Review for Baba Yasuo's "Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust"

While pop icon Prince sang about how he wanted to party like it was "1999" in the 80s, I reckon some Japanese now lament about how they wish they could party again like it was the early 90s, during the height of their "Bubble Keiki" (Bubble Boom).

1990 seems like only yesterday, but in Baba Yasuo's silly yet entertaining "Bubble E Go: Time Machine Wa Drum Shiki" (AKA Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust) it seems like a fond memory to the Japanese. The early 90s were a great time to be in Japan - unemployment was almost nil, banks were loaning money at ridiculously low interest rates, property values were sky high, company bonuses were huge, tight "body-con" dresses, super mini skirts and permed hair were all the rage and the yen value was at an all time high.

Of course the "bubble" era (1986-1990) would burst towards the late 90's and Japan would plunge into a deep recession from which they are only just now beginning to recover from.

Taking a page from Robert Zemeckis' influential "Back To The Future" series, "Bubble Fiction" is a time-traveling, Sci-Fi comedy that waxes nostalgic about the Bubble Keiki of economic prosperity and decadence that Japan experienced during that time and how many Japanese long for a return to that happiness.

The story begins in the present and revolves around the recent reported death of a brilliant genius, Tanaka Mariko (80's Kadokawa Film Heroine Yakushimaru Hiroko) who was a home appliance technician and amateur inventor. This couldn't have happened at a worst time for her troubled daughter Mayumi (the fetching Hirosue Ryoko), whom had recently come back home to live with her after a particularly bad romantic breakup. Mayumi's previous boyfriend had borrowed money from Yakuza loan-sharks and fled, leaving her to pay off his enormous mounting debts. Forced to take various odd jobs (including a hostess at a Ginza Bar) to pay off the debts, she is continually hounded by a particularly persistent "chimbira" (Yakuza underling) Tajima Keiichi(Gekidan Hitori) who oddly enough was a former bank employee until his bank went bankrupt.

Mayumi is soon visited by a mysterious "Zaimushou" (MOF-Ministry of Finance) officer, Shimokawaji Isao (Abe Hiroshi). He tells her that her mother is not dead but rather stuck in the past (in the year 1990). It seems Tanaka Mariko had developed a time machine (built within a drum/cylinder washing machine - hence the title) and had gone into the past to try and convince then-Finance Minister Serizawa (the great character actor Fukiishi Kazue) to reconsider his disastrous policy decision that plunged the economy into ever increasing debt.

Shimokawaji and his team had determined that Mayumi's similar body type to her mother (and same genetic DNA) make her the only one that can use the machine safely to go back in time. With promise that all her debts will be wiped clean, Mayumi agrees to go back in time to get her mother back and stop Serizawa.

Along the way she encounters a young Shimokawaji who agrees reluctantly to help her find her mother. Hilarity ensues as Mayumi struggles to adapt to a pre-cellphone/pre-internet Japan. She also unexpectedly reunites with her father who had abandoned her while still a child.

The screenplay by Kimizuka Ryoichi (Odoru Dai Shosakan, My Lover Is A Sniper) is good fun in a "Austin Powers" sort of way but doesn't go far enough in exploring the time and explaining just how different an atmosphere it was.

While there are numerous funny "fish out of water" scenes in the movie that explore the cultural evolution which had occurred since 1990 (Japanese slang, clothing, mannerisms) they don't go far enough in exploring all of the possibilities.

There were so many missed opportunities for ironic humor that could have been done (similar to "Forrest Gump").

Imagine if Mayumi's low rider jeans and stomach revealing outfit sparked a fashion trend in Harajuku or if her cellphone technology had gotten to NTT where they develop the smaller advanced cellphone prototypes way ahead of Nokia and Motorola or if Mayumi's erotic "bump and grind" club dancing had inspired a young pre-Avex Amuro Namie to incorporate that same style of dancing years ahead of her debut or if Mayumi had introduced "Para Para" dancing ahead of the trend.

Sci-Fi and Star Trek aficionados would definitely have a fit at seeing all the perplexing paradox that go on in the movie (how can Mayumi exist as both a young adult and as a five-year old at the same time).

"Godzilla" fan-boys would also be quick to note a number of similarities to Toho's own "Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah" which told of a plan by nameless foreign nationals in the future who travel to the Japan of the 90's to wreck havoc with Japan's economic climate so as to prevent Japan's global dominance in the future.

Baba Yasuo's direction is fast and breezy and he incorporates a lot of neat visual effects throughout the movie (Tokyo's skyline is deconstructed before our eyes back to the 1990's skyline, the Yokohama Bay Bridge is also still in pre-construction phase, Japanese cars and mini cars are replaced with their 1990 counterparts and the surrounding billboards and signs reflect the products of the time. It's so very "natsukashi" to revisit the Japan of that time.

Current Talents Ijima Ai, Ijima Naoko, Popular TV Newscaster Yagi Akiko and former J-League Soccer star Ramos Ruy all have funny cameos in the movie playing themselves in context to the time i.e. before they became famous.

The music soundtrack is also very reflective of the time like MC Hammer and C & C Music Factory. It would have been nice if they used more 90s J-Pop music like Princess Princess as opposed to these cheesy songs.

I'm a huge fan of Hirosue (Wasabi,Renai Shashin) and as always she is very likable in her role as Mayumi and continually impresses with her ability to bring her unique sense of girlish charm and likability to her roles. Abe (Survive Style 5, Tao No Tsuki, Adiantum Blue) is also very likable in his role as Shimokawaji. They are supported by an equally stellar cast including Fujiki Kazue, Ito Yuko, Ogi Shigemitsu, Moriguchi Hiroko and Ibu Masato.

While it was nice seeing Yakushimaru Hiroko in the role of Mayumi's mother, I did find it as a bit of odd casting considering that Yakushimaru is mainly known for her 80s movies like "Sailor Fuku To Kikanjyu" and "Tantei Monogatari". I would have thought a more clever casting would have been for Harada Tomoyo who was in the time leaping movie "Toki O Kakeru Shojo".

"Bubble Fiction" is not a perfect movie to be sure and the last half hour in particular will definitely try anyone's patience for believable drama. That being said, I did find the movie enjoyable on the whole and worth a look at especially for those who remember what life was like in Japan at the time. We can't relive the past but can at least enjoy the memories.

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  • Janzki

    Sounds like a fun film.

  • Ard Vijn

    Good review James, sounds interesting but it seems like 90% of the background would go over my head...

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