Fireworks, the anime film from Shaft and the studio’s acclaimed director, Akiyuki Shinbo, is beautiful and, like its namesake, sparkly, but has also been much derided. The characters come off as flat, the animation is uneven, and the writing is disjointed. The ending, too, has come under criticism, though I think that may be unfair. The final scene has much to tell us about what the film is ultimately all about, especially when connected to the choices we make and the love we share.
The premise of Fireworks is fairly simple. Norimichi, an adolescent boy, has agreed to watch a fireworks festival with his friends, but becomes entangled with a classmate, Nazuna, who early in the film finds a device in the ocean. Via that technology, which Norimichi recovers after Nazuna drops it, he is able to move back hours in time and redo portions of the day according to wishes he makes, with each leap deepening his relationship with Nazuna.
The device that Norimichi uses to time travel, resembling some mixture of Mayuri’s metal Upa, the tornado-measuring balls from Twister, and a Boba Fett thermal detonator, seems to abide by certain rules:
- To use it, you must toss the ball at some velocity.
- You have to hold it while making a wish.
- It transfers you back only the minimum amount of time that will give you a chance to make your wish come true.
- In doing so, it creates an alternate future, one with visible differences physically from one’s true reality.
A remarkable device but, as adolescents are prone to do (see The Girl Who Leapt Through Time), its marvel is somewhat wasted on youth. In the climax of the film, it is lost, recovered, shot from a fireworks canon, and bursts into hundreds of pieces, each providing a person present to see a glimpse of a possible future.
In that scene, Norimichi grasps one of the blasted shards, which shows him a future together with Nazuna in Tokyo. Shortly afterward, Nazuna wonders aloud, “When we meet again, what kind of world will it be?” and their last alternate world disappears, apparently returning to the original time line. During the final scene of the film, their teacher calls rolls in a classroom and discovers that Norimichi is not present.
What does it mean that he’s isn’t there? Various interpretations have been suggested, ranging from a double-suicide to Norimichi eloping with Nazuna. There’s nothing to the production values of this film that suggest the writer and directors were thinking too deeply, and so a truly open ending is not out of the question. But glimpses here and there earlier in the film and the overall theme of the movie lead me to the interpretation that there is finality to the closing—that the story is complete.
Let’s start with the device. With any typical technology, we might believe that once broken it restores the user back to the original state. However, this magical ball is quite powerful, and Norimichi, being the only person to grab a remaining piece of it, uses that technology for one last wish. But what was the wish? Being a good kid, one who cares about others and particularly Nazuna, he wants what’s best for her, but he’s also wary of the inconsistencies in each wished world. If he could, he would take time back to before her father died to give some sort of opportunity for them to reunite, but knowing that this world would be an alternate one, Norimichi’s ultimate wish is for everything to return to the normal time line.
I’m not sure how far back that took Norimichi, or what’s he able to do in this regular timeline without it become an alternate one, though my guess is that with a complete reset, his memories of events are reset as well, though because he has changed as an individual, his choices during the time line this time around will be different, more confident than the ones he originally made. The device, thus, won’t be used—it will remain a trinket. And when Nazuna leaves, so does the newly-confident Norimichi, as he makes the decision to pursue her. Once dependent on tech to give him the power to set the world as he would like it to be, Norimichi now takes life into his own hands. He realizes what he wants and won’t let his usual reticence get in the way—he will make a better future come true.
My brain tells me this interpretation is right, but my heart hopes for the same. In a film that shows do-over after do-over, this theory tells us that even without knowing the future, if you have the confidence in yourself to run toward your hopes, a “good end” could await. And even if a good ending isn’t in store, even if your choice is ultimately wrong, having a bold heart, one brave in the face of uncertainty, is a good quality—a great one—to have. It’s one necessary for love, one that pushes us past indifference, ungraciousness, bitterness, and rage. And that story of building confidence in Norimichi not only speaks to those like me, who struggled to be brave when cowered by the fear of embarrassment, failure, and the spotlight, but also sets the stage for a demonstration of a greater love in Fireworks.
The movie features many male characters, but the one with perhaps the least amount of screen time is the one who shows that Norimichi’s story is only the beginning of love—as it grows and matures, it becomes something not only able to conquer fear, but even more. It’s from Nazuna’s father that we learn the most about love. There’s a mystical element at work here, and it deeply involves Nazuna’s dad, as producer Genki Kawamura remarked to Animation Magazine:
Fireworks is set in Moshimo, which is based on the town where the original drama was shot twenty years ago. But the town was devastated by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami (which Americans refer to as “Fukushima”). The thoughts of the people who died in that disaster (including Nazuna’s father), accumulated in the ocean. The Sphere was formed from them, then washed ashore. It makes Nazuna, who picked up it, see a ‘what-if’ world.”
Why did this tiny sphere end up in Nazuna’s hands? I think the film is trying to tell us that it’s a gift from her father, one who knew the hardships of life, one who treasured his daughter and had a special relationship with her, as demonstrated by Nazuna’s loyal and lovely thoughts about him. He is giving her a chance to see “what if,” knowing that in this point of her life where, as a young adolescent affected by the story of eloping in her own parents’ youth, she is considering running away, becoming involved in seamy activities to make a living, and destroying relationships with her family.
It’s a turning point for Nazuna, and without dad present, there’s no one who can help—or is there? A confident Norimichi is able to, but not as he is in the beginning of the film. This device, which according to the original story was created through the will of those who died and especially by Nazuna’s dad, has the power to change Norimichi and more importantly, lead Nazuna to a better place when her father is no longer around to do it himself.
Even beyond the grave, Nazuna’s dad is caring for her. Of all the people living in Moshimo, the device ends up in the hands of his daughter on the day it becomes official that she will be moving. That’s no coincidence. It’s the love of a father.
To quote Paul (and adding my own words in italics at the end), “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres—always, even in death.” For those of us who know the Father, that’s the love demonstrated to and being perfected in us—and it’s a powerful and mysterious thing indeed.
Fireworks is now available for purchase on DVD.