Rainbow Fireflies (Japan, 2011) [PiFan 2012]

At first glance, the poster for Uda Kounosuke’s Rainbow Fireflies, with its series of picture bubbles featuring scenes of various children enjoying the salad days of summer, would lead anyone with even some cursory knowledge of Japanese cinema to probably assume that the film was a drama depicting the every day, a la the work of Yasujiro Ozu or Isao Takahata, and that assumption would be apt. Yet, if the film was merely just a genre retread then I doubt the programmers of PiFan would have chosen it as part of their Ani Fanta series this year. No, although Rainbow Fireflies has a plot that dwells mainly in the quieter moments of drama, which a majority of Japanese films do so well, it tackles the common tropes of young love, loss, and tragic pasts by utilizing the familiar and nostalgic concept of the “time slip” to present a heartwarming magic realist tale.

The main character in the film, Yuta (voiced by Akashi Takei) is a young man stuck nostalgically reliving the moments he shared with his now dead father, constantly replaying the last message that his dad left for him to the point that he begins repeating lines from it when speaking to his mother. His nostalgia has even brought him deep into the mountains hoping to catch beetles where his father had shown him when he was still a boy. During this trek through the wilderness, though he comes upon an old, gnome-like but harmless old man, begging for something to drink. Yuta shares his sports drink with him, an act of kindness that the man repays later by sending Yuta back in time to the year 1977 in an attempt to save Yuta’s life after he takes a nasty fall during a torrential rainstorm. Of course, although saved from certain death, the prospect of living in a different time and place surrounded by strangers isn’t quite appealing, especially not for a boy with a mother who is constantly worried about him.

Luckily for Yuta, on first arriving to the small village, he is welcomed by Saeko, a girl with her own tragic past.  Seeing the confused look on Yuta’s face. she takes it upon her herself to bring him to her house, not as a guest but as her cousin, an act not merely odd because the two just met, but also because everyone in the village including Saeko’s grandmother wholeheartedly believe Yuta to be the person Saeko says he is without question. This makes it possible that there is more to the sleepy village that Yuta has been nbso online casino reviews transported to then just the quaint simplicity of farm life. Has Yuta really gone back in time or could this idyllic small town be a mini-purgatory?

What I particularly loved about Kounosuke’s film, adapted from a novel by Masayuki Kawaguchi, is that it does not fall into the trap of so many time travel narratives (for example, the Back to the Future trilogy),  by having the protagonist meet younger versions of people he knew in the present, wasting valuable screen time by having characters patch up plot holes and time paradoxes. It would have been quite easy to rely on this plot device since Kounosuke establishes early on in the story that Yuta’s father was also a visitor to the village when he was still a boy. Instead, the film deals with loss through the metaphor of the destruction of a village. In scene after scene, we are reminded of how finite this community’s existence is. And as the world outside of the village’s purview grows larger and more dependent on bending rather than bowing to nature, the rituals and small pleasures of small town life are quickly going extinct.

Yuta, although not a dyed in the wool technocrat, is a typical child of the cellphone generation. Bottled water, store bought tomatoes, and an entire childhood spent without having seen a single firefly is a common reality for many children now. Brought to that specific point in the past, Yuta gets to experience a way of life now relegated to nostalgic fantasy by film and television. Although the director, to his credit, doesn’t just portray the animation in a Disney generic style, but shifts from photo-realistic landscape painting to impressionistic slashes of black to abstract blotches of color, forcing audiences to never be completely passive while watching the film.  This makes the film a good blend of substance and style.

Summer was such a wonderful time to be a kid. Those few weeks when the boring routine of school was replaced by the possibility of adventure and just hanging out with friends made the unbearable heat and lack of funds no problem at all. Yet, time moves forward and eventually we are all reduced to nostalgically dreaming of going back to happier days. For producer Toei Animation and Uda Kounosuke, Rainbow Fireflies hits just the right note of nostalgia and sentimentality, depicting the familiar pain of loss and every person’s attempt to burrow into the past for a fleeting sense of comfort. Of course, as any sane person eventually realizes: that which has passed cannot be undone.