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Bubble: Sorry to Burst It

Well not to burst your bubble, but this one blows! The 2022 post-apocalyptic film pops in a colourfully animated world with a lovely soundtrack, but this bubble pops due to its lack of plot and premise. This film premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival and is now available for worldwide viewing on Netflix. Is it worth the stream?

Bubble takes place in Tokyo, Japan in a not too far off future. One day bubbles start raining down from the sky, and the laws of reality are altered. The bubbles burst to recreate Noah's Arc. The end of the world- well at least for Tokyo. It also takes a Stephen King approach to "The Dome" as a giant bubble wraps itself around the city. A large explosion occurs at Tokyo Tower, and Tokyo becomes inhabitable, and now only orphans who play an extreme parkour capture-the-flag spot run about the city. What could have been presented as great world-building opportunities were left as stones unturned. There's no real reason as to why these orphans want to engage in the sport. It is also safe in the rest of Japan, leaving the audience to wonder why struggling in the decay of a flooded city is more appealing. They're able to enter and exit the bubble that encages the city. What's so bad about the outside world that makes it necessary for these children to stay here?

If that wasn't questionable enough, it's time to meet our manic pixie dream girl. Hibiki, our male protagonist, is one of the orphans of Tokyo. He wears noise suppressing earmuffs due to his hypersensitive hearing. One day he hears singing coming from Tokyo Tower. He's tried to climb the tower in the past to no avail, and he nearly drowns this time too. He is saved by our manic pixie dream girl, whom he later names Uta. There are little to no details about Uta, what she is, and how she got there. When Uta brings Hibiki back to his teammates, she acts in an animalistic manner. She crawls on all fours, puts her hand in boiling water, and cannot speak. When no one is looking, she takes off her gloves to reveal bubbles. It's never disclosed what entity she is, other than that she comes from the bubbles. Uta becomes fascinated with Hans Christian Andersen: "The Little Mermaid." She learns to speak at a rapid pace, often reciting lines from The Little Mermaid when events in her life parallel with the tale.

Uta's lack of agency is what defines her as a manic pixie dream girl. Hibiki feels less shy around his teammates and is able to hang out with them despite struggling with hypersensitive hearing his entire life. During a battle of capture-the-flag to save one of their friends, Hibiki loses his noise suppressing earmuffs while doing parkour. For the rest of the film, his inability to cope with loud noises magically disappears, and he's magically cured. He has no concern for the loss of his device. Earlier in the movie, he appears quite upset when his teammates take it away from him. While talking with Uta he tells her how he had a hard childhood, and how he tried to get better and heal his hypersensitivity. It's odd how suddenly erased that part of his character becomes. It feels more like a forgotten or poorly detail than a manic pixie dream girl helping in the transformation of a male protagonist. Noise affected Hibiki's life so much; he avoided hanging out with his teammates, he spent countless hours in the hospital trying to get diagnosed, and he gets upset when people take his earmuffs away from him. There's no reasonable explanation to take that part of his character away.

My final beef with this bubble was the climax and ending. Uta recites another line from The Little Mermaid. The mermaid has to return to the sea. Uta must go back to Tokyo Tower. If Uta doesn't return to Tokyo Tower, another explosion will happen. There's no urgency or build-up to this issue until the last 30 minutes of the film. Her reasoning? A sister that she had never mentioned before. So Uta mysteriously disappears as the bubbles start to fall from the sky. Hibiki and his friends go to rescue her. It's revealed that before the first explosion Uta was a bubble, and Hibiki heard her song. Uta had saved him during the first explosion. There's no explanation for the original phenomena of the bubbles, or how Uta sprang into human form. Unambiguous endings are meant for the audience to interpret for themselves what had happened. This unambiguity, however, leaves me wondering what could have been done to improve the story.

So what would I have changed to improve the story?:

  • Give more backstory as to why the orphans snuck into Tokyo after being evacuated from the city: what makes scavenging a flooded abandoned city more appealing than the civilization that is five minutes away from you?

  • Introduced the problem earlier on: Uta's 'sister' could have been introduced earlier on. Perhaps she could have even been the initial reason for the first explosion at Tokyo Tower

  • Hibiki should have gone back for his noise suppressing earmuffs. It could have made for a more interesting story rather than dropping his need for them. Or even showing his distress during loud noises (he and Uta slide under a collapsing building and the noise never bothers him)

  • At the beginning of the movie, Usagi nearly falls into a "whirlpool"-like movement in the water after slipping off of a bubble. Hibiki warns him to fear them. The dangers of jumping on the bubbles are never mentioned again

  • The references to The Little Mermaid could have been more of an allegory or eluded early in the plot. The references to it were disconnected from the rest of the characters. It'd be more interesting if Hibiki had an interest in the story too; maybe he would read the book as a child to cope with his hypersensitivity, or maybe his team's name could have something to do with mermaids.

  • When it's revealed that Uta saved Hibiki as a child, it's a miracle. When they originally flashback to him surviving the explosion, it was never explained that it should have been impossible for him to have lived.

My overall thoughts:

This film had great potential: an imaginative world, some great ideas, and good music. It seems as though the writers were going for a mysterious and ambiguous approach to their story. Unfortunately, it feels more like loose ends. There were a lot of plot holes and things added in at the last second. It could be a great story, but it's only okay. Overall I give this three out of five stars. I hope the manga's better!

: 3/5 Stars

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