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Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust

(left) Ryoko Hirosue goes for a spin, and (right) Hiroshi Abe and Hirosue.
  Japanese: Baburu e go!! Taimu mashin wa doramu-shiki
Year: 2007  
Director: Yasuo Baba  
  Writer: Ryoichi Kimizuka
  Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Ryoko Hirosue, Hiroko Yakushimaru, Kazue Fukiishi, Masato Ibu, Yuko Ito, Hitori Gekidan, Shigemitsu Ogi, Hiroko Moriguchi, Ai Iijima
  The Skinny: Silly and inconsequential, but also fun. Bubble Fiction is an amusing time travel trifle with plenty of Japan-specific humor, and an entertaining way to waste some time. It ain't art, but that's okay.
by Kozo:

     It seems that every time we turn around there's a new time travel movie, and Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust fills that questionable need with yet another spin on time-jumping cinema shenanigans. When I say "spin", I mean it literally, because in Bubble Fiction, the method of era-hopping is none other than a Hitachi-branded washing machine, which besides possessing a mean rinse cycle, and can also send you to your desired era of choice. Basically, you get in, add some detergent, and presto, you can go back in time. Immediately, you should be able to tell: Bubble Fiction is not a film to be taken seriously.
     Ryoko Hirosue stars as Mayumi, who travels back in time to save the Japanese economy from their post-boom economic doldrums. 1990 is the target year, when Finance Minister Serizawa (Masato Ibu) introduced a financial policy that would thereafter doom the middle and lower classes to revolving debt and other assorted financial maladies. Mayumi is a direct victim of this financial devastation, as she owes a massive debt left over from her deadbeat, wayward boyfriend. The promise of erasing that obligation should be enough to make Mayumi sign up for time travel duty, though her profession (club hostess) doesn't exactly scream time-hopping adventuress. How does a club girl become a time traveler?
     The major reason: family. When we first meet Mayumi, she's attending the funeral of her recently deceased mother Mariko (eighties idol Hiroko Yakushimaru). After a dopey debt collector (Hitori Gekidan) makes off with the condolence money, Mayumi receives a visit from ultra-serious Ministry of Finance officer Shimokawaji (Hiroshi Abe), who reveals that he's a former friend of Mariko and that Mariko is not really dead, but has actually gone back in time to 1990. You see, Mariko accidentally designed a time machine while tinkering with an industrial-size washing machine at her workplace, the Hitachi R&D offices, and after hearing about her daughter's financial troubles, she crammed her five-foot frame into the machine and went back to 1990 to stop Serizawa from enacting his policy and bursting the economic bubble, presumably making everyone's current fortunes much more substantial and/or manageable.
     However, Shimokawaji is worried about Mariko, and since the machine can only transport someone small, i.e. girl-sized and not man-sized, back through time, they enlist the diminutive, though obviously not government-employed Mayumi to become their Marty McFly stand-in. Mayumi accepts, travels through time, and immediately starts to screw around, ignoring the instructions of Shimokawaji, who tells her not to visit his past self. She does anyway, only to discover that he's a horny womanizer who wants to bed this girl from the future, as well as any other woman that crosses his path. Still, despite his perpetual horndog attitude, Shimokawaji is a righteous guy who ends up becoming Mayumi's number one helper - and it's a good thing, because she would never be able to handle this task on her own. By the way, did we mention that she's just a club hostess and not a government employee?
     Mayumi is obviously not the ideal candidate for a nation-saving task of this magnitude, but that's okay, because Bubble Fiction is enormously silly, and is not to be taken seriously in any way, shape, or form. There's a serious issue at stake - Japan's economic future depends on Mariko and Mayumi - and there's even a ticking clock. Mayumi and Mariko have only a few days until Serizawa's public policy announcement, and have to convince him of the grave importance of their mission or the future will be doomed to its current undesirable lot. However, if those things are supposed to create suspense then director Yasuo Baba forgot to factor that in. The movie seems to gloss over any idea of tension, narrative drive, or impending crisis in favor of amusing jabs at Japan's boom-bust nineties, time-travel conventions, and local Japanese pop culture. Lots of time is spent running into characters in 1990 (besides Shimokawaiji, Mayumi runs into her present day debt collector and her club mamasan), and pausing with amazement to watch them spend money like mad. Differences in fashion, slang, and popular culture are pointed out constantly, with characters almost always remarking verbally about how everything is different or strange from their expected norm. These gags are frequently funny, and show an obvious affection for Japan, both pre and post-boom.
     And yet, despite the bouncy tone and amusing gags, the film wastes a lot of potential. First of all, the film frequently takes the easy route, using easy exposition to move the plot along, and ignoring conflicts or details that it can't easily explain away. Characters are rather blithe about the notion of time travel, and no danger is felt even when people's lives are in jeopardy. Seldom does the film announce any of its conflicts with grave importance. Everything is treated with a droll, deadpan amusement, with Ryoko Hirosue's effervescent cuteness and Abe Hiroshi's dapper smarm punctuating each comedy moment like some omniscient, self-amused smirk from the filmmakers themselves. The film always retains a colorful, decidedly unrealistic tone that feels like a retro spoof - think a droll stageplay version of Back to the Future with pauses for canned audience laughter. Picking up the pace, or getting the film to at least mirror the energy of its broadly-drawn characters could have helped the film enormously.
     Bubble Fiction possesses clever pop culture references, but they're almost always spelled out in verbal exclamations from Mayumi. She runs into many famous people in the past, and proceeds to announce their future destiny without any regard for how this could affect the timeline negatively. Obviously, that's a big no-no. Or, it would be a big no-no if the film itself cared at all about such common time travel concerns - which it doesn't. The above shenanigans result in fun cameos from Japanese pop culture icons, but they also highlight some of the film's rough spots, like obvious and graceless humor. Seldom does the film let a reference or a visual gag slide by subtly, and the audience is never left to do any work at all. Usually, when a joke appears, the film concentrates on it for maximum effect, as if it's saying, "Look at this reference! It's funny and quite satirical! Let's talk about it for an extra minute to make sure you get it!" The result is that everything is handed to the audience a bit too easily. There's wit in Bubble Fiction, but the obvious manner in which its presented sometimes makes it lose its edge.
     The film also telegraphs its plot twists and story devices, leaving obvious clues that any attentive moviegoer can spot immediately. There are holes all over the place; characters never ask logical or even important questions, and the film's time travel rules are not explained decently, making time travel more of a gag-facilitating plot device than a solid mechanism for narrative progression. There's plenty of potential in the film for clever twists, fun surprises, narrative tension, or audience misdirection, but Bubble Fiction seldom takes advantage of such opportunities, settling for obvious plot devices and lightweight silliness that's amusing and slyly satirical, but not very challenging. That silliness can also become grating, especially when the film enters the home stretch. Bubble Fiction clocks in at a little less than two hours, which may be too much for an inconsequential commercial film with so many obvious holes.
     Still, completely dismissing the film for the above criticism would be like condemning Pokemon for its lack of real-world relevance; basically, the film is light, unpretentious stuff that achieves its nominal aims rather handily. Though there are holes in the plot, the film seemingly acknowledges them by not trying to cover them up, propelling everything forward through the engaging energy of its silly gags and likable stars. Ryoko Hirosue is supercute, but with genuine appeal, and never so much that she becomes annoying or grating. Hiroshi Abe is likable and quite cool whether he's playing serious old Shimokawaji or smarmy young Shimokawaji, and his one running gag manages to deliver a very funny payoff. Bubble Fiction climaxes with a duo of over-the-top and totally unbelievable action sequences, complete with an Austin Powers-like music score and absolutely zero tension or conflict. This is not a film to get too excited about, but the agreeable comedy and winning nostalgia can tide one through. For what it is - a silly, exceptionally Japan-centric comedy - the movie elicits enough goodwill to make it worthwhile. Bubble Fiction isn't boom or bust, but it's bullish enough for an enjoyable little diversion. (Kozo 2007)

Availability: DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
Pony Canyon
2-DVD Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English subtitles
Various Extras

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen