Quite often I can be goaded into arguing about how films these days fail to tell timeless stories. Too often they try really hard to be as topical as possible and as a result end up being a film that’s only truly relevant for a short period of time. Even David Fincher admitted that The Social Network was a film very much of it’s time. Still a damn good film though. Some films date themselves in other ways by including music that’s currently trendy or using pop culture references for current fads. Remember wasssup? Cos the average movie going teenager probably doesn’t. Luckily for Summer Wars, despite being a film for now, it is a very good film that’s about a little more than just a social network. click the jump for my review yo!
If you read the back of the dvd case to Summer Wars you’d think someone had smashed two random films together at once. One being the story of a girl who has tricked a guy into pretending to be her fiance on a holiday away (or the plot to The Proposal as some might know it), the other being about a rogue computer A.I. taking over a social network called Oz which is causing many real world problems on an increasingly dangerous scale. One’s a romantic comedy and the other is cautionary tale style sci-fi. When you learn that the boy in the middle of the first story is a mathematical genius you can begin to see where the two stories come together.
So Kenji Koiso is “employed” by Natsuki Shinohara to come with her to her family home in Ueda for a few days of the summer for her Grandmothers 90th birthday. Whilst there and doing his best to pretend to be Natsuki’s boyfriend Kenji receives a text message containing a massive math problem. Kenji, being a mathematical genius, solves the problem only to find that he is now the scapegoat of a hack into the worlds largest social media and entertainment hub. In this hub people tie every element of their daily lives into their online profile in Oz. What this means is that their accounts get hacked the A.I. at the root of it gains control of whatever they had control of. Gradually the whole of the Japan is being brought to a standstill as traffic signals stop working, as public services get stretched to their limits and eventually the threat of a nuclear explosion becomes a real danger.
Summer Wars manages that odd skill that so few films can. It manages to tell a very modern and science based story whilst at the same time being warm and having quite a few touching moments. There’s action fight scenes set within Oz using the characters avatars that are as good as any anime action sequences. What I quite like is that Kenji isn’t the guy controlling the main fighting avatar in Oz. He’s not good enough for that. His thing is maths. Fighting in his place is Kazuma with his avatar fighting champion that looks a lot like Bugs Bunny and Terry Bogard had a love child. There’s also scenes that are genuinely emotional, and I don’t mean in the usual anime characters shouting about the meaning of friendship kin of way. One scene in particular where Natsuki is looking for some comfort is particularly effective at tugging a few heartstrings. Summer Wars balances many different plates over the curse of it’s 109 minutes. Fights, family comedy, family drama and even a few games of Koi-Koi. Don’t know what Koi-Koi is? Think ancient Japanese YU-Gi-Oh.
There’s a great number of characters in this film, some of which do fall into the background filling variety, but the characters that matter and propel the story along are all nicely varied. The Grandmother, Sakae Jinnouchi, is a particularly delightful character. She’s the patriarch of the extensive family. The one member everyone looks up to and respects. She’s serious when she needs to be, fun when she can be and can swing a Naginata blade like a warrior. She brings the family of characters together and inspires them, and others in the region, to fight back against the threat of the computer A.I. “Love machine”.
Yeah, they called the bad guy Love Machine. I guess to parallel the inappropriateness of most online handles. Or maybe it was a translation error. Doesn’t stop him being a pretty vicious villain. he may not have the multi-layered character depth of say a Hans Gruber but he’s effective all the same. All Love Machine is concerned with is winning games. What it defines as a game seems to vary from a game of Noughts and Crosses to Thermo-Nuclear War. In some ways he has a lot in common with WOPR but minus it being Matthew Broderick’s fault. There are parallels that can easily be drawn between Summer Wars and the 1983 movie Wargames for sure. I’m sure director Mamoru Hosoda was well aware of the similarities. In many ways Summer Wars could easily be seen as a modern, albeit very Japanese, take on Wargames story.
The animation is excellent throughout the film, as you would expect from Mad House. What I quite liked is that the animators weren’t afraid to make some elements a little more cartoony than other even in the real world parts of the story. It keeps the film fairly light hearted which helps alleviate tension after the few more serious moments. Thankfully the serious moments never move into the realms of melodrama as so many Japanese films so often do.
Summer Wars is a truly excellent film and well worth a viewing. It’ll be interesting if a film so culturally relevant to know can maintain it’s relevancy in years to come. It certainly has the quality to help it stay a film to watch multiple times. I wouldn’t say it’s on the levels of films such as Akira or Ghost In The Shell but it’s getting up there. The story, drama and characterisations are so strong, the emotional moments so effective and the action sequences are all varied enough to never bore. A surprising delight of a film.