What You Need To Know:
FIREWORKS is a critically acclaimed police thriller and character study from Japanese writer/director Takeshi Kitano, who is himself a well-known actor in Japan. An extremely violent tale, the movie presents the lives of three melancholy, hopeless characters: an ex-cop named Nishi whose young daughter just died, his dying wife and his partner who was paralyzed while covering a stakeout for him. Nishi, played by director Kitano under the stage name "Beat Takeshi," robs a bank to pay off some loan sharks, to give his paralyzed partner some expensive painting materials to start a new life and to take his beloved wife on a final trip.
FIREWORKS is a touching movie when it concentrates on the painting activities of Nishi's partner and the relationship between Nishi and his wife. The violent scenes, however, where Nishi kills the gangsters after him, don't seem to fit the film. Director Kitano also appears to take an amoral, "nonjudgmental" approach to the violence Nishi inflicts on the gangsters, the bank robbery he commits to get the money he uses to help his partner and his wife, and Nishi's final, suicidal solution to his wife's illness. FIREWORKS reinforces a godless worldview that ultimately leads to radical moral relativism.
(HHH, Pa, B, VVV, A, DD, M) Humanist, godless worldview with some pagan elements & some moral elements; no obscenities or profanities in the subtitles; many brief but bloody scenes of graphic violence as an ex-cop goes on a rampage of vigilantism & as Japanese gangsters do their own share of murders; minor alcohol use; much cigarette smoking; and, movie takes an amoral, nonjudgmental approach to mercy killing, suicide & the philosophy of the ends justifying the means.
FIREWORKS is a critically acclaimed police thriller and character study from Japanese writer/director Takeshi Kitano, who is himself a well-known actor in Japan. An extremely violent tale, the movie presents the lives of three melancholy, hopeless characters who are lost in their own personal despair but who still manage to find some brief splashes of grace, laughter and beauty along the way. The compassion these characters feel for one another is offset by a humanist, godless worldview mixed with pagan elements of amorality and immorality.
Most of FIREWORKS centers on the life of a former police detective named Nishi, whose talkative partner, Detective Horibe, was crippled by a gunman while Nishi visited his despondent wife still in the hospital suffering from terminal cancer. Nishi and his wife, we are told, recently lost their only child, and that has made Nishi’s wife even more depressed and withdrawn.
Nishi and his colleagues locate the gunman who shot Horibe. Nishi attacks the gunman, who in turn kills one officer and seriously injures another before Nishi kills him. Although the gunman is dead, Nishi is so angry that he unloads his pistol into the dead man’s body. As one cop says later in the movie, although Nishi was good at stopping Det. Horibe from losing control, Nishi was far more frightening when he lost control.
The outcome of this opening violent episode is devastating for everyone involved. The dead police officer left behind a young wife. Horibe’s wife and daughter leave him because he has now become a useless cripple to them, which seems to be a shameful thing for a virile man in Japan. Finally, the laconic Nishi has become wracked by guilt and left the police force (whether he was fired or resigned is not clear). Nishi visits the widow of the slain officer and visits Horibe, who wants to take up painting to fight his depression but can’t afford the art materials. Nishi also gets hassled by some loan sharks from whom he borrowed money to pay for his wife’s medical expenses. Her doctor tells Nishi that the hospital can do nothing more for her. He suggests Nishi take her home and go on a trip with her to take their minds off her illness and their daughter’s death.
Nishi’s solution to all these problems is an immoral one. He buys an old taxi and an old police light from a brutish auto wrecker, re-paints the taxi to look like a police car and robs a bank. While violently keeping the loan sharks at bay, he uses the money to buy a gift for the slain officer’s widow, sends Horibe a box of painting materials, then pays everything but the interest on his loan with the gangsters, and begins a trip with his dying wife.
At this point, the movie shows Horibe painting wonderful pictures with his art materials, mostly brightly-colored images of animals with different flowers for heads. One of the paintings, however, is of an angel and another is a beautiful mosaic of two people with umbrellas next to a lighthouse. Intercut with these images are shots of Nishi having a good, romantic time with his wife, whom he clearly loves deeply. Regrettably, the gangsters want the exorbitant interest on their money, not just the principal. They track Nishi down during his trip, and Nishi begins leaving some dead bodies in his wake. That and the bank robbery bring the police onto his trail as well.
Eventually, Nishi gets rid of all the gangsters who are after him, and the police track him down on the beach with his wife. Both Nishi and his wife are watching a girl play with a kite on the beach, leading the audience to assume that they are thinking of their dead daughter. Nishi leaves his wife to ask the policemen, one of whom is the third officer who was originally wounded, for one more moment alone with his wife. After Nishi returns to the wife, the movie shows us the girl playing with the kite. She stops to look as we hear two shots ring out. Apparently, Nishi has shot his wife and then committed suicide. The last image we see as the credits roll is a painting of an angel with one of its wings torn off.
FIREWORKS is an effective, but extremely violent, movie about the lives of Nishi, his wife and Detective Horibe after the gunman and Nishi wreck havoc in the beginning of the movie. The scenes of Horibe and Nishi, Horibe looking at flowers and painting, and Nishi and his wife on their trip are truly marvelous, engaging and touching. Director Takeshi Kitano, who also wrote and edited this movie and plays Nishi under the stage name “Beat Takeshi,” guides these scenes with a delicate, quiet, profound touch. His camera, helped along by moody music, lingers on the paintings, faces and settings in these scenes, increasing their emotional and dramatic weight. These scenes almost give the movie an excellent moral center, even though God is never mentioned. Kitano undercuts them, however, by the story between Nishi and the gangsters, which gives the movie an uneven quality.
Theologically and philosophically, Kitano appears to take an amoral, “nonjudgmental” approach to the violence Nishi inflicts on the gangsters, the bank robbery he commits to get the money he uses to help other people, and the final mercy killing and suicide at the end. Of course, many secular film critics love this kind of approach to movie characters, probably because, like many filmmakers, they don’t like to be held morally accountable for their actions. They also think that this approach is artistically better because it lets the audience make up their own minds about the morality of characters’ actions. They don’t seem to understand, or don’t care, that such filmmaking reinforces a godless, and anti-biblical, humanist worldview that ultimately glorifies sinful humanity and devalues the spiritual life. It also leads to radical moral relativism, where the individual replaces the God who is there. FIREWORKS is thus a missed opportunity. It fails to create a morally and spiritually profound depiction of how the violence in a Japanese policeman’s life can impact his life and the life of his family.