Back in 1993, writer-director Shunji Iwai delivered an episode of the Japanese drama series If titled “Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?” for Fuji TV. The story centered on a group of 6th grade boys arguing over the best way to view fireworks, but also included a coming-of-age story involving their classmate Nazuna who was planning to run away from her troubled home life with one of the boys, but a twist turns their plans upside-down. That time-looping tale later enjoyed a theatrical release in 1995, but now, Fireworks is a full-blown anime feature from director Akiyuki Shinbo and co-director Nobuyuki Takeuchi, produced by Genki Kawamura of Your Name fame.
We recently had a chance to chat with Genki Kawamura for the holiday release of Fireworks here in the States; GKIDS hosted a special theatrical screening around July 4th. We talked about the inspiration for Fireworks, the goal of capturing “this shining moment of youth by using the power of animation”, how closely the anime stuck to the original plot, how the music elevated the story, and the fact that Fireworks and Your Name were produced nearly simultaneously, allowing them to try different animation techniques in each film. It’s a must-read for Fireworks fans and folks who want to see what it’s like to bring such a movie to life.
Were you familiar with the 1993 TV episode the movie was based on? If so, what elements does this film keep from the original and what does it change?
Genki Kawamura: I’ve been a producer for live-action movies, such as “Confessions (Kokuhaku)” and “Villain (Akunin)” before. After that, I started making animated movies, such as “Wolf Children” and “The Boy and The Beast” with director Mamoru Hosoda, and “Your Name” with director Makoto Sinkai. I am always attentive to bring my way of thinking for making live-action films to animated films, and blending the thought processes of live action and animation.
When I work with the chief director Akiyuki Shinbo, whose particular animation style is best seen in his works “The Monogatari Series (Bakemonogatari)” and “Puella Magi Madoka Magica”, I thought if we remade a live-action film as animation, it would be a new type of animated film.
I’ve been a fan of the original drama by director Shunji Iwai. As his work captured this beautiful moment of youth, I thought it would be impossible to remake it as a live-action film. But, I thought I may be able to rebuild the story in animation, from my experience working in animation with directors Mamoru Hosoda and Makoto Shinkai. I thought I might be able to depict this shining moment of youth by using the power of animation.
Fireworks is originally a short film, so there was a process to turn it into a feature length film. The first half is faithful to the original, and is more graphic and realistic. However, the time loop only happens once in the original story. In contrast with the original movie, the loop repeats again and again, and the world where the main characters live becomes more of an anomaly, like the world of “animation.” But it’s a “utopia” in their head. Every time the time loop happens, the world becomes more animated, fantasy-like, and two dimensional. This directorial idea was brought up by director Shinbo when he turned the original story to animation, as only in animation could this be done. Then the screenwriter Hitoshi Ohne then wrote the “continuation” of the original story.
Do you see Fireworks as a more mature story for audiences who have grown up a bit since Your Name, or is it something else entirely?
Genki Kawamura: When I make films, I don’t have a target audience. As a fan of movies and animation, I always try to make something that I would most want to watch. One thing I can say is that this film was planned ahead of “Your Name”, and they were produced at almost the same time, so the things I wanted to try in animation are packed in both movies.
How has the audience reaction to Fireworks been?
Genki Kawamura: The audience reviews have been split down the middle. Some rated it highly, and some were disappointed because they expected something like “Your Name” from this film too much. As I mentioned earlier, this movie was made at almost the same time as “Your Name”, and that’s why we ventured to make this movie specialized, and have a more edgy expression. So, the audience reactions met our expectations in some ways, and we are delighted to have those reactions.
How did Shaft push the envelope for Fireworks animation?
Genki Kawamura: We tried to accurately recreate the Japanese summer, and the freshness of the scenery that was captured in the original work through the art of animation. I actually visited the shooting location of the original piece, and took pictures of the summer scenery there, which I then carefully drew. One of the best parts of animating from a live-action work was depicting the scenery in this movie.
The integration of the realistic CG art and the characters by Cel-shading, is one characteristic of the animation expression in this film. This technique was originally used by chief director Shinbo and director Takeuchi in “The Monogatari Series”. We succeeded to integrate the realistic scenes expressed by CG with the characters by Cel shading beautifully. Since I fell in love with the art style of “The Monogartari Series”, and I also offered director Shinbo to work on this film, this technique has been adopted into Fireworks.
How did the music help to elevate the emotion of Fireworks?
Genki Kawamura: We had Satoru Kosaki compose the score for “The Monogatari Series”. He provided music that is very fresh. In addition to this, we did some experimenting with the music. We used the song entitled “Forever Friends,” which is a signature song of the original live-action drama, to see how the perspective and feeling would be if we used the same song from the original live-action drama in this animated movie.
Above all, I think the theme song “Uchiage Hanabi (Fireworks)” performed by DAOKO x Kenshi Yonezu determined the atmosphere of this movie.
I’ve been a music producer with DAOKO since her debut. She debuted when she was 17, so it’s already been four years. Because I could see her talent developing while I worked with her closely, I chose her song as the theme song. The director Shinbo is a fan of hers as well, and that was one of the main reasons why I chose her.
I thought it was ideal if the song was like a dialogue between a boy and a girl, along with the story of the movie. Both DAOKO and Kenshi Yonezu found fame from the internet, and I was confident that the perspective of the movie and synergy would occur between DAOKO and Kenshi Yonezu performing the dialogue between a boy and a girl. As a result, this song became a smash hit, and the music video constructed from clips from the movie has over 150 million views. I think this song has been heard all over the world!
The end of the film is somewhat ambiguous. What do you personally think happened to Norimichi and Nazuna?
Genki Kawamura: Like the original drama, the most intriguing part of this movie is leaving the ending to the audience’s imagination, though I know this is the reason why there has been such a wildly mixed reception.That was exactly the thing what I wanted to challenge this time.
What do you hope U.S. audiences get out of seeing Fireworks?
Genki Kawamura: Most of the people in the world might experience the feeling of “If I could go back to that day”. I think that was also present in “Your Name”. Moreover, the adventure of a young boy who has the ability to go back in time can excite people anywhere in the world. When I work on a project, I never distinguish my work for a Japanese audience or for an overseas audience. It’s more like, I’ve kept searching for the “feeling” that a global audience desires right now. Right now, I feel that there is a feeling of ”If I could go back to that day” everywhere in this world.
By sharing the kind of regretful “If I could go back to that day” feeling that everybody might have with the audience, I would like them to experience the unique expression and artistry of Japanese animation. I think this is a work in which catharsis is experienced when the art expression surpasses the story, which is the charm of animation, so I’m happy if I can feel that sensation.
What’s up next for you?
Genki Kawamura: “Mirai” that I worked on with director Mamoru Hosoda has been completed, and is about to open now. The movie was positively received at the director’s fortnight of Cannes Film Festival. I think the movie is Hosoda’s new frontier.
This year, I established STORY Inc. which is an animation planning company, and I’m preparing for projects with about five Japanese animation directors of the next generation. The latest work of director Makoto Shinkai is one of the projects.
Look for more on Fireworks’ possible home video release in the months ahead!