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Review: Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

As I watched Japan Society’s recent screening of Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?, I gradually realized that I was familiar with the story’s basic overarching structure. In 2017, producer Genki Kawamura, fresh off the international success of Your Name, adapted the beloved slice-of-life short film (originally released as an episode of a television series before going on to win numerous accolades) into a feature-length anime. Approximately one year later, I saw the localization of this “remake” at IFC Center—and subsequently wrote a review that was, by my standards, quite scathing (to such a degree, in fact, that I eventually updated the post to apologize for its negativity).



Although I abhor the (unfortunately not uncommon) notion that animation is an inherently “lesser” medium, I must admit that the live-action source material is indisputably the superior version of this particular tale… and not just because it lacks its successor’s totally superfluous supernatural twist. Director Shunji Iwai’s craftsmanship is simply of a higher caliber—especially his command of visual language. Despite the obvious limitations of the shot-on-video format, the cinematography is sublime, lending the imagery a grainy, dreamlike quality that perfectly complements the narrative’s nostalgic, sentimental tone.


The plot, which unfolds over the course of a single summer day, is straightforward by design, yet it also manages to capture the complexity of adolescence: the fragility of friendships shaped by a school curriculum rather than genuine camaraderie, the discomfort of maturing at a different rate than your classmates, both desiring and fearing independence from one’s parents. Indeed, while the recurring question alluded to by the title—are fireworks still “round” when viewed from a different angle?—seems like a silly non sequitur in context, it’s actually an apt metaphor for this underlying theme. Do you regret any of the “major” decisions that you made during childhood? With the benefit of hindsight, would you have chosen a different path? And would that choice have meaningfully altered the trajectory of your future?



Like the “true” shape of a chemical reaction, it is ultimately a matter of perspective.


Funny and poignant in equal measure, Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? more than earns the critical acclaim that it enjoys in its native country. Hopefully, the recent restoration/remaster will increase awareness of the movie’s existence here in the West; it absolutely deserves to be ranked among such coming-of-age classics as The Breakfast Club, American Graffiti, and Stand By Me.

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