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Bubble review: Sometimes spectacle is enough

Sometimes a film can be so beautiful to see and hear that those elements make up for its shortcomings in other areas. More than a few Hollywood filmmakers have created wildly successful careers out of that formula, and it also looms large over the Netflix film Bubble, a Japanese animated feature set in a postapocalyptic Tokyo where the laws of gravity no longer apply.

Directed by Tetsurō Araki (Attack on Titan) and written by Gen Urobuchi (Psycho-Pass), Bubble imagines a world in which strange, otherworldly bubbles rained down over Earth, ultimately coalescing over downtown Tokyo and encasing the region in a single, massive bubble filled with fluctuating gravity pockets. After a series of destructive phenomena left the bubble-encased metropolis a flooded, crumbling, ever-changing urban labyrinth, it becomes home to ragtag squatters who compete for food and supplies in parkour-inspired races across the cityscape.

Perched on top of a tall crane, Hibiki looks out over Tokyo in a scene from Bubble.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Part sci-fi love story, part cinematic racing drama, Bubble chronicles the strange events that begin to unfold when Hibiki, a racer with a unique sensitivity to the sounds of the city, encounters a mysterious girl, Uta, while exploring the epicenter of bubble activity.

Over the course of the film, the convoluted, underlying premise of Bubble never gets any easier to wrap your head around, but fortunately, all of the increasingly vague supernatural (or perhaps extraterrestrial, it’s not exactly clear) stage dressing is secondary to what the film does do well: It serves up one gorgeous, meticulously crafted animated sequence after another.

The damaged, bubble-encased center of Tokyo that serves as the film’s setting is beautifully depicted, full of details that draw your eye into still images and make every lingering view of the city an impressive work of art. The film’s visual aesthetic is even more spectacular in motion, with the camera following various racers within the city as they jump, flip, dive, and swing themselves through decaying office buildings, teetering scaffolding, and the remains of what was once the most populous metropolitan area in the world.

Hibiki runs across the Tokyo skyline in a scene from Bubble.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The story finds one reason after another to showcase the brightly attired racers acrobatically progressing through Tokyo’s gray skeleton against a backdrop of blue skies and green plant life reclaiming the region, but the sequences never feel old or repetitive thanks to the detail that goes into the animation and makes each run feel surprisingly unique. The tremendous visual spectacle of these parkour sequences in Bubble is polished with an equally thrilling score that makes the characters’ daredevil journeys that much more entertaining.

The audio elements of Bubble also come into play during the film’s quieter, less frantic moments, with Hibiki’s relationship to sound playing a key (although again, somewhat confusing) role in the film’s narrative. Bubble makes the softer sounds of a deserted city feel as important to the character’s story as the intense soundtrack to the races. As a result, the film is a standout option for anyone looking for an exciting audio-video experience, whether theatrically or at home.

Uta and Hibiki stare at each other amid a cloud of bubbles in a scene from the film Bubble.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Given everything Bubble offers for your eyes and ears, it gets a bit easier to forgive what it never delivers narratively. While the story makes frequent reference to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, it never quite sells the reimagining of that fairy tale that it seemingly wants to be. That it also opts not to explore the mystery of the bubbles and their connection to Uta, Hibiki, or Tokyo is the sort of thing that would be more frustrating if the film’s audio-visual attributes weren’t so hypnotizing.

Immersive, entertaining, and capable of sweeping you away in its spectacle, Bubble is the sort of film that has plenty of flaws if you look too closely, but it also has plenty to offer if you’re willing to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Tetsurō Araki’s Bubble premieres April 28 on Netflix.

Bubble (2022)

Animation, Adventure, Science Fiction
Jun Shison, Riria, Mamoru Miyano
Directed by
Tetsuro Araki
Watch on Netflix
Movie images and data from:
Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
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