Creating the World of Bubble with Director Tetsuro Araki

Following his success as the chief director of Attack on Titan at Studio Wit, we spoke with director Tetsuro Araki about his new film now streaming on Netflix, Bubble. The film follows Hibiki, a parkour prodigy leaving in a dystopian Tokyo. His life changes when he’s rescued from drowning by a mysterious girl he names “Uta.”

Video editing by The Cartoon Cipher

When did the idea of parkour enter the mix and how was the parkour action brought to life?

TETSURO ARAKI: We had parkour elements in our past works, such as Attack on Titan and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, but this time around we really decided to put it front and center. We decided to deliver an evolved version of what we had done in the past. As for the process itself, I really drew heavily from one particular professional parkour athlete known as Zen. I talked to him a lot and had him show me his technique. I saw tons of his clips. That’s how we were able to incorporate that into the film.

Does that mean you tried parkour yourself?

ARAKI: Of course I can’t do it at the level of these professionals, but I did participate in a sort of “trial lesson,” where they had us jump from bar to bar, which is about a meter jump. That’s about the extent of my own experience in parkour.

In a recent video, you talked about the idea of a ‘mechanical little mermaid in a dystopian world’ as the foundation of Bubble‘s story. Can you talk about the development of that idea and how it’s represented in the film?

ARAKI: When we started the project, we had these conceptual illustrations that we would present and after that, in came the screenplay. The writer, Mr. Gen Urobuchi, presented the idea that our hero comes in the form of a Bubble or bubbles but is also an extraterrestrial life force that we’re dealing with. I also thought that this motif of a Bubble is very symbolic of this ephemeral, kind of slipping through your fingers, type of love. That’s how we ultimately arrived at this concept.

Audiences usually expect a dark and somber sort of setting for a ‘dystopia’ but Bubble is very bright and colorful. Was this an intentional decision?

ARAKI: I think that these derelict sorts of landscapes, these ruins are a very beautiful thing. This time around we were trying to tell a very beautiful and ephemeral love story, so it was a deliberate choice to make the world very colorful and the touch very light. We wanted this derelict, futuristic Tokyo to present itself as more of a utopia than a dystopia. Also, we’re trying to depict this idea of “a boy’s heart that is unleashed.” What we wanted to show is something similar to say, the feeling of a boy’s summer vacation.

Can you elaborate on the depiction of Hibiki’s Auditory Sensory Disorder and how it came into the story?

ARAKI: The idea came from the fact that Hibiki is exceptionally talented as a parkour player and when you have someone who is very talented, then there must be other areas where he is lacking. That was kind of the origin of the idea and where we decided to bring in the auditory sensory disorder. Actually, I got the idea from an actual person who does have those same symptoms. There is a certain company called Palabra that does barrier free screenings and there is a certain person who goes by Minami-san who has auditory sensory disorder. I had Minami-san tell me what it was like to have this disorder. This is where the ideas that I infused into Hibiki came from.

You’ve had an expansive career and the opportunity to work with many people in the anime industry, such as Gundam‘s Yoshiyuki Tomino. Are there any anecdotes you can share that helped shape you as a director?

ARAKI: I’ll tell you a story about something Tomino-san taught me that has affected Bubble, in a good way of course. It really goes back to the very basics of animation. Tomino is very meticulous about the so-called “imaginary line.” You have to consider, ‘okay, is the character facing left or right?’ and then never cross that imaginary line, right? So, for example, when we’re doing these parkour scenes, it has to be very clear that Hibiki’s team is progressing leftwards. You never confuse the audience there. You have to adhere to those lines in order to avoid any confusion on the audience’s part. Although it’s a very basic principle, it’s something Tomino was very meticulous and particular about. You can see that principle in Bubble.

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