Summer Wars is an anime science fiction film by Mamoru Hosoda, whom many are calling the new Miyazaki of anime. The plot is quite complex, but it focuses on Kenji, a quiet and reserved 11th grader who also happens to be a math genius (and a dab hand at computer hacking too). He’s asked by Natsuki, a 12th grader, to go with her to a family birthday. Once he arrives at the chaotic house, Natsuki asks him (well forces him) into pretending to be her fiancé to please her grandmother. Whilst he is there, the virtual world of OZ is taken down by a virus called Love Machine. OZ controls almost all forms of infrastructure in Japan, causing total chaos. Kenji is wrongly implicated in the hacking, and must use his mathematical ability to stop any further damage to OZ. It’s so much more complex than that, but to tell anymore would reveal too much of the plot.
In all honesty, I wasn’t sure what I could expect from Summer Wars, and it does start out as a typical examination of Japanese family culture. But it slowly morphs into something completely unexpected. It’s a stunningly beautiful film, so vibrant and bold, it’s a wonder to look at. The opening sequence is testimony enough to the graphics on display. The attention to detail is so fine, it’s easy to take for granted. But the real beauty of Summer Wars is the complexities of everything else. The characterisations of Natsuki’s family are heartwarming and hilarious,. Each character could stand alone as a protagonist, each one has been expertly written and given such a rich personality, something which is so notably absent from many other films. The only detriment to this is that, the film doesn’t feel big enough for so many huge characters (upwards of 20 separate characters!) and it can be difficult to keep track and engage. But I think that’s the point of Summer Wars. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter if you cant remember all the characters names by the end, it’s the realism of the family unit which we are supposed to identify with.
There is obviously a lot of social commentary, the virtual world of OZ represents everything in modern life, from social media to controlling traffic lights to retailers, advertising, health care, pretty much everything in modern society is linked in one way or another to OZ. And when it’s hacked, the most prominent damage is the identity theft. People’s profiles and avatars are stolen and do the bad work of Love Machine. It does make you think about the direct connection between digital and real. I know that I use Facebook and Twitter as my main points of contact with loved ones, I communicate through short statuses and images. I wouldn’t consider deleting my profiles because there is so much of me on there, it’s personal to me. But what if all of a sudden that information was corrupted on an international scale? What if my information was used for bad? What would I do if I suddenly lost everything that I had online? Many would shudder to think about it, but it’s very much a reality that so much information is online, it’s not difficult anymore to paint a pretty comprehensive picture of someone from their date of birth, to where they were born to what they had for dinner yesterday. And all of this can be done with someone you’ve never ever met, and probably will never ever meet. What would you do if that information vanished or fell into the hands on someone who would manipulate it for bad? Whilst this isn’t necessarily examined extensively in Summer Wars, the implication is there. It leaves us, the audience, as intelligent human beings to work that out for ourselves.
The second half of Summer Wars does make reference to old-style Anime classics, fight sequences etc, but this didn’t put me off (although I understand that some might not enjoy it as much). The intelligence and challenging story keeps you engaged and wondering right up until the last-minute what is going to happen. It’s a brilliant film, which is so off the wall, you will finish the credits trying to work out what exactly you have just watched. But Anime fans will enjoy it, and Miyazaki fans looking for something a little different, will hopefully be pleasantly surprised. Having said that, Summer Wars isn’t a film that younger audiences will enjoy. Lengthy dialogue scenes and complex plot will ensure that your 12-13years or younger, will become bored. Although, if your younger ones are anime fans, then get this for them. It’s a borderline teenage/adult film and will introduce them to a world of anime outside of Miyazaki. (Don’t worry there isn’t anything too adult, a couple of curses here and there, but nothing else!)
http://funlifefun.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/review-summer-wars-2009-anime-movie/ – Fun Life Fun gives a really good breakdown of the family tree, check it out!
http://2dteleidoscope.wordpress.com/2009/12/12/summer-wars-art-and-the-anti-cyberpunk-several-mini-entries-in-several-pictures/– 2D Teleidoscope has done a really interesting examination of the visuals in Summer Wars