What if? It’s a question that innumerable other films have explored from Sliding Doors to Groundhog Day and now SHAFT have taken their pop at it with Fireworks. A remake of of a 1993 TV film by Shunji Iwai - best known recently for The Murder Case of Hana and Alice - and not to be mistaken for the 1997 Beat Takeshi film, especially so as this film directed by Akiyuki Shinbo.
The setup is that a group of school children including friends Norimichi and Yuusuke argue over the absurd question of whether fireworks are round like a globe or disc shaped. Amidst this is Nazuna, a quiet but beautiful girl that becomes entangled with both Norimichi and Yuusuke over the winner of a swimming race.
The underlying question then may be “what if”, but what flavour of “what if”? Is Norimichi required to perfect his wooing of the evanescent Nazuna before the day will move on? Or is this just a panoply of might have beens? The answer, to the film’s credit, is left ambiguous and those hoping for a post-credits stinger ala Nerawareta Gakuen will be left disappointed.
Key to the whole shenanigan is a shiny doodad found by Nazuna at the beginning of the film that shifts reality depending on the wish of those holding- well, lobbing it. The result is a branching narrative, akin to a dating sim player scrubbing back through obvious poor choices, but skews closer to parallel worlds replete with fragments of memories bleeding through to the protagonists.
The story itself is told with a kind of clarity that is befitting of such an accomplished director and there is none of the abstract visual trickery that have become a hallmark of his TV work - although the ubiquitous SHAFT head tilt is in full effect here, chiropractors on standby. The narrative loops and weaves around itself sometimes for laughs, sometimes to show off iridescent CG carousel horses but only at the end does it feel unfulfilled.
This is after all a love story about two people (maybe three) who have known each other for no more than twelve hours. So while Nazuna is portrayed as tall and furtively alluring, like a water nymph reborn and Norimichi is affably impulsive yet surprisingly quick on the uptake, the idea of a multiverse of possibilities from their short meeting stretches belief.
Perhaps it’s my cynical heart not believing in the power of love. It’s certainly not helped by the sexually objectified teacher who always seems to enter frame chest first, or the obtuse behaviour of the almost entirely male cast that can be boiled down to “boys being buttheads”.
Like its cast assure me about its leading lady though, Fireworks is gorgeous to look at, from the seaside town with an Okinawan-blue ocean, to the rickety funicular train that trundles across town, through to the coruscating firework scenes that reveal they are shaped like… well, I won’t spoil the question that becomes an irritating refrain throughout the film.
Fireworks felt like a film that, as per its title, should have popped spectacularly but instead just burnt slow before dimming. It asks for a suspension of disbelief not for its central conceit of a wish granting doodad but that children, barely teenagers, could carry off a transcendental romance. It’s frequently funny and rides the water drenched coattails of a summer adventure well, but ultimately ends up unsatisfying.