Thursday, June 7, 2007



DIRECTOR: Baba Yasuo
Abe Hiroshi
Hirosue Ryoko
Yakushimaru Hiroko
Fukiishi Kazue
Ito Yuko

116 Minutes
Format Viewed: Cinema (Japan)

(Note: I saw BUBBLE FICTION during my purgatory in Okinwawa earlier this year.)

This is one of those entries about a film that I would like to duck my head and kind of hide myself behind my jacket for admitting that I saw. As dumb as it looked, the preview for it actually made me laugh. That, and my lady, made it inevitable that I was going to see it. (I'd already dragged her to too many films that I'd wanted to see, so I had no leverage.)

BUBBLE FICTION is about as dumb as they come but that's not a reason to fault a film for its existence. Stupid sells as we all know. (What was that old adage that's ascribed to P.T. Barnum, but might not be him at all? No one ever lost money from underestimating the intelligence of the audience. Right?) Anyhoo, to be honest, I kind of liked the conceit of the film and was intrigued because there have a been a tonne of time travel movies in the West that only deal with Western historical incidents, but how many time travel films from the East have you seen that ALSO deal with uniquely Eastern historical incidents? (Not many I bet.)

The fact that the early 1990s are now regarded as 'history' is hilarious to me, because I totally remember the end of highschool and my first years of college as if they were the day before yesterday (or the a week ago, or something...) so, really, I don't think I'm that old. But this film could convince me otherwise.

Anyway, to get back to this, what could be more Japanese than the economic bubble that fell its Icarus like rise to dizzying world financial heights? Right, that's what I said. Let me see how they can make a time travel movie where something good comes out of the bubble bursting. I'd like to see that.

Well, it turns out you can't do it. At least [part-time] director Baba Yasuo had a hard time doing it. But before I tear into the film and it's total irresponsibility, let's a have a plot synopsis as supplied by the film's production company, Pony Canyon (since I'm way too lazy today to write one of my own that's pithy):

When a brilliant female researcher accidentally turns an ordinary washing machine into a time machine, the Japanese government convinces her to travel back to 1990 and prevent the announcement of landmark fiscal policy that triggered the nation's economic demise. But the mission hits a snag when the researcher disappears, forcing the government to send her estranged daughter, Mayumi - a debt-ridden bar hostess and the only other person the time machine will accept - back in time to find out what happened. Mayumi arrives at the peak of Japan's "bubble" economy and finds a society obsessed with material wealth and profligate spending. With her warnings of impending doom falling on deaf ears, Mayumi's frustrated efforts to find her mother suggest some kind of conspiracy at work at the highest levels of government. Her own future and that of Japan itself begins to hinge on her ability to recruit the help of one man: the same finance bureaucrat who sent her through time. The problem is, he's 17 years younger and completely unreliable. Link

So now you know what to expect. I mean the film is meant to be a chick comedy (and not high art) and the fact that it's a Hitachi washing machine that is the time machine, is meant to make the house wives titter in amusement at the familiarity and mundanity of it all. (Get it? A time machine out of a washing machine? Only the problem is that sentaki is the Japanese word for washing machine! But I digress...)

What is the genius of the film is that it's a vector of nostalgia and the fun of bellowing 'no way, that's the way it used to be??' that comes out of the 1990s bubble set pieces. My lady was having such a good time watching this she was almost hovering out of her seat in pure excitement, being pulled towards the screen, talking out-loud to the movie, commiserating. For me, sure I found it amusing in parts, but there was something more telling about the psychology of the film that it was relating that I found far more fascinating; but I'll come back to this a little later.

One of the problems with this movie, after you knock out the fun of the nostalgia bits, is that because the narrative demands a bad guy that the heroine can buck against and a problem that can be solved, is that since the film has been made in a world that does exist after the bubble burst and for better or worse we're stuck in/with it, is that it's desperately searching for someone to blame. Who might it be, you logically ask? Well, at the risk of giving away something of the film <**spoiler alert**> it's a cabal of ten men, mainly white but master-minded by an evil Japanese man, who stand to profit handsomely off of Japan's collapse. <**end spoiler**>

What? Are you serious? Let's take a little digital wander over to Wikipedia and see what they say about Japan's Babaru Keiki:

"In the decades following World War II, Japan implemented stringent tariffs and policies to encourage the people to save their income. With more money in banks, loans and credit became more easy to obtain, and with Japan running large trade surpluses, the yen was able to appreciate against foreign currencies. This allowed Japanese companies to invest in capital resources much more easily than their competitors, which made goods cheaper, which widened the trade surplus further. And, with the yen appreciating, financial assets became very lucrative. Unfortunately, with so much money readily available for investment, speculation was inevitable, particularly in the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the real estate market..."

"Some US$20 trillion (1999 dollars) was wiped out with the combined collapse of the real estate market and the Tokyo stock market."

And there you have it, I even read and clipped for you for ease of digestion. It was an over speculation and valuation of real estate in Japan made by people who had too easy access to large lines of credit that they couldn't afford to pay back if any major problem came to pass, which meant that the burden of the defaults was borne by the financial institutions (who okay'd the irresponsible investments in the first place). I know that this sounds like what's going on now in the US with sub-prime loans, and if this interests you, you should read up about it on some other website. And if it doesn't interest you, you now understand why this film could ultimately never be successful.

What I don't like about this film is that it blames someone else for Japan's financial problems. Even in jest, it sends out the wrong message to the masses. America isn't the only place where people get the majority of their history education from the movies -- as horrifying as that is. I left the theater with terrible feeling that this was the kind of sh*t that governments pulled to synchronize the masses through their propaganda films. (Nazi's anyone?) Why not have a film where there's no bad guy and Mayumi has to go back and convince her mom NOT to live in the past and come back to the future-- only Mayumi has so much fun, she doesn't want to go back either until she runs into her baby self that starts to mutate when it sees her and it threatens the very fabric of space and time so she has to go home to save the universe. Or I don't know. Even ripping off BACK TO THE FUTURE wholesale would be better.

I started to mention this earlier, but BUBBLE FICTION really was a public admission that once upon a time, Japan was a fun place to be-- a little bit of heaven even-- but now it's all gone. The film was a collected day dream for all of those who enjoyed the riches of the Babaru Keiki: a heady time where 500 bucks couldn't even hail you a cab at midnight in extravagant Roppongi or Ginza.

Watching the promotion for BUBBLE FICTION on Tamori's Warai Iitomo (Fuji TV) I was struck by how the older celebs all waxed nostalgic about how great the Bubaru Keiki all was and how the young celebs and the young audience all ooh'd and aah'd in amazement (and, presumably, disbelief): it sounds like fiction to those that experience it. What that indicates to me is that just showing the Bubble period was enough to entertain the audience: it sounds like fiction! But trying to hang a stupid story about stopping a cabal of bad (mainly white) men from bankrupting Japan and thereby creating a heavenly future where there could be more buildings and bridges funded by empty financial speculation and hollow loans seems to indicate the root of the problem: general irresponsibility.


jinalbert said...

Thank goodness, I'm glad I'm not the only one that think it is a pretty bland movie.

Nicholas Rucka said...

Yeah, it's not quality 'cinema' that's for sure.

Still, for those who want a cliched, poorly scripted nostalgia trip-- or an excuse to see Iijima Ai dance in a tube dress once again (and YouTube doesn't satisfy that itch for ya) -- then this is the film for you.