Junior high school student Norimichi Shimada (voiced by Masaki Suda) plans on going with friends to the town's big fireworks festival tonight, but can't take his mind off beautiful but troubled classmate Nazuna Oikawa (Suzu Hirose). Norimichi's more confident best friend Yusuke (Mamoru Miyano) is similarly infatuated but opts to play it cool. However when Nazuna chooses to run away from home in protest at her mother (Takako Matsu) marrying yet another husband, it is Norimichi she takes as her companion. When their escape attempt goes awry, Norimichi unexpectedly finds himself in possession of a magical time-reversing marble. It allows him to re-live the day's events with a different outcome. As things keep going wrong, Norimichi continues using the magic marble to other alternate timelines. But which one will he and Nazuna choose?
Released after Your Name (2016) sparked a global fascination with fantasy rom-com anime Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? drew a more divisive response. It is actually a near shot-for-shot remake of a like-named 1993 TV movie made by cult live action auteur Shunji Iwai (who recently dabbled in anime himself with The Case of Hana & Alice (2015)), featuring much of the same dialogue and music cues. Directed by audacious experimental animator Akiyuki Shinbo, the visionary behind Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011) and the Bakemonogatori franchise, the anime was a substantial hit in Japan. Overseas, viewers took issue with what some felt was a lack of agency for heroine Nazuna along with a prurient first act following our horny teen male protagonists as they ogle bouncing schoolgirl breasts and peek up short skirts. While there is some truth to the former (it is Norimichi who wields the reality-altering marble after all) the film's playful eroticism and upfront depiction of adolescent sexual attitudes play a key role in charting the lead's growth from hormone-addled youth to more sensitive, contemplative and empathetic maturity. Ultimately Fireworks concerns itself with a boy and a girl making an emotional connection rather than a physical one.
In Japanese culture fireworks, rather like the cherry blossoms with which the nation is also obsessed, are emblematic of youth burning briefly but brightly. Shinbo, working from a script by Hitoshi One that retains much of Iwai's original, places this CG-enhanced pyrotechnic motif at the centre of a deceptively labyrinthine though actually quite simple narrative. One that urges Norimichi to challenge fate whilst simultaneously critiquing his obsession with reliving the past instead of looking to the future. The Groundhog Day (1993), or perhaps more aptly Girl who Leapt Through Time (1983/2006)-like plot twist allows Norimichi an instant do-over. Yet his constant messing with the timeline risks endangering his friendship with Yusuke (whose feigned indifference over Nazuna marks him as far less mature than the seemingly less experienced Norimichi) and complicating the already delicate situation between Nazuna and her mother. In place of an overly simplistic wish-fulfilment scenario, Fireworks presents us with a world viewed through the prism of the magic marble: where things play out differently but remain imperfect.
Compared with the similarly high-concept Your Name, Fireworks fashions an admittedly less cohesive narrative with purposefully quixotic characters a little harder to relate to. Nazuna comes across faintly flighty and selfish but also inscrutable in a way that also plays to an adolescent boy's fantasy fetish concept of an ephemeral girl. Instead of a clear-cut, definitive happy ending the film hints at multiple possibilities. Which, as unsatisfying as that might seem on a dramatic level, accurately reflects its thematic preoccupation with the boundless possibilities of youth.