Tuesday, November 20, 2018

In Contention: Fireworks

Usually flying spheres are bad news in movies—really bad, like the Loc-Nar in Heavy Metal or the Sentinel Spheres in Phantasm. This glowing marble is different. When thrown, it initiates cosmic rewinds. It came along just in the nick of time for Norimichi Shimada. He will need plenty of do-overs to properly express himself to his long-time crush before she moves away for good in (chief director) Akiyuki Shinbo & (“co-director”) Nobuyuki Takeuchi’s Fireworks (a.k.a. Fireworks, Should We See it from the Side or the Bottom?, trailer here), one of twenty-five animated features officially submitted for Oscar consideration, which releases today on DVD.

This lazy summer day has a Fourth of July feeling, even though school is still winding down. The annual village festival will culminate with a firework display in the evening that has prompted a ridiculous debate among Shimada’s friends. The question is whether the fireworks will look flat or round (spherical might be a better way of putting it) if viewed from the side. Shimada is supposed to accompany these deep-thinking pals to a lighthouse that should have the perfect vantage point to settle the question. However, he would rather be with lovely but painfully reserved Nazuna Oikawa. The truth is his loud-mouthed buddy Yusuke Azumi would rather be with her too, but he doesn’t have the guts to own up to it.

Unfortunately, Oikawa’s mother has just sprung the news she is remarrying and moving them both to Tokyo. The resentful teen has a half-baked notion to run-off with Shimada, but through a perverse twist of fate, she asks Azumi to take her to the festival instead. However, the weird glass ball she picked up at the beach will be able to rectify that mistake of destiny. It will also intervene whenever the tongued-tied Shimada makes a hash of things, but they can’t flee from reality forever, unless perhaps they can.

Fireworks is based on an hour-long 1993 made-for-TV movie written and directed by Shunji Iwai that had a theatrical release two-years after its initial broadcast. Presumably, the more fantastical elements that dominate the anime film’s third were pumped up by screenwriter Hitoshi One. However, the chemistry between Shimada and Oikawa, as well as the hazy late summer vibe that must have made Iwai’s film such a sentimental favorite are still the best things going for this Fireworks.

The animation is also quite lovely. Frankly, it is even more appealing during the grounded early scenes than the big woo-woo climax. Shimada and Oikawa are also very relatable teen characters (to a lesser extent, Azumi is too). Yet, the real appeal of the film is the nostalgic feelings it inspires.

Japanese animators have a real affinity for this kind of story, whereas Hollywood animation studios could not be bothered such wistful and romantic subject matter. That is too bad, because animation gives filmmakers more flexibility and options for connecting with viewers on an emotional level. Fireworks definitely lands in that way. Highly recommended (especially for Academy members), Fireworks releases today (11/20) on DVD.