Movie Review, Shunji Iwai

Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? (1993) by Shunji Iwai

Original Name: Uchiage hanabi, shita kara miru ka? Yoko kara miru ka?

Director:  Shunji Iwai

Runtime: 49 minutes

Language: Japanese

IMDB Link: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0217862/


Despite the boxy aspect ratio, technical restriction and awkward acting from its young cast, Fireworks still maintain its beaten heart. Truth be told, I watched the anime-remake (or shall I say, a reimagination) so I already know what to expect, but I can now see the reason why such an lowkey indie project like this (it was made as a TV drama) still sustain its popularity in Japan even now. One aspect I need to say regarding Shunji Iwai’s quality: even with this first “film” (not officially as it isn’t either a full length film or his first TV project), he already had a firm grasp on his character writing. Their characters behave believably (they act like kids their age) with hidden emotions core and the way they act is full of contradictory, just like how us adult behave.

Take Fireworks, for example, a story spanning out in a single day about a group of sixth-grade kids who argue whether the firework is flat or round when observed on the side, and the female character, Nazuna, who attempts to runaway from home. These kids act in totally believable way, especially when they’re facing big decisions, they back out because yeah, they’re still just kids. Nazuma is in the middle of her parent’s divorce and is about to leave town for good. So she decides to run away from home, she makes that as an “elope” though as she randomly picks a boy, Norimichi, to accompany her. With Norimichi, she’s a total mystery. Everything about her frustration, her concern, even of she has any feeling for the boy, are merely suggested, which make her conflicted actions all the more powerful. Likewise, Norimichi’s best mate Yusuke, who has a feeling for Nazuma but instead has a cold feet when she asks him to come is another nice touch of dealing with the mindset of 12-year-old character.

Fireworks also benefits from its slight magical-realism touch as the plot basically rewinds the halfway point to display another possibility. Its final moment, the sole firework that is displayed especially for them, is poetic and closes everything nicely. It’s a small little coming of age drama with amateur cast and barebone production value, but Iwai’s eyes for his characters give Fireworks a lasting impact.

ps: Watching this original I can say that Shaft’s anime remake justifies its existence. While I suspect that Shaft was inspired to adapt it by this particular scene (based on their shameless fan-service tendency), the anime is an extension of this story (not necessary for the better) with a significantly improvement on production values, at the same time has an unmistakably Shaft-ness quality in it. For that, I grade both this film and an anime adaptation the same score.

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