I can’t say everything I know about modern Japan I got from anime. Because, you know, “Iron Chef,” “Godzilla,” J-horror, “Hello Kitty,” etc.
Japanese history, Japanese folklore, Japanese fads like steam punk, styles of dress, teaching methods and styles, cuisine, you can get a pretty good taste of the culture through the animated art form they call their own.
“Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop” isn’t an instant classic and doesn’t have the bloodlines of the anime greats, filmmakers mostly associated with Hiyao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli.
Like a lot of midrange anime, it’s a tale that more easily have been told in a conventional feature film, with actors and sets and no animators. But this featherweight made-for-Netflix film gets by on charm and “cute” and the water colorish pastels the medium is famous for.
“Bubble” folds cherry blossoms, haiku, self-consciousness, “communication disorders,” sentimental memories, old age and J-pop into its teen romance tale set in modern day Oda City. We’ve seen prettier animation and stories with a more vivid sense of place. And they should more with the pop music element, seeing as how an old record store and a missing record are big parts of the plot.
But this simple story told simple engages and and should keep you — and perhaps the Young Adult audience its aimed at — interested, start to finish.
Yui is the boy all the kids call “Cherry.” He’s obsessed with haiku, the simple, minimalist Japanese poetry that has a lot in common with anime itself. Anime is typically under-animated, leaning heavily on drawn and painted images and thus a tad less fluid in character movements and the like. Often the poetry in it is in images and word pictures drawn by characters, not in “action.”
Yuki is the ever-grinning, always-upbeat “Smile,” a social influencer on Curiosity, a social network. She takes selfies and live-streams, squeezing products into her postings, with “Smile for me!” as her bubbly catchphrase.
They “meet cute” at the mall, a collision generated by graffiti artist, prankster and all around punk Beaver. That’s how their phones are mixed up.
Smile goes into a panic. Cherry, who is “on the spectrum,” given to wearing headphones to block the noise of the world, is a put out in a more low-key way.
But hey, she’s a cute girl who wants to talk with him, or at least get her phone back. And he’s just as “cute,” a word that Japan didn’t coin, but should have. Her sisters go back to the mall, where Cherry takes the old residents of a nursing home out for walks, and eventually, they made the switch and take in each other’s passions.
He is impressed with her social media presence, but tactless enough to blurt out “braces” when he sees her without the mask she wears to hide them.
“Buck teeth” used to be her trademark, but she’s having them corrected, and she’s embarrassed about it.
He keeps a special haiku dictionary in his phone case, because inspiration strikes him everywhere.
“Lights in summer’s eve, winning with a false start, against the sunset.”
The translations for the English language soundtrack miss a syllable, a break from the “five-seven-five” syllable format of haiku.
But his passion and her branding “work” take a back seat when they take on the quest of finding a missing record whose empty sleeve a very old nursing home resident clutches like it’s his last piece of an earlier life — because it is.
Kyohei Ishiguro’s film of Dai Satô’s screenplay unfolds at a sedate, civilized pace, allowing the story’s mystery to settle in and the uncertain courtship — if you can call it that — play out in unhurried time.
There’s a lot of poetry here, haiku painted and edited (in Japanese calligraphy) by Cherry and his friends Japan and Beaver. The movie’s connection to pop music could have been emphasized and underscored (with actual J-pop) a bit more, and every coming-of-age romance could use a little more humor.
But as the words do indeed “Bubble Up Like Soda Pop,” this plain but pretty story draws you in, the movie weaves its spell and Japan’s fixation of anything and everyone that can be called “cute” is evident in scene after scene.
MPA Rating: TV-PG
Cast: The voices of Hana Sugisaki, Ivan Mok (English language version)
Credits: Directed by Kyohei Ishiguro, script by Dai Satô. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:28