Fireworks, the follow-up to producer Genki Kawamura‘s hit anime film Your Name, is now available on Blu-ray thanks to GKIDS. To celebrate that fact, we got to chat with the film’s co-director Nobuyuki Takeuchi (Spirited Away animator) about the process of turning a short TV drama into the anime-styled feature film. It’s part of our Fireworks suite that also includes an interview with producer Kawamura and our previously revealed clip that teased the stylish film.
Fireworks tells a simple story of adolescent longing on the surface, but it’s a telling that taps into deep wells of emotion. Youthful wistfulness, missed opportunities and long-lost dreams are explored, and the urgency of young lovers and the desire to create a separate universe, a magic place outside of time, where they can be together forms the emotional core of the story. Takeuchi talks about the differences between this film and the source material, working with director Akiyuki Shinbo (Puella Magi Madoka Magica), and the talented team of artists at Shaft. Check it out below and look for Fireworks on Blu-ray today.
Producer Genki Kawamura follows up his mega-hit Your Name with another tale of star-crossed teenage lovers with a sci-fi fantasy twist.
Shy Norimichi and fast-talking Yusuke, are goo-goo-eyed over the same elusive classmate, Nazuna. But Nazuna, unhappy over her mother’s decision to remarry and leave their countryside town, plans to run away and has secretly chosen Norimichi to accompany her. When things don’t go as planned, Norimichi discovers that a glowing multi-color ball found in the sea has the power to reset the clock and give them a second chance to be together. But each reset adds new complications and takes them farther and farther away from the real world – until they risk losing sight of reality altogether.
Collider: What was it about Fireworks that made you want to direct it?
TAKEUCHI: When I got an offer, I certainly wanted to take it. Simply, I of course thought it would be very challenging. The director Shunji Iwai originally made the story perfectly into a drama film without letting the audience feel bored even though it was live action. When I knew that we were going to transform it into animation, I realized that it would be challenging but worthwhile, so I made up my mind to work very hard.
When Mr. Iwai made his various works, which one did I watch first? I think I probably watched “Fireworks” first. Or, did I watch “Love Letter” first? Anyway, he is a few years older than me, and there were many different types of dramas and films that existed around that time, and I think that he changed Japanese film on screen dramatically. When I talked with Mr. Kunihiko Ikuhara, he occasionally told me about it.
Was the company where Mr. Iwai started to make live action films called “Robot?” I don’t know the details of his early film stages. But, like Mr. Naohito Takahashi, whom I was talking about earlier, I think Mr. Iwai was one of the figures that contributed to the watershed moments of Japanese film that were changing rapidly at that time. The original film was created by such a great director, or more precisely, we could say it was his debut. So, transforming such a work into an animated movie is very worthwhile. I of course felt that it was going to be tough. Since I was on the receiving side of the offer, I didn’t do the planning, but I thought I wanted to work on it when asked.
You were familiar with the 1993 TV episode, right?
TAKEUCHI: That’s right.
The original drama was pretty short; about 50 minutes long. Did you keep most of the elements from the original and add to it to make it a feature film?
TAKEUCHI: Yes. I’m not sure if the word “elements” is appropriate or not, but I planned to keep the atmospheric feeling of dusk in summer in the film from the original movie. I tried to keep scenes like golden hour at sunset time in the film as much as possible.
One element that differs from the original is that Norimichi confesses his love to Nazuna. It made this film quite different, I think. Whether Norimichi told Nazuna that he liked her or not might be a major difference from the original TV drama.
And “Moshimo Dama” is also a different element, isn’t it?
TAKEUCHI: Yes, it is.
Fireworks is absolutely gorgeous, from the character design to the spectacular fireworks themselves. What was the process like settling on final character designs and the look of the changing fireworks displays?
TAKEUCHI: It was very hard (laugh).
For settling character designs, did Akio Watanabe draw them first, basically?
TAKEUCHI: Yes, that’s correct. But he often took too long…(laugh).
Once drafts were submitted by Mr. Watanabe, did you discuss with your staff? Have you asked for revision?
TAKEUCHI: Yes, I did.
Was there any character which was totally different from your initial idea for them?
TAKEUCHI: No, there was no case of that. If I remember correctly, we had up to a third draft of Nazuna. There were two rough draft images that were to determine the direction of her final image. Then, we decided which one was closer to what we wanted, and the selected one would then be developed. Since this is animation, we devised the clothing of the characters for animation, for example, the school uniform design was a little upgraded than what we would normally wear to look good.
I saw the poster’s visual that we made at the beginning. I don’t remember exactly when and how it was drawn, but Mr. Watanabe drew it quickly at an early stage of production, and we all said, “This is nice!” He can always deliver well on any project. Everybody agrees with him immediately when they see his work. Staff member, Mr. Kawamura, and also president Mr. Kubota, if I remember correctly, said “This is it!” when they saw the poster design.
The swimming pool one, right?
TAKEUCHI: Yes. I think it was truly beautiful, and I feel that no one could do it but Mr. Watanabe.
How was the fireworks design itself made?
TAKEUCHI: The flat one was changed again and again, then finally, the director of photography squeezed out the idea. It’s flat, but it became showier through film techniques. The fireworks made with CG look like a blossom and we had a reference video, and from there we developed the image further. I am talking about the fireworks in the latter part of the film which are made using CG. I conveyed my idea of this image to the CG staff, who then expanded and developed it.
The entire process was carried out in a short time, so the word “process” does not fit well for this. To be honest with you, it took a very long time, but only because the period of repeated revisions was long. It was quite difficult and didn’t go well, so I felt sorry, but we ended up switching the CG staff operator. The new staff did a good job and made a very beautiful firework design, and I finally felt, “This is it.”
What was the reference video like? Was it animation or photographic image?
TAKEUCHI: The reference video was a photographic live image. It was of actual fireworks. It was out of focus in the beginning, then suddenly focused, a blurred image that transitioned into the shape of fireworks…I don’t know how to do it, though. When you take a picture of fireworks, you continue to release the shutter for a long time when it’s dark outside. For professional use, there are certain methods for professionals, probably. Nevertheless, dots are moving if the fireworks are shot out of focus initially, you know? And then, the camera focuses on the fireworks quickly and the image becomes sharper and tighter. The reference video was like that. I thought that it’d be beautiful if it were reversed. There is a reversed version. It’s in focus at first, and the fireworks expand softly like flowers blooming when it gets out-of-focus. A ball becomes like a cluster.
I had the image in my mind for a long time, but I thought it was okay as it was. We kept working on the fireworks image, but we recognized that it was not going to be successful if we kept working with the firework image as it was. We realized that we needed to add some extra idea or element.
I learned a lot from that. The real video image was very beautiful, but it was missing something for animation. I discovered what that was afterwards. The staff members of the company who worked on the CG image had good aesthetic sense, and the fireworks image became more real because of them.
What was it like to work on a whole feature movie as a director?
TAKEUCHI: To be honest with you, I was keenly aware of my lack of ability. I acknowledged that I was beaten.
In many ways, directing is…I think I digress from the question, though. To direct is to have other people work on the image I have. When I conveyed my ideas and imagery to the team, I thought it should be done this way and that way…I realized that I was not competent enough on many things. I really thought so. However, I wouldn’t see this if I didn’t try it, so I must say that it was a valuable experience. I try to think positively.
How did Shaft push the envelope for Fireworks’ animation?
TAKEUCHI: Shaft worked very hard. It was during a period where Shaft had many different projects at the same time, so it must have been very tough for them, I guess. Under such challenging circumstances, they did very well, and there were many things that they did to make up for my failures as a director, I think. The producer who is here also helped me. We made it somehow, though it was really hard…We were close to our limits, so I agree that Shaft pushed the envelope. The entire company was focused on working on “Fireworks” during that period. Of course, there were a few other projects, but basically, everyone at Shaft was working on it together.
How did the music help to elevate the emotion of Fireworks?
TAKEUCHI: I think it was very good music, but it’s difficult to answer this question…I can only talk specifically, though. The moment of going back into the past could not have happened without the music, I think. Reversing and going back in time – I feel that those parts were implemented by the music.
Mr. Satoru Kosaki composed a higher output of music than my request that he respected, so my impression is that there are so many good songs, though it’s hard to talk about how the music helped to elevate the emotion exactly from my perspective.
The end of the film is somewhat ambiguous. What do you personally think happened to Norimichi and Nazuna?
TAKEUCHI: I don’t think they ended up together (laugh). That would be impossible. But if they did end up in a relationship, I don’t think it would have went well.
You seem pretty clear-cut on this matter.
TAKEUCHI: Well, well. I think I’m impressed by Norimichi who confessed his feelings to Nazuna. We normally can’t do so very easily when the possibility of defeat hangs in front of us…If they agreed and started dating, because he was induced and forced to tell Nazuna his feelings, I wonder if their relationship would go well. Don’t you? (laugh)
Do you think Nazuna was fond of Norimichi? Or was she not? People’s opinions are divided.
TAKEUCHI: Nazuna liked Norimichi only at that one moment on that one day, I think. It was something of that kind, really. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. We sometimes have days like that. Like being tempted by an evil spirit, I think that was the moment when she thought that Norimichi was kind of attractive unexpectedly. I don’t think she was okay with [just] anybody. It had to be Norimichi, I believe. She heard about moving from her mother, and under those circumstances, she chose Norimichi. I thought of it in this way and was working on it thinking that way.
What do you hope U.S. audiences get out of seeing Fireworks?
TAKEUCHI: I am talking from the premise that Norimichi had a broken heart. When people have to surrender, we have many transient and painful feelings. I would like the audience to believe that that is a very beautiful thing. There are people who say that it’s important not to give up…of course, it’s also important, but it could occur that we have to give up no matter what in life. It’s very hard and painful, but I think there are beautiful people who do it, who surrender but also value the feeling of transience and pain. I’m not sure how much this sentiment can be understood in American culture. But I made this film with this in mind.
What’s up next for you?
TAKEUCHI: The next project is “Sarazanmai.” I am not the director. Mr. Ikuhara is the director. I will be a sort of chief director under him.
Fireworks is available on Blu-ray today.