FIREWORKS is one of the best films made in the past five years and it is arguably Japanese director "Beat" Takeshi Kitanoís best film to date and now itís available on DVD from New Yorker Video.With its dualistic themes of love vs. violence, comedy vs. seriousness and stillness vs. loudness, FIREWORKS sets out to cover a lot of ground but achieves them in masterfully simple declarative ways. "Beat" Takeshi has developed a cult following in the United States and Europe with his Zen-like gangster films. Like many of his other films, FIREWORKS uses droll humor coupled with underlying tragedy combined with a style that is at once tranquil and explosive.
The main plot of FIREWORKS is about Nishi (Kitano) a tough, laconic cop who is surrounded by regret and tragedy. His wife (Kayoko Kishimoto) is dying of leukemia, a younger cop has died during a sting operation and his police partner has recently been shot and paralyzed. The subplot is about the paralyzed cop, Horibe (Ren Osugi), who is trying to come to grips with his life since his wife and child have left him after the accident. This is truly the stuff of melodrama but Takeshi keeps everything buoyed with methodical pacing, contemplative moments and remarkable direction.
Nishi is an embittered man who can find no way out of his difficult situation so he robs a bank and gives the money to those for whom he feels guilty about and pays off his debt to the Yakuza. Then he and his wife take a fateful road trip together. Along the way he is pursued by the Yakuza -- who insist that he now pay them the interest on the debt -- and two police associates of his who want to arrest him.
FIREWORKS may sound like a second rate Hollywood movie but it is far from it. It is much more contemplative, quieter (even existential) and ultimately more grim. In simple terms it is an art film rather than a genre piece.
The two main visual motifs of FIREWORKS are fireworks and flowers. The meanings are obvious: flowers represent love and like love have an ephemeral beauty and fireworks represent violence, which is something explosive yet too is over in a short time.
This parallel works hand in hand with the dualistic plot of Nishi and his wife on a last journey and that of the crippled cop who takes up painting to ease his pain and loneliness. Each of them is dealing with the nature of love and violence in their lives and a way they can ease their pain.
Like most of the great 20th Century films from Japan, camera placement and film pacing are as important as the performances. In this case the Zen-like form of the film works close with the acting and the thematic content to enrich the film at all levels.The DVD includes a short "making of" documentary that shows the shooting of the film's major scenes. There is also an interview with Takeshi that is split up into five parts in the menu section. In fact, the menu section is one of the most unique Iíve seen on a DVD. Rather than listing the scenes in order, or by number, it lists them by theme. There are four or five chapters per theme; the last choice being a section of the interview that deals with that particular theme. There are also actor profiles, two trailers and a gallery of paintings (done by Takeshi when he was recuperating from an accident) that are used throughout the film.-- Matt Langdon