Ah, summertime. A golden period of sunshine, vacations, baseball games, and for many of today’s youth, a healthy (or unhealthy) dose of gaming. Among adults gaming has acquired a reputation mostly associated with bad grades, lack of self-discipline, and guns. Many of you who are reading this are probably grounded right now. Solution? Watch Summer Wars with your parents, and not only will you convince them of how this bastion of electronic entertainment will someday save the world, but you will also treat them to a heartwarming reminder on the importance of family values (which just might induce them to buy you that new Starcraft you’ve been eyeing).
Okay, maybe not the Starcraft. But Summer Wars blends cold technology with a warm family reunion to create a cinematically brilliant oxymoron. Battles rage on the computer screen, but lush green fields lie a head-turn away. Men are breaking into sweat and blood at their keyboards and just in the next room lunch is being made. It’s a juxtaposition that highlights the wonders of both worlds. How lovely the rolling mountains and cotton clouds look next to the chaos swirling inside the cesspool that is called the Internet! At the same time, lunchtime sounds laughable when compared to the vast ecosystem blaring within a fifteen-square-inch surface area. It’s clear: Summer Wars lives up to its name admirably. It is a summer flick almost at war with itself.
For a movie of about two hours, the time flies by, just like a summer vacation. At the end, you’re left thinking, “Aww, it’s over?” and yet you feel satisfied. The story exemplifies the good old beauty of linear storytelling, intertwining two parallel narratives into a durable, multi-colored piece of fabric. The substance of one adventure strengthens the other.
You will be hard-pressed to encounter a more relentless enemy than the one found online. Cyber-villainy is bad enough, but once the helpless outside world gets sucked in here, the sense of urgency skyrockets (or in the case of Summer Wars, it plummets down to earth). The conflicts broiling within a virtual space appeal to all senses of the viewer’s imagination; the battleground suddenly loses its limits. It’s equally epic to witness a high-octane fistfight, a high-stakes card game, or a high-IQ mathematical problem. When the virtual begins mixing with the real, the suspense becomes a veritable psychological melee; during the last third of the film, I was a mess of frayed nerves. Even when scenes cut back to the tranquility of rural Japan, the movie never loses its intensity. The motor underneath everything never seems to slow down.
What sticks with you in the end, however, are images from the film that flank the credits, drifting in and out of the black as if one were shuffling through photographs. Not one of them features the sterile white abyss of a technological utopia. The song “Summer Dream” strums out serenely and bittersweetly, and the photos could almost recall an altogether different era. It’s as if the Internet had never existed. All that remains are the tenderness of a loving family, a hearty meal, and the crooked-tooth smile of your grandma.
Like its older sister The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars boasts incredibly rich background art that render dusty bookshelves or kitchen pots and pans as the most beautiful things in the world. The level of detail is extraordinary, and the color choices perfectly embody the blooming sumptuousness and solidity of summer. Character designs have slightly improved, and while the nuance is still lacking, Summer Wars takes on a decidedly more slapstick approach to their characters’ expressions, keeping the tone lively and heightening comedic effect. The film’s handling of its characters transcends mere facial expressions, however; the animators fiddle with every scene to the deepest detail. In general anime works somewhat like a portrait, where a central figure dominates and minimal effort is applied to other items. Summer Wars, on the other hand, more closely resembles Renoir’s Le dejeuner des canotiers. Each item in the painting is a microcosm of its own. Especially in Summer Wars’ huge-family scenes, ten conversations are firing off at once; twenty people – scratching their heads, rummaging through their plate of food, rubbing their pregnant bellies, spitting over the table – they all move at once, but never at the same time.
As with the plot, the soundtrack holds in its hands two different kinds of fruit -- one being the sweet, lyrical summer strawberry and the other being the tangy, clean-cut lime. Summer Wars switches between the broad sweeps of a symphony to the mercurial compression of electronic music with the ease of biting out of the right hand or the left.
The voice acting gains its strength from its numbers; it reaches its most complex harmonies when multiple voices blend and clash. However, the renowned film seiyu Ryunosuke Kamiki gives a standout performance with his endearing, tempered rendition of Kenji. Sumiko Fuji’s interpretation of the grandmother also shines with its subtle mixture of strength and heart. I’ll admit that for Natsuki the rookie voice actress Nanami Sakuraba sounds like a rookie, but I cannot deny her integrity; the performance is not creative, but it fits the character well.
A film, as opposed to a series, is forced to craft its characters with the utmost efficiency, like the sushi chef who cannot cook his creation but garnishes it instead. Summer Wars, then, presents a palatable dish. It is important to remember that this anime is not a tone poem or character piece. There’s a reason the movie’s promotional posters feature not just two or three of its protagonists, but a motley crew of men, women, and children alike whose sheer body mass covers up most of the mountains in the back. Each family member serves his or her part with the utmost conviction; cast prevails over character. While none of us get to know Kenji, Natsuki, or the rest of the family particularly well, we are treated to delicious samples of their personalities, which combine to form the overall flavor.
If there does exist one ingredient that defines the plate, it takes the form of Grandmother Sakae, the family matriarch and a fearsome creature to behold. She serves as the flour in the bread, the thematic material that makes coherent the heap of relatives assaulting our senses. Rarely have I seen a character sculpted so excellently in so short a time.
Summer Wars revels in its paradoxical glory. I didn’t know it was possible for me, as I was watching, to be wringing my hands in nervous curiosity yet at the same time feel such a sense of warmth. If I could choose any anime work that could be more appropriate for the twenty-first century, it would be this one: The film is at once both pertinent to the times and resplendently nostalgic.
First if I may, a word or three about this "Young Hayao Miyazaki" nonsense. Anytime I hear someone referred to this way is raises both my hackles and suspicions. I don't especially want there to be a "next" Miyazaki - I'm quite happy with the one we have. When he retires from directing (as he's been threatening to do after every film for a decade) that will end the Miyazaki era. And that's fine - the top young directors don't want to be the next Miyazaki either - if they did, they wouldn't be worthy of consideration as heirs to greatness in anime.
That said, I do believe that the two next generation (if you will) directors who have shown the most potential to be artistic giants in Hayao's class are Shinkai and Hosoda - and especially with the tragic passing of Satoshi Kon at 46, these comparisons are sure to continue. Neither Hosoda or Shinkai reminds me especially of Miyazaki - or each other. Shinkai is an artist of unmatched visual genius in my view. His storytelling tends to be spare and idealistic in tone, wistful and bittersweet and only achieving real grace and subtlety in the superlative "5 CM". Hosoda, on the other hand, is a more conventional - while still brilliant - visual artist who has distinguished himself as a writer of spectacular creativity and originality. His "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" was a great success in Japan and even a minor one outside it. It's been hailed both for its sci-fi accented love story and its starkly defiant portrayal of the teenage heroine. It's a wonderful film, but for my money Summer Wars achieves a greater level of emotional heft and visual genius.
Summer Wars is really several films in one, as befits its 114 minute running time - quite long for an animated feature. Most of the attention has fallen on the film's brilliant take on social networking, but before "Oz" takes center stage the film is something equally mesmerizing - a totally engaging portrayal of an old-world Japanese extended family, headed by the stern but loving Granny, Sakae. Kenji is an unassuming, shy math whiz tricked into accompanying Natsumi, the most popular girl in Kenji's high school, to Sakae's 90th birthday party at the Jinnoichi estate. The first half hour of the film is mostly an introduction to the odd and wonderful characters that make up this clan, and Kenji's clumsy attempts to play the part of Natsumi's fiancee. One thing I'd forgotten is just how funny this film is - Hosoda is a writer of genuine comic genius. The dialogue amongst the family is spot-on, and it's easy to forget that there's another story that's about to play out.
And what a story that is - and one where Hosoda's seemingly bottomless creativity goes wild. The online community of Oz, in which much of the rest of the film takes place, is one of the great creations of modern cinema. It represents what many of us imagine and hope online communities might someday be - someday soon, even. Yet, it also represents the potential dangers these communities might represent, and not just the conventional ones overzealous parents groups caution us about. While the string of coincidences and technological speculations that drive the rest of the plot do stretch credulity at times, Hosuda's magic is such that he makes the outlandish seem real, and disbelief is effectively suspended.
Finally, there are a couple of very real human love stories here. The most obvious one - between Kenji and Natsumi - is only innocently hinted at, though Sakae has her own views on the subject. There's also a very moving one between Sakae and Wabisuke, her illegitimate stepson and the black sheep of the family. But the love story at the heart of this film belongs to the entire dysfunctional Jinnouchi family, four generations of them.
Neither Summer Wars or 5 CM, the two finest anime films of the last decade (I would rank both ahead even of "Spirited Away", Miyazaki's best film of the period) are reminiscent of Miyazaki. Both stand on their own as bold statements by their talented directors, each of whom is staking their claim as worthy additions to Miyazaki's perch on the top rung of anime directors. Miyazaki continues to put out fantastic films - I think "Ponyo" will be remembered as one of his better works, though not all agree - and that makes this something of a golden era for theatrical anime in my view. Hosoda is the more "conventional" of the two young lions in style, and he's in the employ of a major studio, Madhouse. Perhaps it's the fact that Madhouse has - not entirely wrongly - been tapped as a progeny of Studio Ghibli that he most often receives the "Next Miyazaki" stamp. But while there are direct links between Madhouse and Miyazaki, they're represented more in the likes of "Mai Mai Miracle" and its director, Sunao Katabuchi, who was the Assistant Director on "Kiki's Delivery Service". Hosoda's work stands as something completely new and different. Yet with his studio connections and more populist style, he stands as more likely than Shinkai to inherit Miyazaki's spot at the top of the ladder of commercial success. Shinkai is more the lone wolf (quite literally so for the most part with his first two features), the inscrutable artist. Where Hosoda is a master storyteller Shinkai is really more of a poet, both in terms of plot and visuals. Poetry doesn't sell as well as prose does, no matter how wonderful it is - so one suspects that Shinkai's role will be the one of critical darling, center of controversy and maverick. Yet both have clearly leapt ahead of all rivals in proclaiming their talents to the world, in my view - only Kenji Kamiyama ("Seirei no Moribito", "Ghost in the Shell - Stand-alone Complex") has demonstrated comparable genius, but his best work is more in the realm of television and extended series. Hosoda is just 43, and Shinkai 37 - so it isn't unrealistic to hope that their creative peaks might still be in their futures. That's an incredibly exciting thought.
Right off the bat I realized that this looked a lot like the Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I quickly realized that this was much better IMO. This movie was more action, while the other was more slice of life. It definitely made this new movie more exciting to watch. Parts were pretty cliche, but it did not matter as much, because I thought it's good points made the bad parts forgivable.
If I had to compare this movie to another, I might compare it to War Games. Instead Summer Wars is crazier, has more interesting visuals. This world of OZ is pretty interesting, but makes no friggin sense. They do things later on that make no sense at all. It's like the Matrix, but you are just sitting in front of a computer screen. You don't actually go in this world. It's hard to describe, because it seemed like they were just making things up without trying to use any logic in it. It was fun though. You just have to not think much about it, and just have fun.
The acting was great in the movie. One things that elevates it, is the actual dialogue. In many animes they just talk differently from how people really talk. This is one of a small group of animes that did a great job at this.
Overall, it was a great movie. My top movie list still consist of only live action movies (I prefer anime series over live action series, and I prefer live action movies over anime movies), but this mvoie still did a good job.
Summer Wars was something I had long wanted to see, but never had the opportunity. I was unwilling to pay the $20 to get the DVD on Amazon and eventually saw it through Netflix. I came into the movie with high expectations, which I would say were mostly met. The film was strong in most areas and brilliant in none.
It is the synergy of two things--our protagonist's sojourn at Natsuki's family's residence, and Love Machine's assault on "OZ"--that make up this story. If you haven't read a synopsis previously, Kenji is an extremely wimpy kid (in my opinion) who pretends to be the fiancé of Natsuki, the most popular girl in school. Miss Natsuki is aiming to please her elderly grandmother, whose birthday it happens to be. While staying at the grand familial residence, Kenji gets a text with an odd math problem. He solves it. The "math problem" happens to be the encryption for OZ, a virtual network critical to society's operation. Now armed with the encryption key, a rogue AI named Love Machine wreaks all kinds of havoc.
I can't really say which side of this story interested me more: the familial affairs or the battle in OZ. The interactions of the many family members proved amusing. However, OZ is where the action is, including a couple intense fighting sequences. The family affairs and the cyber war are so closely linked that it is pointless to separate them.
The plot follows traditional standards quite well. The ante is raised at appropriate moments and the viewer's attention is maintained at a sufficient level throughout. Events progress quickly enough to keep things interesting. The conflict is removed from our main characters for most of the story, and thus some tension is lost. The threat of death is not apparent until the very end, and even then we know that things will be alright. The writers obviously lacked the guts to pull off a dark twist.
There are also some events that I found unrealistic or stupid. Firstly, let's consider Kenji's breaking of "the most advanced encryption known to man." I am not expert on cryptography, but it seems unlikely that a mere high school student could break this--let alone in one night. Secondly, there was one scene close to the end where Natsuki's avatar is miraculously bedecked in fine clothes. The cynic in me immediately asked, "What? Why in the world would that happen?" Finally, it seems unlikely to me that the family would remain in the danger zone in the final trial. Knowing the simple human reaction to approaching death, I would suspect that several would have fled in tears. Not only that, but many had children. That said, this is a movie and who cares?
The animation pleased me. There was a great deal of movement on the screen at one time, and I'm glad the animators took that extra step. In particular the movement of the family when they are all together is impressive. The fight scenes are fluid. It is also worth mentioning that there are many, many "avatars" present throughout the film and no two look alike (at least not that I noticed). Almost all are cute and pleasing to the eye. Kenji's character design looked quite unoriginal, unfortunately.
I couldn't quite figure out whether Natsuki's hair was blue or black, though.
That I didn't remember anything of the soundtrack illustrates why I consider it average.
The voice actors in the English version (which I watched) were mostly good. No one stood out to me and no one was terrible. The diversity of characters and voices is great; even if you don't like one, they probably don't have many lines.
The characters are not terribly well developed in my opinion, but apparently quantity wins out over quality. You are essentially introduced to each one's personality and proceed to watch them squabble.
Of the two main characters--Kenji and Natsuki--I can say little. Kenji's wimpiness annoyed me and Natsuki seemed like a brat at times. I did not notice any great character change in either; if there was any, it was in Kenji more than in Natsuki. You do witness the budding of a romance between them, though.
Love Machine seemed like a great character to me. He (or it) never speaks for the duration of the movie, only grins maniacally. There's something great about that.
Overall (6.5/10--somewhat above average)-
There is one final thing I'd like to mention. Whether they intended it or not, Summer Wars seems to me a statement on the dangers of a digital society. Perhaps the time is coming and is already here where a hacker is as dangerous as a killer.
Perhaps I'm thinking too hard about it. It's a good movie, and you should watch. Enough said.
Imagine a movie where the Internet is being attacked by a virus, and is causing mayhem in real world. Two teenage boys decide to fight back using colourful creatures, but the virus is too strong. Are you thinking of the second Digimon movie? If you are, then you will clearly spot many of the similarities between Summer Wars and Digimon: Our War Game. Both movies are very similar, which becomes ever more troublesome when you realize that both films are directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who previously directed the romantic comedy, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.
In all seriousness, Summer Wars and Digimon are only similar in a broad sense. Summer Wars comes off as more of a loose retelling of the events in the Digimon Movie. It feels like Hosoda directed Summer Wars as a way for people who aren't too fond of Digimon to experience the story, and to provide some depth that he couldn't get away with in the Digimon Movie due to it's 40 minute running time.
The story revolves around a boy named Tai Kenji, who is very skilled in math, and is working part-time for OZ. OZ is essentially a Second Life style game, that composes all of the internet. His attractive classmate, Natsuki, invites Kenji to go to her home in the country for a few days to pretend that he's her fiancé. Kenji meets Natsuki's large family, who seems more at place in a Full House episode than an action movie. Eventually Kenji gets an email that consists of a math problem, which he solves and sends back to the sender. Unfortunately for Kenji, that math problem was the code to access OZ's administration, which causes an AI called 'Love Machine' to start stealing accounts and wreaking havoc. It's now up to Kenji, and a relative of Natsuki's named Kazuki to stop this threat once and for all. The films plot is barebones, and the ending feels clichéd and overpower with the power of family.
Some of the characters in the film are intresting, but most feel one-dimensional and appear to be there for one joke. Most of the family could have been left out and we would have gotten the exact same affect on the movie as a whole. A lot of the characters are also your typical Japanese animated characters. Kenji is the lovable loser who saves the day and gets the girl, Natsuki is the bland love interest, and Kazuki is your typical silent loner character that kicks all kinds of ass. The uncle with a fishy back story is one of the few interesting characters, since you don't really know much about him, and it's not clear until the end which side of the playing field he's on.
The animation is top-notch, and all of the action scenes in OZ flow beautifully. The scenes out side OZ aren't nearly as impressive, which shows where a large majority of the animation budget went. The colour in OZ absolutely pops, with everything having a colourful pop art design to it. The scenery in the real world is also done wonderful, and rarely leaves a contrast with the simple designs Mosoda is known for.
As mentioned above, the action sequences are all creative, and entertaining. Thanks to the film being a cartoon, and the setting being the Internet, the possibilities are endless. Everything is used as a weapon in this movie, including protractors, cars, and even buildings. The only problem with the action is the fact that some of the scenes feel lifted directly out of Digimon: Our War Game, and delicately placed in this movie, hoping that no one would notice.
The voice acting is also superb in both the English, and Japanese dub. The sound effects of people during the fight sequences are excellent. There's also no irritating J-Pop, and the whole movie is wonderfully scored.
Overall, Summer Wars is a very good movie on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you'll realize that it's mostly flash with little substance. I would still recommend it, but it's not going to set the world ablaze.