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Monday, July 09, 2018

Fireworks

It's impossible to watch Fireworks and not think of the recent Japanese anime blockbuster, Your Name.  Not only do they share the same producer, but they are both simple young romance stories with a Sci-Fi element to make them more intriguing.  This worked in Your Name, because the characters were rich in detail and worth caring about.  It doesn't work quite as well in Fireworks, because the movie is told entirely from one point of view (the young boy in the couple), making the central female character somewhat generic and bland.

The film is actually a remake of a popular live action TV movie from 1993, which I have not seen, so I can't say if this is an accurate adaptation.  I can say that the movie is beautiful to look at, with gorgeously realized backdrops that at times look almost photo-realistic.  Granted, the effect is lessened a little bit with some glaring CG that's been mixed in with the hand-drawn art.  Regardless, it's lovely, and a lot of time and attention obviously went into the look of the film.  Now if only the plot was worth caring about.  Our heroes are a group of middle school boys who are largely immature, enjoy playing pranks on their female teacher (whose sole characteristic is that she has large breasts), and are constantly debating the question as to whether fireworks are round or flat if you look at them from a certain angle.  Our lead hero of the boys is Norimichi (voice by Masaki Suda), who is probably the most quiet and perspective of the group.  He is fascinated by a young girl at his school, Nazuna (Suzu Hirose), who has been wandering the halls of the school a bit sad and dejected lately, because her mom has a new boyfriend, and is forcing her to move somewhere she doesn't want to.

Rather than move and leave all her friends behind, Nazuna has decided to run away from home.  She hopes to go to the city and maybe "become a bar waitress", or perhaps become an idol singer.  She happens to bump into Norimichi, and while they are talking about life, love and other things, Nazuna's mother suddenly shows up and forcefully starts dragging her back home.  Norimichi is not sure what to do, and on a whim, he picks up a strange crystal-like orb that Nazuna found on the beach earlier that day, and throws it in anger.  It turns out that the orb allows the user to go back in time, so that Nazuna and Norimichi can start the day over again, and maybe do things differently so that they are not caught.  The two try various ways to make their escape, but they always end up being caught by Nazuna's mom, or by one of Norimichi's friends who is also in love with Nazuna, and is jealous of all the time they are spending together. 

I don't doubt that Fireworks could have made a compelling story about second chances or alternate realities.  The more that the magical time travel orb is used, the reality around the two young lovers is shifted and altered.  In one instance, the city they live in is surrounded by a crystal-like dome.  In another, the fireworks in the sky from a nearby festival don't look like they should.  Unfortunately, the film never really expands upon the potential of this mystical device being able to shape different worlds or realities.  In one intriguing sequence, we see shards of glass that depict different possible future outcomes for Norimichi and Nazuna, but the scene doesn't have the emotional impact that it should, because so little about the world this movie inhabits has been explained to the audience.  It's not a successfully told minimalist story like Leave No Trace.  It simply feels like lazy screenwriting.

We also don't care enough about the young couple at the center of the story, and that's really the big failing, and what sets it apart from Your Name, which is the movie it obviously wants to emulate.  We pretty much see everything from Norimichi's point of view, and so we never truly understand Nazuna's fears about her mother, her homelife, or even much of her feelings toward Norimichi.  She exists simply as an object of desire, a "dream girl" that any 14-year-old boy could objectify.  Nazuna is attractive and kind, but we really don't know anything about her.  There is also a certain lack of wonder.  These two kids find this mystical orb that can change reality itself, and they don't seem all that impressed by it.  Yes, they notice and sometimes admire the differences in the worlds they find themselves in, but they never seem truly astonished as they should be.  They're a bland couple, and because they drive the plot, the movie suffers as well.

All the attention obviously went into making Fireworks look great, but it never quite grabs the viewer.  The end result is never unwatchable, but undeniably frustrating, as so much more could have been done with the premise.  Compared to some of the other recent foreign animated films that have gotten small theatrical releases (such as The Breadwinner from last year), this one is pretty enough, but just doesn't hold up.

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