Sunday, 4 April 2010

Summer Wars

I feel like I'm probably the last person on this planet to sit down and watch Summer Wars, but Mamoru Hosoda's latest effort is the kind of thing that needs to have the right time and attitude dedicated to it, and this Easter has given me just that opportunity.

Summer Wars begins by introducing us to the world of OZ, an online world which takes the best bits of Second Life (wait, are there any good bits in Second Life?), Facebook, online shopping and pretty much everything else you can imagine and rolls it all into a single place where you can, to all intents and purposes, live your life.

Whatever the virtual world has to offer however pales into comparison to an invitation by the school "idol" Natsuki to spend some time with her over the summer, even if she calls it a job. Thus, Natsuki's junior Kenji Koiso lands the job of accompanying her to meet her family for her grandmother's ninetieth birthday... only to find that he's been sold to said family as her husband-to-be, and a big-shot who has been studying overseas no less. With no other options available, Kenji has to play along, but when a random code lands in the mailbox of his mobile phone Kenji's true passion as something of a maths genius is ignited, and the code he cracks suddenly lands him in a whole host of bother - Not just with Natsuki's family, but with pretty much the entire world.

As the story unfolds so we find ourselves confronted with a rampant Artificial Intelligence virus that is determined to steal accounts and generally wreak havoc with OZ's world, which also makes for chaos in the real world, so closely are the two inter-connected. When the fallout from this virus affects the family with which Kenji is staying however, things get personal, and before we know it both Kenji and this somewhat oddball family are tasked with saving the world.

Before I say anything else, it has to be mentioned that the world of OZ is perhaps one of the most visually sumptuous things I've seen in anime, regardless of its heavy use of computer graphics. To call it "bustling" is an understatement, as OZ is portrayed as a fantastically complex and crowded world befitting of its status as a hub for world communications while simultaneously looking exactly how you'd expect such a world to look yet nothing like how you'd expect it to look. OZ's world also allows Summer Wars to both create tension and throw in some wonderful action sequences, which serves to both break up and accentuate the wider story.

That wider story is, however, something that aims its message at an arguably more personal level - While there is clearly a warning built into the movie that connecting everything too closely and relying too much on online communications could be a danger in the future, in reality Summer Wars is all about connecting on a more individual level. This is showcased early on as the film's elderly grandmother goes to work contacting everyone she knows as the problems from OZ begin to surface in the real world - Not necessarily to give advice or to organise as much as simply to show her support and remind everyone that they are both trusted and relied upon. This duality of family and trust reverberates throughout the film, as we see our host family filled with conflicts, but also always resolutions to those conflicts by working together and allowing everyone to play their part. You could argue that this concept of "family" reaches wider than to mere biological family, as the end of the movie sees the online "family" of OZ pulling together in a time of crisis - A concept I both rather like and can relate to, which perhaps means that I spend too much time online, but it appeals to the side of me that tries to remember that there is a human face and story behind every online persona somewhere out there.

Naturally, Summer Wars is going to end up being compared to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Hosoda's previous cinematic effort), and in terms of such a comparison Summer Wars is certainly less immediate in its appeal, with a story that takes longer to reach boiling point and that doesn't have quite the charm of its predecessor - Indeed, even Natsuki and Kenji's relationship just doesn't resound in the same way as Makoto's did. That said, Summer Wars is such a different movie and approach that these comparisons are actually rather unfair, and taken as a stand-alone work this movie brings us a story that is as refreshing as the visuals which surround it. That Summer Wars manages to take the impersonal world of an online community and mesh it with the intensely personal world of the family is a fantastic feat, and one that is pulled off incredibly well here, and it should only be applauded for doing so. Maybe its humour, characters and scenario don't work as well as you'd hope for in a perfect world, but Summer Wars still stands tall as a wonderful piece of work that deserves being watched, enjoyed, and then dissected and discussed with the rest of your online anime "family".


Anonymous said...

OZ reminded me of what you'd get if you took William Gibson's idea of Cyberspace, but had it designed by Nintendo.

Martin said...

"Summer Wars is such a different movie and approach that these comparisons are actually rather unfair, and taken as a stand-alone work this movie brings us a story that is as refreshing as the visuals which surround it."

Yeah, pretty much. I too found it best to try to avoid comparing it with anything, and just appreciating it for what it is.

What makes this film work is that it's superficially A LOT of fun, but there are so many deeper messages hidden beneath; the clincher is that neither aspect detracts from the other. I'm happy to see you enjoyed it, after reading so much about it from other people - it's heartening to know it hasn't been over-hyped too much by fans.

Roll on the Blu-Ray I say!

chaostangent said...

I think you've pretty much struck upon what (and other commenters) have, in that Summer Wars definitely isn't TGWLTT 2 and it is a wholly different movie. It may not say a huge deal about Very Important Things but what it does offer is done very well.

The relationship between Natsuki and Kenji is well done in what's presented, the slow pan across the veranda with them holding hands was wonderful; although the final kiss between them was a bit twee. Still, good to see a maths geek getting a starring role that isn't apologetic in any way.

Hopefully this is just the first of many of Hosoda's films, and if the success of Summer Wars is any indication, he's bankable and creative.