By the same director of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Mamoru Hosada, Summer Wars is a delightfully quirky and beautifully animated film that rectifies the mistakes of his previous feature. The story has been made more accessible for Western audiences and is much more rounded and balanced. The animation is stellar as usual, and the characters have been well crafted and well written. This all amounts to an animated film which is charming, engrossing, and humorous. Summer Wars is simply wonderful and challenges the Miyazaki-dominated genre of Japanese animation.
The plot focuses on the world of ‘Oz’. Essentially, ‘Oz’ is a virtual network that incorporates social networking, gaming and browsing, with the important infrastructures of society; military, government and finances etc. So basically, a sort of Facebook meets Skynet. Kenji Koiso (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is a maths wizz at his eleventh grade school, and acquires a part time job working in Oz with his friend Takashi Sakuma (Takahiro Yokokawa). However, when the most popular girl in school, Natsuki (Nanami Sakuraba), asks him to help out at her great-grandmother, Sakae Jinnouchi’s 90th birthday, he jumps at the opportunity. During his first night at the massive estate of the Jinnouchi family in Ueda, he receives an anonymous text message consisting of random lines of code. Kenji automatically solves it, not understanding the consequences of his actions. He wakes up to find, that ‘Oz’ has been hacked into using his own account and is in disarray. Japan’s infrastructure such as water, traffic and emergency services are now under the control of the hacking A.I known as ‘Love Machine’.
The story is well structured and balanced with an ending that is memorable and satisfying. Critics have challenged the film’s plot, stating that it’s too conventional and offers nothing new or original. The idea of a computer system going haywire has been done by films like The Terminator and Tron. Many have drawn similarities to the 1983 War Games ,which is understandable. Both films have teenagers who unwittingly help an artificial A.I or computer system, which subsequently leads to Armageddon. Both also have a youthful romantic essence to the story. However, others critics have attacked the complexities of ‘Oz’ and a ‘convoluted’ narrative. So, whose right? I personally feel that the plot as been well-crafted. Hosada has been professional in his approach to the story. Whilst we have teenage ‘coming to age’ story, the colourful characters and the world of Oz, ensures that Summer Wars is enjoyed by all. Sure, the story is conventional, but its done perfectly with a balance of action, romance, drama and comedy. It doesn’t disappoint. The only small problem I had withSummer Wars is the reference of the traditional Japanese Hanafuda game of ‘Koi Koi’ in the story. This will confuse many Western audiences, but Hosada implements this well into the film without making it crucial to the plot. In fact, I actually feel compelled to investigate this aspect of Japanese culture right now.....
The characters are fantastic and have very unique personalities. The film focuses on the interactions between Kenji and the large Jinnouchi family, which is portrayed superbly and with so much depth. Kenji is our typical teenager; socially awkward, addicted to technology and shy around girls. But throughout the course of the film he opens up to the family and Natsuki, forming a stronger and engrossing individual. Natsuki is cute, charming and likeable. We feel her sadness, joy and toughness throughout the film, therefore building a strong emotional attachment to the character. The Jinnouchi family itself consists of a barrage of colourful characters. From the wise and strong-willed great-grandmother, Sakae, to the ‘fighter’ and hikikomori (‘an individual suffering from social withdraw, who confines themselves to their room’), Kazuma, each character has a unique personality that is expressed and handled masterfully. This is also helped by the impressive Japanese voice-work that comes across natural and matches the various natures of the characters.
The animation is similar to the The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, yet manages to feel refreshing. The backgrounds are fantastic as always with Hosada’s creations. They are lush and very detailed; from the busy streets of Tokyo, to the scenic landscapes of the Nagano Prefecture. Again the traits of Japanese manga and ‘anime’ are present; constant nose-bleeds due to embarrassment, anger causing a sharpening of the teeth etc. But these don’t distract from the overall animated aspect of the film. In fact, they add a lot more visual personality to the each of the characters. However the ‘World of Oz’ is where the animation steps up a gear. The internal workings of this virtual infrastructure are so intricate and perfectly animated. Its quite amazing how many ‘Oz avatars’, subjects, and objects are carefully implemented onto the screen. The ‘fighting scenes’ between ‘Love Machine’ and ‘King Kazuma’ are expertly handled and are intense. Its simple jaw dropping to watch, yet remains charming and engaging.
Overall, Summer Wars is fantastic and does justice to the ‘anime’ genre of Japanese cinema. While The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was fantastic I felt this Hosada creation was a much more rounded experience, and certainly rectified the issues I and many others had over his previous work. The magic is Hosada’s ability to structure and manage each character in the film, and still allow each of them to be fully expressed. The story has been crafted to be accessible to Western audience, but remains very Japanese, engrossing and enjoyable. The animation is superb and very well detailed, and the voice work is great. Mamoru Hosada has crafted a film that truly challenges the strong Miyazaki -dominated genre of Japanese animation cinema, and surpasses the recent works of Studio Ghibli.