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Film review: Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? – Shunji Iwai TV drama remade as animated fantasy romance

Co-directed by animators Akiyuki Shinbo and Nobuyuki Takeuchi from a script by Hitoshi Ohne, Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? is an unimaginative, ill-advised endeavour to tweak its source material

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 October, 2017, 5:17pm

2.5/5 stars

Following the monumental commercial success of Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, it was logical those in the Japanese animation industry would experiment with variations on the same formula in the hope of striking gold again. However, trying too hard to play like an encore can result in missing the mark by a glaring distance – as proves Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?, an animated remake of Shunji Iwai’s revered 49-minute TV film from 1993.

Co-directed by animators Akiyuki Shinbo and Nobuyuki Takeuchi from a script by Hitoshi Ohne (Scoop!), the film is rendered in clean 2D visuals that occasionally combine with 3D graphics. It begins as a faithful – at times even shot-for-shot – retelling of Iwai’s whimsical tale, seeing the young Norimichi (voiced by Masaki Suda from Drowning Love) lose the chance to “elope” with his school crush Nazuna (Suzu Hirose from Let’s Go, Jets!) as an indirect consequence of injuring himself in an impromptu swim race with buddy Yusuke (Mamoru Miyano).

Whereas Iwai’s film – possibly taking after Krzysztof Kieslowski’s existential cinema – split its story into two halves and enigmatically offered Norimichi a second chance to secure a date with Nazuna, this full-length feature instead allows him unlimited times to relive the day – by throwing a magical little ball into the air.

Love Letter director Shunji Iwai on his long road back to feature-film making

As narrative conceits go, that is as unimaginative as it comes. Norimichi’s repeated attempts to prolong his date with Nazuna also get progressively cloying as the story goes from being a decent remake of the first three-quarters of Iwai’s film to a blatant rehash of the time-travelling young-adult romance in Your Name (a stretch, considering the boys in the TV original haven’t even gone through puberty).

While another of Iwai’s gems, Hana and Alice (2004), spawned an inspired animated prequel in The Case of Hana and Alice last year, Fireworks merely proves an ill-advised endeavour to tweak the original drama’s musings on early adolescent desire and small quirks of luck into a full-on fantasy romance. It may end up exhausting all but the most infatuated lovers in the audience.

Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? opens on September 28

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