There exist two classes of romance stories: on one side, there are the timeless, heartwarming stories which continue to captivate readers and enthrall them with the life, struggles and successes of the couple. Nicholas Sparks’ A Walk To Remember, which I remember reading in middle school, is one such example. On the flip side, you have stories where the romance is so baffling, quite insidiously written, and so out of touch with reality, it baffles you as to how anyone could have come up with it in the first place. Hence, I bring you the feature-length film Fireworks: Should We Watch It From The Side Or The Bottom? You might be wondering, what does a story about fireworks have anything to do with romance? I’ll be lucky if this post finds a way to clear that up because after watching this film, I have absolutely no idea what the two elements have in common.
FIREWORKS – SHOULD WE WATCH IT FROM THE SIDE OR THE BOTTOM?
Some of the more interesting things that are presented in this film comes from the list of production team members. First and foremost, the director of this is none other than Shaft‘s Akiyuki Shinbo. Yes, the same guy who directed the hit series Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the semi-decent romantic comedy Nisekoi and the supernatural thriller Monogatari also happens to be the guy running this production. However, despite the film’s content, don’t fool yourself to thinking that any of these shows were the inspiration for this film; actually, it’s derived from a 1993 live-action film of the same name, directed by Shunji Iwai. While both films retained the same plot structure with each other, the 1993 edition was shorter (45 minutes) compared to the 2017 edition (90 minutes), and was aired as part of a television series titled Moshimo, which centered around “what-if” scenarios.
Released on 18 August 2017 in Japan, the film was poorly received by critics such as those from Anime News Network, Rotten Tomatoes and was even featured on Roger Ebert’s website. Somehow though, like its 1993 predecessor, which won an award from the Directors Guild of Japan New Directors, it received a few nominations from the Crunchyroll Anime Awards and the 41st Japan Academy Film Prize in recognition for its animation, and managed to become the sixth highest-grossing anime film of the year, behind Detective Conan, Doraemon, Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale and several others.
Norimichi Shimada, a high school kid in the town of Moshimo (a play on the Japanese word for “if” – as in, “what if”), and his friend Yusuke Azumi both have a crush on a girl in their class, Nazuna Oikawa, and plan to confess their feelings to her. While on pool-cleaning duty, they are challenged to a race by her, which Yusuke wins. While Norimichi writhes in pain after accidentally striking his foot on the swimming pool’s walls and suffering a flesh wound, Nazuna asks Yusuke to go out with her on a date, which he hesitantly agrees. The boys return to the classroom, where they get involved with a heated debate between some of their friends over whether the fireworks that will show up at that evening’s summer festival are flat or round. Yusuke prepares to hang out with Nazuna, but as Norimichi arrives on the way home, he encounters her with a suitcase packed with her belongings, as he realizes she is to run away. Unfortunately, she is caught by her parents and forcibly brought back home, while the latter just watches, frozen with indecision.
Distraught, he discovers in her possession a magic ball, which he discovers is actually a time-travel device which allows him to repeat part of the day’s events, and do them over with a different outcome. He uses this to win the swimming race against Yusuke, and thus go on the date with Nazuna, much to the former’s disgust and outright envy. Arriving at the train station, she reveals her story and motives for running away: not because of an abusive relationship or even college plans, but because she doesn’t want to move away from Moshimo and live with her recently remarried mother. As they prepare to embark on a train to Tokyo, her parents catch up with her, and after a brief struggle in which Norimichi tries to free her, he fails and is reunited with his friends, saddened and having to face an angry Yusuke, who plans to confess his feelings to her the following day. Just then, as his friends discover the flatness of the fireworks, Norimichi then decides to reset the timeline to the train station incident, and this time around successfully boards the train with Nazuna.
The two begin to form a bond with each other, and they begin to discuss their plans for the future upon reaching Tokyo; Nazuna wants to become a singer, and dazzles Norimichi with a rendition of her mother’s favorite song. The moment is spoiled however, when they see that her parents and his friends are chasing after them, hoping to thwart their plans to be together. As they reach the top of the lighthouse, Yusuke throws them off the lighthouse, just as Norimichi resets the timeline back to before their parents spotted them. Finally, the two of them confess their feelings for each other, and reaffirm their desire to stay by each other’s side, no matter how ridiculous the scheme that got them there was. Upon exiting the train, they are astonished to discover that the entire town is encapsulated within a giant glass dome, and go for a late night swim.
At that moment, a pyrotechnician takes the magic time-travel ball and detonates it in the sky, which causes the various alternate timelines to reappear right before everyone’s eyes, and give them reassurance to the reality of their hopes and dreams; including Norimichi and Nazuna, who skip school the next day to continue their journey together to God-knows-where.
WHAT I LIKED
- Ok, I’ll slap myself here and say that the commotion regarding if the fireworks were flat or round was somewhat hilarious. It was corny, don’t get me wrong, and has overtones much like the good old “flat Earth” arguments, but just seeing how they managed to fit an entire discourse revolving around that into this story is somehow entertaining to watch. But… couldn’t they have just looked up the answer on the Internet and save themselves the trouble?
- The conflict between Yusuke and Norimichi emerging after the former discovers the latter with Nazuna was handled well, and the movie did a good job at showing how their friendship gradually deteriorated over time. Likewise for the conflict between Nazuna and her parents which devolved as the story progressed.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
- For a romance film, I have to say that the buildup, relationship and the premise behind it was terrible, even to the point of being beyond irredeemable. Nazuna and Norimichi had barely any substance or chemistry with each other outside of the latter having feelings for her, and the movie lazily tries to shoehorn the romance within 90 minutes when it takes months, even years, to cultivate such a romance.. What’s more, all this is because the whole premise was awkwardly set up; Nazuna just wanted to run away from home as far as possible. There’s even a scene where, the first time around when Yusuke wins the swimming race, Nazuna asks him out and falters at telling him that she likes him. Based on this one scene alone I’m convinced that she was just playing with their feelings and using that to hide her own ulterior motives.
- Midway through the movie we are treated to a scene where Nazuna tells Norimichi that she wants to become a famous singer in Tokyo. After breaking into a rendition of a 1980s ballad, Ruriro No Chikyuu the visuals warp from the train to a fantasy wonderland with the two of them playing as princess and prince respectively, flying over a tower of what appears to the Madoka Magica background rejects. What purpose does this scene provide? What further insight does this give to their relationship? I’ll give you the answer: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. You could literally swap the music with Jay Z’s Hard Knock Life and it wouldn’t make a difference.
- There’s a scene where Norimichi confesses to Nazuna on the train, which at this point has careened off to a railway floating over the sea, and explains that this whole feature was concocted because he used the magic time-travel ball to jump timelines and get to where he is now, which Nazuna believes, and puts full trust in whatever he’s saying, and falls deeper in love with him. Do you believe how ridiculous that sounds? Because if you’re like me, you’ll have already face-palmed upon seeing this segment and how awkward the delivery and her response was. Try doing this to a girl and don’t be surprised if she calls the cops to commit you to a mental ward.
- I would have enjoyed the film if they went into context about how Nazuna came into possession of the magic time-travel ball she picked up earlier in the film. Namely, why it’s such an important item to her, how its power is generated, and whether or not there are multiple of such items. Because hey, if there’s a sucker out there that would love to use its power to change the course of certain events in history, I’m your guy! Instead, she just dismisses Norimichi’s inquiry to this and says, “I don’t know, but what I do know is that once I found this item, I decided to run away from home”. Dare I say, LAZY!
For this section I’m going to mainly focus on the film’s lead characters: a boy named Norimichi and his short-term partner, Nazuna, whose romance is made the central focus of the film. I was extremely disappointed by how their arc turned out, for several reasons. One of them is that the characters are so shallow; we know little about their personalities and the movie doesn’t give any time to let the viewer establish a connection with them. Granted, we know about Nazuna’s strained relationship with her family, particularly her step-father, but Norimichi’s is barely explained, and there’s nothing that can help establish his character background. Likewise, as I’ve mentioned before, the setup for their relationship was poorly timed and out of the blue, which really begs a lot of questions as to whether their feelings for each other are truly genuine. Lastly, and perhaps the biggest problem is that they don’t treat the characters as equals. Nazuna is seen as the damsel in distress, whom Norimichi has to save, and that’s pretty much it.
In a good romance, like that between Jamie and Landon in A Walk To Remember, the romance isn’t rushed, the characters get time to develop their bond with each other, and most importantly, THEY ARE TREATED AS EQUALS INSTEAD OF PRIZES; most notably, Landon grows to become a more confident, selfless and mature person thanks to his time with Jamie, and in return he goes the distance to make sure her final moments on Earth are filled with joy, bliss and fulfillment rather than go to waste. Their love for each other perfectly echoes what St. Paul’s wrote of it, in the best way possible. Meanwhile, there’s nothing remotely salvageable between Nazuna and Norimichi, however; the two of them are selfish, immature and have absolutely no direction in life by the time the film ends, rendering this romance as forgettable as can be.
Other characters, such as Nazuna’s parents, Yusuke, his crew, and the school teachers are pointless additions to the cast as well, who spend most of their time bickering about the flatness/roundness of fireworks, unintended fan-service, and contribute little to the story’s development outside of causing conflict and pushing the boundaries of the lead couple’s escape to victory. More should have been invested in making the romance believable than their exploits. Nothing’s likeable about the supporting cast, or the lead lovers.
While the background noise perfectly captures the scene of a typical summer day, for the OST itself I have nothing good to say. Listening to the piano interludes made me feel like I was watching a discount version of Your Name which, you know, given the whole premise about travelling back in time, sky objects, and two star-crossed lovers, is actually not far from reality. Some of the orchestral pieces, like the one that plays during the chase to the lighthouse, with its waltz-like tune rather felt shallow and forced. In addition to the OST, the three vocal tracks included Ruriro No Chikyuu, the end credits song titled Uchiage Hanabi, and Forever Friends (played after the magic ball explodes), all sung by singer DAOKO. Of these three, the last was probably my favorite; I couldn’t get over how the first track was randomly integrated with its corresponding scene, and the second song lacked any emotion or substance to it.
Favorite scene: The part where Nazuna, her parents, Norimichi, Yusuke and his friends engage in the chase of their lives to the lighthouse was the least boring part of the movie, and that’s saying quite a lot.
Favorite timeline: The second timeline, where Nazuna is brought back home and Norimichi is stunned to learn the fireworks are flat, was my favorite. Even if things didn’t work out to the lead couple being together, it’s funny just to see the reactions to the fireworks shape.
Favorite quote: Nazuna sums up my entire thoughts of this movie pretty well:
Norimichi: Nazuna, this isn’t right. We’re like in a different world, because fireworks aren’t supposed to be shaped like this.Nazuna finally comes to her senses and realizes how pointless the film’s title is
Nazuna: I don’t care. Whether fireworks are round, flat, or some other weird shape, I could care less as long as if I’m together with you.
This movie blows. It just flat-out sucks. It’s undoubtedly one of the worst anime films I’ve ever had to sit through; 90 minutes of pure frustration, lifelessness and pain were all I saw from this film. The story lacked any substance, the characters were flat and showed no signs of well-rounded development, and quite frankly the main plot was nothing but a poor excuse of a romance. What’s more, I can’t believe Akiyuki Shinbo, the guy who was behind the story of Madoka – one of the best magical girl shows of all time – was also the same guy behind this otherworldly, piece-of-crap train-wreck. I’ve seen some bad, even cheesy romance films before, but believe me, this one is downright awful, and nothing apart from the music probably, worth looking into salvaging from this film. Do yourself a favor; avoid this movie at all costs. You’ll save plenty of time in doing so.