Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop

Yui Sakura, better known to his few friends as Cherry, is a shy and introverted teenager who flinches at the sound of loud noises and constantly wears headphones as a result. Largely unable to communicate with the outside world, he expresses himself through the writing of haiku, the traditional Japanese poetic form comprised of seventeen syllables. Cherry often posts these poems on a social media platform called “Curiosity”, though he has very few readers. Yuki, known widely as Smile, is a gregarious and outgoing girl who posts regular video blogs on the Curiosity platform’s Curio Live site about her ongoing quest to discover “cuteness”. However, self-conscious about the overbite that requires her to wear braces, she only ever appears online wearing a face mask; her many fans mistakenly think this is a device to create a sense of “mystery” about her identity and boost her popularity. One day, at the height of the summer holidays, Cherry and Smile accidentally encounter one another at the local mall; and, due to the circumstances surrounding their meeting, Cherry ends up with Smile’s smartphone, while she ends up with his dictionary of haiku seasonal words. They arrange a meeting to return their respective possessions, from which flows an at first awkward and then increasingly comfortable friendship. She is curious about his creative ability; he is equally curious about her obsession with “cuteness”. Eventually, their quest to help an elderly resident of their hometown rediscover a lost record with ties to his long-deceased wife brings them together emotionally, offering with it the possibility of overcoming the loneliness by which they have each been long afflicted. But Cherry is keeping a secret: at the end of the Summer, Cherry’s family are moving, meaning he and Smile might never see each other again…   

An original anime co-production between studios Sublimation and Signal.MD, “Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop” premiered at the 2020 Shanghai Film Festival, before simultaneously releasing in Japanese theatres and on the Netflix streaming service on July 22, 2021. Animated with a vibrant colour palette and a distinctly pop-art aesthetic, “Words” proceeds along a fairly predictable narrative arc toward the kind of ending audiences expect from romantic comedies. However, it does so without resorting to either over-the-top melodramatics or saccharine sentimentality; the result is a series of quiet moments and gently touching revelations that ring true to the motions and currents of the human heart. Likewise, the intelligent and informed use of haiku and its grounding in “seasonal words” enables an interesting and non-judgemental contrast between the traditional, introspective world of ancient literature and the confessional, tell-all milieu of modern social media. Gentle in its pacing and unobtrusive in its disclosures, “Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop” lacks the immediate emotional punch of either “The Garden of Words” or “A Silent Voice” – but in its nuanced layering of emotional truth, it will leave behind a heart-gladdening residue of warmth that entitles it to stand alongside other, similarly well-constructed titles such as “Adachi and Shimamura”, “Tsuki ga kirei”, and “Summer Wars”.

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.