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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Firefly Dreams
Firefly Dreams
Wellspring // Unrated // March 16, 2004
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted March 7, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Firefly Dreams tells the story of Naomi, a young Japanese teenager from Nagoya who has just reached the prime of her teenage rebellion years. She dies her hair a sharp blonde color, skips school with her friends, stays out past her curfew, mouths off nastily to her mother, and when she isn't obsessing over boys and partying, she's knee deep wallowing in her own disaffection. In other words, she's pretty much almost every seventeen-year-old girl in existence. Naomi's selfishness and self-interest are put into play when her parents announce that they are breaking up, and that they are shipping her off to the countryside to live and work with her aunt's family.

Life in the country doesn't sit well with Naomi. She's obviously bitter, resentful, and forlorn. She reluctantly helps out around the inn, acts passive-aggressively to her aunt and is outwardly hostile and mean to her slow but sweet-natured cousin Yumi. She smokes, talks back, and always attempts to isolate herself. While on a pickle errand one day, she comes across Mrs. Koide, a sweet elderly woman and relative who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Naomi is asked to help care for Mrs. Koide, a charge she approaches with her usual degree of alienation and indifference. But as the summer progresses, she begins to develop a deep friendship and bond with Mrs. Koide, while at the same time warming up to the rest of her extended family. Time and a sudden tragedy begin to reshape Naomi, from a spoiled, selfish girl into a more sensitive, mature adult.

Firefly Dreams is a slow, simple tale, presented in a wonderfully warm and beautiful style. John Williams script and direction is focused and unadorned, allowing the natural grace and simplicity of the tale to unfold. The cinematography by Yoshinobu Hayano is absolutely exquisite, providing photography that captures not only the natural beauty of the Japanese countryside but also bathing the quieter, more introspective moments with both glowing light and deep shadow. I also appreciated Paul Rowe's piano/guitar-centric score, as it so perfectly complemented the tale's slow voyage of discovery. And there isn't a bad performance in the bunch. Maho is utterly believable as Naomi, both in her spoiled, bratty phase and throughout her transformation, and as Mrs. Koide, Yoshie Minami (who may be remembered by Kurosawa fans as the maid from Ikiru) is equal parts endearing and heartbreaking.

While not a powerful, revolutionary piece of cinema, Firefly Dreams is a sweet, charming little film that manages to touch the heart without engaging in cheap melodrama, maudlin theatrics, or shameless tugging at the heartstrings.

The DVD

Video:

Firefly Dreams is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen-viewing giddiness. I was taken aback by the soft, hazy appearance of the transfer. The overall quality seems a little washed-out and lifeless, sporting some flat contrasts, middling color ranges, and some minor image softness throughout. The film doesn't look bad or horrific, but it appears older and more timeworn than it should. The video makes Firefly Dreams look like a movie from 1988, not 2001. That having been said, the print is relatively clean throughout, lacking noticeable wear, scratches, or debris. The transfer does display some slight shimmer and discernable grain structure, but nothing overbearing or overpowering. Overall, the video is satisfactory but strangely old-looking.

Audio:

The audio is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0. Both are presented in the original Japanese language soundtracks with optional English subtitles. I found the 2.0 track to be the more preferable experience; the 5.1 track, in comparison, seemed forced and artificial. With the opening of the soundfield, the labored directionality and discrete effects appear unfocused and strangely thin, resulting in uneven spatiality throughout the film. Dialog levels are hollow and unengaging. Surround channels are used most effectively when highlighting background noise, and the orchestrations appear full and dynamic. In short, the six-channel mix isn't inherently advantageous over the two-channel presentation, and you're better off listening to the more natural-sounding 2.0 track.

Extras:

Firefly Dreams comes with a nice array of supplemental material. There is a feature length audio commentary with writer/director John Williams, who enthusiastically speaks at length about his film. Williams offers his thoughts on how the film was made, working with a Japanese cast and crew, and providing information about the cultural background that impacted the story. There is also an interview with the director that runs for thirty minutes, in which the self-proclaimed "other John Williams" speaks about how a British director approached writing and directing a film in Japan with a Japanese cast. He talks at length about the production, the cast, and the storyline, as well as some of the problems encountered during the filming.

Also included is a trailer, a DVD Offer from Artfilm Collection, weblinks, previews for Carnage, Les Destinees, Flowers of Shanghai, Ran, Russian Ark, Under the Sand, What Time Is It There, and Yiyi, and DVD production credits.

Final Thoughts

The entire time I spent watching Firefly Dreams, I felt like I was watching a live-action adaptation of a Studio Ghibli drama, which is as fine a compliment as one could hope to engender. The film's slow pace, long takes, and limited focus might seem like a chore to some viewers, but for those who enjoy this type of dramatic storytelling, Firefly Dreams presents a generally entertaining, heartfelt, and compelling program. While the presentation of the film is a little spotty, the extra material is of good quality. The film itself is the main selling point of this DVD. Firefly Dreams is a fine film, and definitely worthy of your time.
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