of Words and Your Name‘s Yukari Yukino. Aside from both being instructors, Yukari and Miura also share the (perhaps unfortunate) distinction that their respective looks seem to garner unwanted attention from students. Beyond this, the two instructors are quite different: Yukari is more slender and graceful, while Miura is more active in disciplining her students and has more of a no-nonsense personality.
- While attempting to work out what Miura’s measurements are using the inefficient brute force approach (a fancy way of saying exhaustive guessing), one of Norimichi’s friends is hit in the face with a not-so-stray volleyball, resulting in a hilarious funny face moment. I note that it is possible to probably eyeball these numbers using a variety of tricks from something like the Handbook of Geometric Topology or else use sophisticated image recognition algorithms, but the better question is, why?
- I would almost certainly balk at the prospect of another student walking on my desk in class. After boldly asking ifMiura has a boyfriend, one of Norimichi’s friends draws Miura’s ire: of the group, he’s quite attracted to her and messes with her frequently. His escapades eventually end up with him tripping near Norimichi’s desk and landing flat on his face. The school that Norimichi attends has a very distinct architecture, being composed of two circular buildings connected by a central area.
- Fireworks places a great deal of focus on one of the spiral staircases within the school, and interiors are also rendered with a good amount of clutter. As a result of this design choice, and the fact that some of the female students seen earlier have a well-defined figure, one can reasonably surmise that this is probably a middle and secondary school rolled into one. If this is the case, then one can similarly suppose that this town is a smaller one. Here, Nazuna hands Miura a letter from her parents mentioning her transfer out of this school.
- Weather of this sort graced my area on Saturday, during which it felt as though the world had decided it appropriate to skip spring and jump into summer. I capitalised on the fantastic weather for the second round of Poutine Week and visited Leopold’s Tavern for their Crispy Chicken Cheesy Buffalo Dill Poutine. This poutine is as delicious as its name is long – topped with crunchy, succulent chucks of fried chicken, deep fried battered cheese curds, a rich cheese sauce and Buffalo-dill sauce, this was a very hearty and tasty creation that reminds me of the over-the-top foods served in a fair’s midway. Because the weather was pleasant, and partially to burn off some of the food energy from this poutine, we took a walk around the downtown core under pleasant skies.
- Nazuna is quite mysterious, and all the more compelling as a character for that. She’s resting by the poolside here and lazily shares a conversation with Norimichi, before challenging him and Yūsuke to a race, on the condition that she’ll pick the winner to listen to what she has to say. In the first iteration, Norimichi injures his foot and is impeded by pain, leaving Yūsuke to win. Nazuna explains that she wants to see the fireworks with him and asks him to meet her by five.
- Back in the classroom, Norimichi’s friends argue over what shape fireworks are. In the original Fireworks movie, everyone was in the sixth grade and close to the age of eleven. Here, the anime adaptation presents them as being somewhat older – I would hazard a guess of grade nine based on the guys’ behaviours, which corresponds with an age around fourteen. The wager of what shape fireworks are feels a little out of place in their age group, especially considering that fourteen-year-olds would be more learned and make use of resources to answer their query. The limited presence of smartphones gives Fireworks a timeless quality: the original live action film was produced in 1993, before the advent of such technologies.
- With this being said, the choice to bring the characters’ ages up for the animated movie is probably so the anime can facilitate humour and interactions of the sort that older characters can permit, as well as so love can be explored with a greater level of detail: I cannot say this with full certainty because I’ve not seen the original 1993 Fireworks movie. While we are on the topic of things unknown, the real-world basis for Moshimo is not certain; the town’s name approximates to “if only I had”, which is a recurring theme in Fireworks, but beyond being a generic, if beautifully-rendered, seaside town, little English-language materials exist pertaining to what real world places influenced Moshimo, if any.
- When Norimichi arrives home, he finds Yūsuke already in his room. While mobile devices do not have a significant presence in Fireworks, the presence of flat-screen televisions and a game console suggest that this incarnation of Fireworks might happen in the early 2000s. Beyond this, I do not have the know-how to pin down when precisely Fireworks is set: modern consoles can play retro games, further confounding the year. I imagine that leaving the time period ambiguous in Fireworks is a deliberate choice, giving the anime a timeless feel that acts as a callback to the original 1993 live-action film.
- Fireworks suggest that the outcome of an event can be changed by the most trivial of details: things derail rapidly because Norimichi lost the race. Most folks will know this as the butterfly effect, where small changes in a system can have a dramatic change on the outcome (e.g. manipulating parameters of a simulation, or values of an expression). While the butterfly effect largely applies to complex systems, such as weather and quantum mechanics, it’s a popular literary device in fiction because it is a more tangible description of how small events can have unexpected consequences.
- Because Yūsuke ended up winning the race but winds up standing Nazuna up, Norimichi runs into her at a clinic while getting his wound treated, and he is powerless to stop Nazuna’s mother from forcibly taking Nazuna home. In reality, this is where most relationships end up. While we well know that the world is not this simple, the literary device does allow for a certain message to be conveyed: in Fireworks, the narrative uses the butterfly effect to suggest that Norimichi’s feelings for Nazuna can only be returned if a very specific set of events happen, and that in the absence of a priori knowledge, one cannot make the decisions that favour an outcome where Norimichi ends up with Nazuna. It therefore stands to reason that Fireworks is suggesting that in the absence of blind luck, a relationship can be quite difficult to get of the ground.
- Throwing the glass ball results in time reverting back to a point specified. Without any science fiction style justifications of how this actually works, like the body-switching phenomenon in Your Name, time travel in Fireworks is left unexplained because it is present to facilitate the narrative. The how is not as important as the why, so audiences must suspend their disbelief and accept that Norimichi is now able to load from a save state, as it were, because this is what allows Fireworks to make its message clear to viewers.
- After reloading, Norimichi manages to escape from Yūsuke and takes Nazuna to the station on his bike. Knowing the successive outcomes of events in Fireworks enables Norimichi to be increasingly bold in his interactions with Nazuna. However, foreknowledge has its limitations, and he’s forced to return to improvising as best as he can to spend time with Nazuna whenever things go south. This is what prompts the page quote, which is sourced from Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring: after arriving in Lothlórien, Frodo encounters Lady Galadriel, who shows him the Mirror of Galadriel and warns him that what is seen in the mirror are merely possibilities future.
- At the train station, Nazuna explains to Norimichi her circumstances; because of difficulties at home, she’s running away, and having brought Norimichi along, counts it as eloping, feeling it to be more mature than merely running away. It turns out that her mother also eloped previously, and Nazuna wonders if it’s in her blood to handle challenges in this manner. When Norimichi wonders where they’ll go, Nazuna considers Tokyo. She imagines herself taking a job at a convenience store or in the more shady side of things to make ends meet.
- To throw off any potential tails, Nazuna switches into a white dress. The colour is long associated with purity and a blank slate: Nazuna dons one, mirroring her longing for a new start. When Norimichi wonders how Nazuna will find work, given that she’s under the age requirements, Nazuna remarks that she could probably pass for sixteen. The ages of the characters in Fireworks have been ambiguous: on one hand, the characters are clearly not eleven as in the original Fireworks, but they don’t seem mature enough to be high school students, either. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that Norimichi and Nazuna are around fourteen.
- Norimichi’s first attempt to board the train fails when Nazuna is taken away, and after he resets things again, he manages to fend off Nazuna’s mother’s boyfriend, buying the two enough time to board. Afforded some quiet, Norimichi and Nazuna share a conversation before the latter begins performing Ruriiro No Chikyu (瑠璃色の地球), one of Seiko Matsuda’s songs. Matsuda is a well-known pop singer in Japan and began her career in the 80s: this period has some of the greatest Cantonese pop artists of all time, and Matsuda’s songs sound like the best Canto-pop songs of the day. I know Matsuda best for her performance of Taisetsu na Anata (大切なあなた), which was covered by Vivian Lai in the song 陽光路上 (jyutping joeng4 gwong1 lou6 soeng5).
- Because it is possible that none of the events past Norimichi throwing the glass ball actually occurred, Fireworks hints at the idea that in love and relationships, especially surrounding a first love, is a world of “what-ifs”. When a relationship fails or never makes it past the first stage, minds often become consumed with these hypothetical “what-ifs”. Relationship advice usually entails “let go of the past, make the most of the present and pursue the future”; I usually find relationship advice to require a personalised approach, but here is some advice that I feel is effective. What was once lost usually cannot be regained, so the advice is really telling people that there usually are other opportunities out there, and if one’s eyes are facing the past, they cannot enjoy the present or see future opportunity.
- If I were to do a review based purely on the scenes that are firmly set in reality, however, then this post would probably have been published a few days ago and have only ten screenshots. However, to ignore the other parts of the film would result in a disappointingly short discussion. In this particular iteration, Norimichi and Nazuna are spotted by both Nazuna’s mother and Norimichi’s friends, who give chase. The pair manage to evade their pursuers and reach the old lighthouse, where they stop to view the fireworks and catch their breath.
- Despite the bet about what shape fireworks are figuring prominently in Fireworks‘ synopsis elsewhere, as well as forming the basis for the story’s title, actual fireworks do not figure very prominently in the film. The fireworks displays that are seen in Fireworks from the lighthouse take on very unusual properties, exploding in a disk or else dispersing pedal-like sparks. The final display is seen underwater. The disconnect in the title is intended to represent the split in interests: Norimichi can either spend time with his friends or Nazuna, but not both, and because it is with his friends that the fireworks become relevant, the relatively few moments with normal-looking fireworks is likely indicative of where Norimichi’s heart lies.
- Norimichi is aware that what he’s seeing is not reality, evidenced through the unusual fireworks patterns, and Nazuna replies that reality or not, as long as she’s with him, it matters not. While a highly romantic thought, it’s also likely the result of Norimichi’s thoughts, rather than anything the real Nazuna might say. In our imaginations, people become what we imagine them to be, and it is only in the mind’s eye where the most romantic, or even forbidden, thoughts might manifest. Reality is harsher, and when the magic of a relationship’s start wears off, whether or not that relationship will endure is determined by a multitude of factors, including trust, commitment, faithfulness and loyalty. At the risk of stepping on many toes, I feel that the strongest relationships are not necessarily those with the most romantic moments, but the ones where two partners continue to find ways of working together to get through difficult times and enjoying the good times together.
- When Norimichi is pushed off the lighthouse, he loads another save state (the fourth, I believe) and returns on board the train. This time, he pushes Nazuna out of sight, ending up on top of her and sparing them the trouble of being spotted. This sets in motion the final phase of the movie: it’s taken a fair number of attempts for Norimichi to really be alone with Nazuna. As the train they’re on continues travelling, it switches tracks and begins passing over the ocean itself as evening sets in, creating a beautiful and surreal setting.
- As the train travels over the ocean under the violet hour, the scene evokes a very viseral representation of what love is like: ethereally blissful, but also uncertain in that no one really knows where the train will stop next. When the train reaches its destination, Norimichi and Nazuna disembark to find themselves in a world covered by a vast dome, seemingly inside the lighthouse’s light fixture itself. Fireworks has done much to set up the events leading up to Norimichi and Nazuna finding themselves in a space where they are assured of some solitude, and if it was not visible earlier, then there is no doubt by now that the movie has stepped into the realm of the hypothetical.
- While Nazuna might be fourteen, Fireworks renders her character in a manner such that she appears older than she is. After reaching the ocean’s edge and inviting Norimichi to join her, Nazuna begins stripping down into a lighter gown before entering the water. She looks several years older in this moment, smiling at Norimichi in an almost seductive manner. Norimichi eventually relents and joins here. Meanwhile, on the shore opposite, the fireworks technician manages to come across the glass ball, and while drunk, loads it into the fireworks apparatus and fires it off, shattering the done surrounding their world.
- In the film’s final moments, Nazuna and Norimichi see visions of the future in the glass shards that fall to the surface. These visions illustrate all that could’ve been: because the future is always in motion, it is very tricky to pin down what will occur. Yūsuke, for instance, sees that if he’d simply chosen to go with Nazuna, he would’ve had a memorable time with her and this could’ve led to something more. However, because he chose to remain with the status quo, nothing ever occurred. Similarly, Norimichi sees a vision of him and Nazuna kissing while overlooking Tokyo Bay.
- One might even say that the complex system that is human society can result in any number of possibilities. Because human interactions are turbulent and chaotic, it can be nigh-impossible to predict the long-term outcomes merely from a snapshot in a moment. Fireworks acts as a bit of a snapshot; it presents parts of the story and leaves the others out to remind audiences of this reality. As Grand Admiral Thrawn might put it, Fireworks is very artistically done – it takes a bit of thinking to really figure out why the movie is presented in the manner that it is, but behind all of the visual metaphors, symbols and motifs, the message underlying everything is straightforwards.
- At the film’s climax, Norimichi and Nazuna kiss while underwater, before Nazuna heads off, mirroring her departure. In reality, it is clear that Norimichi did not really have any ability to stop Nazuna from leaving, and that Nazuna’s desire to elope was more of a whim. While perhaps thought of as being quite romantic, kissing underwater is quite impractical: besides the small matter of breathing and the elevated heart rate when one is in such a moment, some people (like myself) also find it painful to open their eyes underwater, making aiming a rather challenging task.
- I’ve not mentioned the incidental music in Fireworks thus far – the soundtrack to Fireworks is quite varied, from melodic and emotional pieces right down to the mood-setting pieces that play whenever Norimichi’s friends are around. It goes without saying that I prefer the string and piano pieces in the soundtrack. A quick glance at the box office numbers shows that Fireworks did modestly well at the box office, with a gross of 26 million internationally, and grossed 4.2 million within three days of its première, becoming the best-performing Shaft film thus far.
- At the end of the day, I found this movie quite fun to watch, and I think of it similarly to what I thought of Hirune Hime. Today marks the final day of April, and so, this is going to be my last post for April, as well. We’re now moving into May, a time when spring really kicks into high gear. Looking ahead, I don’t have any posts in mind aside from the scheduled talks about Amanchu! Advance, so May and June will be a bit of a free-for-all with respect to what I write about. Having said this, however, Battlefield 1 and The Division both have some exciting things upcoming, so the reduced number of anime posts might not be such a bad thing.
In reality, fireworks are simply explosions and will always explode in a spherical pattern. Variations in air turbulence, density and pressure may affect the rate of an explosion’s movement in a direction, but the end shape is a sphere. To create shapes in fireworks, pyrotechnicians running the show will have previously packed the fireworks with pieces of cardboard having the desired shape, often in multiples, to ensure that the fireworks can explode with the required effect and give the same view from a range of angles. As a result, fireworks will be round from almost any perspective, certainly not flat as some of the boys in Fireworks suggest. Deviance from this outcome is indicative of a universe where the laws of physics no longer apply, and in Fireworks, the visuals are done with a very high quality, enough to convince audiences of an unreal reality. While inconsistent in some places, Fireworks is a very stunning anime. From the details of the mirror inside the lighthouse, to the play of light in the glass ball, and water effects in the pool, Fireworks captivates its viewers with its exceptional artwork and lighting. While not directly pertinent to the narrative, Fireworks‘ use of high-detail moments provide a pause in the story, encouraging viewers to consider what has already occurred, before things move on to the next scene. The sum of these elements come together to create a film that excels technically and also provides an engaging, if simple, story for viewers, making extensive use of visual elements to reiterate the notion that love is tumultuous and chaotic. Overall, I would give this movie a recommendation: while nothing world-changing and somewhat ambiguous, it’s nonetheless a fun interpretation of what young love must feel like, putting into not words, but pictures, the feelings associated with striking up the courage to be with someone special.