OZ, a virtual world connected to the internet, has become extremely popular worldwide as a spot for people to engage in a large variety of activities, such as playing sports or shopping, through avatars created and customized by the user. OZ also possesses a near impenetrable security due to its strong encryption, ensuring that any personal data transmitted through the networks will be kept safe in order to protect those who use it. Because of its convenient applications, the majority of society has become highly dependent on the simulated reality, even going as far as entrusting the system with bringing back the unmanned asteroid explorer, Arawashi.
Kenji Koiso is a 17-year-old math genius and part-time OZ moderator who is invited by his crush Natsuki Shinohara on a summer trip. But unbeknownst to him, this adventure requires him to act as her fiancé. Shortly after arriving at Natsuki's family's estate, which is preparing for her great-grandmother's 90th birthday, he receives a strange, coded message on his cell phone from an unknown sender who challenges him to solve it. Kenji is able to crack the code, but little does he know that his math expertise has just put Earth in great danger.
Director Hosoda Mamoru chose Ueda in Nagano Prefecture as the setting for Summer Wars because of its proximity to his birthplace. The film earned over 18 million USD in worldwide box offices and won the Japanese Academy Award for Animation of the Year in 2010. Hosoda became only the second Japanese director (after Miyazaki Hayao) to be nominated for an Annie Award for his work on Summer Wars.
Summer Wars was the first Japanese animated movie to be nominated for the Golden Leopard Award at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland in 2009. The movie also won the Anaheim International Film Festival's Audience Award for Best Animated Feature and the Animation Division Grand Prize at the 13th Japan Media Arts Festival.
As far as family entertainment goes anime is rarely high on the agenda, especially given the numerous offerings from Disney, Dreamworks, and other such movie studios. Generally their features appeal to children and adults alike, and in order to compete with them Japanese animation studios have had to shake off their habitual approach and focus on making films that are more accessible to Western markets. The undisputed king of this is Miyazaki Hayao, however there have been several challengers to his throne, the latest being Hosoda Mamoru.
Now those of you who have watched the latest anime incarnation of Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo (The Girl who
Leapt Through Time), will be familiar with Hosoda's work as a director, and as good as that movie is, his latest effort, Summer Wars, would have been at least equal to it except for one thing.
It's been done before.
The story follows the brief summer "holiday" of a high school maths prodigy called Koiso Kenji as he travels to the countryside with his senpai (and secret crush), Shinohara Natsuki, ostensibly to celebrate her grandmother's 90th birthday. During his stay he receives a strange e-mail containing a sequence of numbers, and thinking it simply another maths problem, he solves it and sends it back. The following day all hell breaks loose (but in a quaint manner, this is rural Japan after all).
Summer Wars has a lot to recommend it in terms of its plot and story. The pacing and progression is very good, and the numerous events that take place are justifiable to a certain degree. It's just unfortunate that while watching Summer Wars, I couldn't help but think of a certain 1983 movie called War Games.
If one disregards the settings in the real and virtual worlds for a moment, then what's left, ironically enough, is a high school kid who unwittingly begins the end of the world through something nuclear, and all because he broke a code. It's even more ironic that the computer in War Games was developed from a simple Tic-Tac-Toe playing AI, and that it believes it is simply playing another "game" (if you can call global thermo-nuclear war a game that is).
Even with the parallels between the two films, Summer Wars is a good enough story in its own right, and like War Games, is very much a movie of its time. The use of online social networking is something that only a few shows have touched upon, and even though the application of it is somewhat unbelievable (everything from traffic management to emergency services is part of the OZ network), it's a purposeful device that makes the story much more relevant to this day and age, and it doesn't really impinge on one's enjoyment of the movie.
Summer Wars is distinctive in its looks, regardless of which world is on screen at the time. The settings, backgrounds and characters are very similar to those used in Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, but there is far more creativity and diversity in the design of this movie, an example of which is skin tone, with several characters being tanned to various degrees. Alongside this is the look of the characters themselves, and it's truly nice to watch a show that takes a more realistic approach in this area. The people in the movie literally do come in all shapes and sizes, with no two characters (in the real world), sharing anything more than the resemblance that close relatives would have.
The one aspect of the design that is surprising is that of the virtual world, but not in the way that most people would think. The CG used in the movie is extremely well handled, and each avatar is completely unique, yet also reflective its real world user. That said, those who have seen another of Hosoda's directorial works, Superflat Monogram, may experience some bemusement as the design of Summer War's virtual world has been adapted from that featurette. While the art and animation are very good throughout the movie, it would have been nice if Madhouse had avoided cutting corners by using things that have been done before, but that's just a personal preference. As far as the virtual world goes, the majority of viewers will find it inventive, original, and more than a little amusing at times.
A big plus for the movie is its cast, and although most are relatively unknown (including the two leads), this doesn't preclude them from providing some very good performances. Kamiki Ryonosuke is very good as the bumbling, introverted and ever so slightly love-struck Kenji, while Sakuraba Nanami provides an excellent balance to this as the spirited and precocious Natsuki. One of the biggest surprises in terms of acting though, is Tanimura Mitsuki, whose portrayal of Kazuma has all the foibles and gripes one would expect from a 13 year old with a game addiction.
In terms of music, the various pieces on offer serve the movie very well, and Matsumoto Akihiko (who also provided the music for Resident Evil Outbreak: Files 1 & 2), really shows his talent as both a writer and composer. Strangely, the ending theme, Bokura no Natsu no Yume, is the only track composed by someone else (in this case by Yamashita Tatsuro), and is actually a rather appropriate lilting ballad that rounds things of nicely.
So where are the problems with the sound? In truth, the majority of issues stem from the effects as there are several notable occasions where the music, speech and effects clash quite badly. The majority of the movie is relatively well choreographed so that the noise is kept to a manageable level, but this is not always the case, and when events get out of hand, the effect on one's ears can be a little tough.
The one area where Summer Wars really excels is in its wealth of characters. While most of the focus is on Kenji, a good amount of time is spent observing Natsuki's extended family, and it's this aspect of the movie that makes it such an enjoyable film to watch. Anyone with slightly dysfunctional relatives will appreciate the numerous minor clashes, feuds, loyalties, gripes, trials and tribulations that go into making any such gatherings a "success", and it was an absolute joy to see Natsuki's family bounce off each other like peas on a drum (which probably makes this required viewing at Christmas time). The entire family structure and their relationships with each other are handled in a very intelligent manner, and viewers may be surprised to find themselves relating to certain situations, and finding a degree of familiarity with certain events in the story.
As far as actual development goes, there isn't really any aside from Kenji, and even that takes time to progress (although he does "man-up" in the end). Aside from that, there isn't much in the plot that encourages the rest of the characters to grow, but then again, each is an individual to a tee, and therein lies the true strength of this movie - characterisation. It's the power of their personalities (thanks to some great acting and scripting), that allows the viewer to relate to the characters in a way that many other shows would envy, and it's for this reason that development isn't really a necessity.
Summer Wars is a very enjoyable romp in the realms of absurdity that has the benefit of being relevant to a degree. The exponential growth of social networks is having an increasing impact on society, and it's this phenomenon that is satirised the most, hence the inclusion of so many societal controls and services within the confines of OZ. While the story itself may not be new, one could consider this a more up to date re-telling of the theme - kind of a "War Games 2009" so to speak.
Whatever you think of the movie, at heart it's only meant to do one thing - entertain - and it does that very well.
Summer Wars is a perfect example of a story biting off more than it can chew.
The film opens with an introduction to ‘OZ’. An information network that controls and monitors electronic services all over the world: from shopping to competitive gaming to healthcare facilities. Think the current internet age, but even more extreme.
Then we’re introduced to Kenji, a math wiz who works as a moderator for Oz and has a crush on a girl named Natsuki. A few moments later we’re introduced to this crush of his who begs him to come with her to visit her family’s summer home. Thus kicking off the
Well not quite. Turns out Natsuki has a huge family and the film takes its sweet time introducing them one by one thus establishing some characters and relationships. If you can’t quite tell who’s who by the end of all the introductions you needn’t worry. The characters who end up mattering can be counted on one hand.
All the setup eventually builds up to the following: Kenji, during his stay with Natsuki’s family, is tricked into giving a dangerous computer virus access to OZ. Said virus wrecks havoc over the entire digital world causing all sorts of trouble to pop up in the real one. Now Kenji must work together with Natsuki’s family (the 2 or 3 that matter at least) to save two worlds from imminent disaster (because the authorities don’t matter).
Thus the whole story unfolds in typical blockbuster fashion: (cyber)-battles will be fought, old grievances will be reconciled and boys will turn into men.
So the end result is a movie that wants to be a sci-fi action blockbuster AND a family drama AND a romance story. Problem is that none of the elements are particularly good in their own right.
- It fails as a romance story because the whole plotline is trite and forced. The lovebirds-to-be are complete anime-stereotypes (nerdy nice guy and cheerful nice girl) who lack any kind of believable chemistry. Initially the whole thing just feels like a plot-device to set the plot in motion. Then the middle act all but drops it. Finally, the end of the film also concludes the love story in the cheesiest way imaginable. That wouldn’t have been so bad in and of itself but it doesn’t feel believable. The 2 characters in question aren’t shown growing towards one another and learning to understand each other better. They just love each other when the plot needs them to.
- It fails as a family drama because an overwhelming majority of the characters is painfully one-dimensional. They’re just caricatures who stand in the background and occasionally showcase their one personality quirk. The few who don’t fall victim to this aren’t particularly interesting either, and are often no more than devices to shove the aforementioned crappy love-story in certain directions. The only somewhat interesting element in this plot-thread is a subplot dealing with a bastard-child who was branded an outcast of the family; but this thread is ultimately resolved in a sentimental manner.
- It fails as an action-packed blockbuster because most of the fights aren’t very interesting. The idea of having avatars do battle against a computer virus within Oz allowed for the makers to go crazy, and there are 2 or 3 spots where some creativity is showcased in regards to having fighters transform the arena to better suit their purposed. But as it goes on any semblance of choreography or creativity is thrown out of the window in favor or giant punches fuelled by the power of love and friendship. It’s sad that the best choreographed fight is a short demonstration early on in the film. Summer Wars sadly fails to avoid the usual anime-cliché where fights get less creative when the power-levels are increased.
So there you have it: 3 poorly executed and fundamentally flawed storylines that merge into one to create an unfocused and ultimately unsatisfying viewing experience.
Summer Wars was directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who previously directed the acclaimed ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’. The irony here is that the two movies are almost polar opposites from an artistic standpoint.
- One tries to be a blend of many different popular anime-trappings and ends up unfocused and messy. The other has a very focused and well-thought out narrative that fully explores all the possibilities of its scenario.
- One features a huge cast of characters with no real standouts, the other features only a handful of characters most of which are (somewhat) realistic, well-developed and humanly flawed.
- One has a gimmick that ultimately serves as either window-dressing or a cheap way to create tension in the plot. The other has a gimmick that contributes the narrative in a meaningful way as an interesting dynamic.
In the end ‘Summer Wars’ failed to impress me. It tried to combine all kinds of different flavors only to end up with a product that doesn’t have any kind of flavor to it, much less one to call its own. It’s not a bad movie. The animation, especially in OZ, is wonderful (though the designs of the human characters are a little basic), the soundtrack is adequate and there are a few entertaining moments but after all the hype I excepted much more.
- Want an interesting love-story with a cool twist? Check the aforementioned ‘’The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’’. Same director, much better movie.
- Want a good story that explores familiar relationships? ‘’Haibane Renmei’’ features a surrogate family of sorts. Wonderful drama filled with realistic, richly-drawn characters and a captivating atmosphere.
- Want a cool science fiction story where a bunch of kids use strange technology in all sorts of imaginative and fun ways? Check out ‘’Dennou Coil’’. Same studio, similar concepts but explored in much more detail and with better characters to boot.
As one of the directors responsible for making Digimon: The Movie happen, I guess it makes sense for Mamoru Hosoda (also did The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) to infuse elements of his past work into future projects. Such is the case for Summer Wars, his latest and quite possibly his most ambitious film to date. Even if you’re not a fan of anime, you’ll find something to like in this sci-fi/comedy/romance spectacle that is both awfully heartwarming and very pleasing to watch.
Kenji Koiso is a high school student/math genius who works part-time with his best friend, Takashi Sakuma as moderators for the massive, widely
popular virtual world called OZ, where the norm consists of virtual shopping, business, and much more (Second Life, anyone?). One summer Natsuki Shinohara, Kenji’s senpai (who he also has a crush on) invites him to her grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration in the Jinnouchi clan estate. But Kenji is immediately caught up in Natsuki’s desperate request to act as Natsuki’s husband-to-be, much to his chagrin.
Kenji spends the initial parts of the movie getting acquainted with the rest of Natsuki’s relatives, and receives a mysterious email soon after. The message contains a huge numerical code, and, being a math whiz, Kenji opted to crack the code right away; he does so overnight. But as soon as he sends the solution, a virus - named Love Machine - successfully hacks within the OZ mainframe and causes turmoil in many parts of the world. As Kenji is deemed the culprit, it is up to him and his newfound family to solve the problem before more lives are put in danger. So, this is basically Digimon: The Movie adapted to a newer version, minus all the ‘mons making up that particular movie. While that thought might pull you away for whatever reason you might bear, Summer Wars’ narrative is more than just games and cyberspace. This movie touches on important themes, with family being one of its central points.
Okay, I lied. This movie IS all about games and cyberspace. For as much of a silly thing it is to base your movie on the inner workings of the Internet and social networking, it actually makes you feel weirdly sympathetic for those things. Perhaps Summer Wars teaches and/or reminds us that family can stretch beyond bloodlines, and we all can potentially build unbreakable bonds with total strangers even across the entire world, both real and virtual. Also, when it may seem that all the chips are down, there’s always hope, and it’s a hope we could always hold on to.
While the story’s great and all, Summer Wars would probably be nothing without its outstanding cast of characters. Stretching from the shy, introverted Kenji to the rest of Natsuki’s spunky, quirky, and empathetic family members, it truly feels like watching an ensemble cast bring their A-game to the table. Though it’s a lot of characters to take in immediately, seeing them once or twice is enough to make you remember them. Hell, I only remember a few names out of all the characters introduced, to be honest. There is a good mix of funny and sincere banter in-between, which really makes each character’s presence seem imperative and convince you to care about them. The main characters as well as the supporting ones play integral roles in bringing Love Machine down, and the movie does a good job making their strengths shine through.
But I think the best character out of all--and I think everyone is in unison on this--is Sakae Jinnouchi, Natsuki’s grandmother. Despite having minimal knowledge of the virtual world, she’s pretty much the one inspiring everyone to fight the infection and teach them the value of what family is. I also think it’s her courage and pretty much her overall personality that drives the story forward, as well as motivate the characters to do what they must.
Summer Wars is perhaps one of the best examples of an ambitious visual splendor, animated or not. The production values are all top-notch, with the near-perfect blend of CGI and cel-shaded effects bringing a lot of vibrancy to the movie’s cyberspace environment, the real world, and astounding attention to detail. Just thinking about the unimaginable number of sprites and avatars interacting in the entire virtual space is just insanity, and shows how much incredible amount of work was done to make this visual masterpiece happen. The animation style is no pushover either, as it is both breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Action scenes are all incredibly exciting, intense, and amazingly crafted that kept me at the edge of my seat for most of the movie. Character designs are also sharp and well-designed that all the more makes this one of the most magnificent-looking animated movies I’ve seen in a long while.
I don’t usually pay attention to movie soundtracks that much, mainly because most of them are so forgettable and barely intriguing; Summer Wars’s musical score is an exception. Top that with an excellent Japanese voice cast that brings much needed emotion and invokes life through the characters they play. I haven’t heard the English dub of the movie yet, but after seeing this movie, I’d be glad to that version when I finally get the chance to, all while reliving this grand adventure again a second time. Hell, I wouldn’t mind seeing it for a third go. Or a fourth. Who can blame me, really?
Summer Wars is definitely one of the best anime movies I’ve seen in years. It’s as enjoyable of a watch as it occasionally tugs on the heartstrings. It's a good reminder that there actually IS something to feel positive about being in the Internet. For all its eye-popping, superb visual presentation, it’s also got a well-written, thematic, feel-good storyline and a fantastic cast of characters that will surely please the audiences both inside and outside of the anime realm. In short, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, you’re missing out on something special.
There is only one word that can sum up this entire movie. Family. The whole concept of this entire movie revolves around being a cooperative and strong family. What does the word family mean to you? A group of people who are of same blood? This movie will show you the true meaning of family, a group of people who may or may not be of blood relation, but truly support each other till the death. That is what a true family is.
One spoiler in this review.
In a world where everything is connected to OZ (Imagine the internet,
but with animation), OZ assists almost everything, from GPS's to maintaining water pressure to sending dispatch calls for emergency vehicles. OZ helps the world and is well protected. The movie follows Kenji as he joins his crush in a visit to her grandma's 90th birthday part. While there, OZ gets taken over by a hacker and chaos ensues.
One of the best parts of the movie is the ending, as it gave so much closure and a feeling of happiness even though it was suppose to be sad. What I was expecting in the end was a funeral for grandma, but what they showed was something truly inspiring, a birthday party. While the family was dressed in normal attire, everyone who came to visit grandma (And she knew a lot of people) dressed in normal funeral attire. This was so cute, as the grandma always wanted her family to smile and never be sad. Spoilers over.
The pacing was a bit slow in the very beginning, as much action hasn't really happened. It was a lot of introduction scenes, for the massive amounts of family members in the Jinnouchi family. This pacing picked up rather quickly and kept the quick pacing until the end which was very good due to the seriousness of the main story during the time.
The art in the anime changes form night & day rather quickly. We have a gorgeous digital world, the world of OZ, and the very scenic real world, the world of Japan. The world of OZ is a very bright world with bright shapes and designs. The real world was very normal, except with amazing backgrounds and scenery, what more do I expect from the same people who made Wolf Children?
The animation of the action scenes were amazing. The animation was fluid and very little use of transitional scenes to change the angle of the fight. I enjoyed this very much since we can see every punch thrown, every kick blocked, we do not miss a thing when it comes to a fight, and there is no confusion on what exactly happened as well.
The character designs were quite splendid as well. The designs of the avatars help compliment the artwork of OZ and are very unique. The designs of the family members were great too, different enough to separate the family members (most of the family members, there were a couple who looked similar... but they were brothers) but not too unique so they still fit in with the real world Japan.
The soundtrack is outstanding. The first song that plays is OZ, the Virtual City, a song that helped introduce the world of OZ. The song is a very simple electronic song that gives off a great feeling of happiness. This assist in sending the message of OZ being a great and helpful resource. The other songs do the exact same thing the OZ, the Virtual City, as it helps carry the message and mood through. What is the difference between normal anime background music and Summer Wars soundtrack? The use of the song in the right scene and the feeling each song brings out are both executed very well throughout the movie. If this is not a good enough reason, I may just be a bit biased on the sound then.
The family members were awesome. Everyone in the Jinnouchi family appears to be in a high ranking profession. This along with the character designs helps distinguish the family members from each other. The grandma tops it off as being the best family member with her connections to a lot of high ranking people and her optimistic attitude.
This movie had great character development in the form of Kenji. Kenji learns what it is like being in a family, what it means to support one another even if the odds are against you, and too be supported by others when facing dangers such as death.
This would have been a ten, if the slow pacing in the beginning wasn't there. The movie had amazing art, a wonderful story with a great ending, an outstanding soundtrack, and a very memorable family... It is impossible to not enjoy this movie.
My own little personal life also influenced my enjoyment of the series. This is a personal story... I am a member of a big family, something I really never cared much for. Sure I like a few cousins, but that aside, I'm not that interested in talking to my uncles or aunts since there are just so many of them. I am aware though, of a strong sense of family shared between all the members of my family, and this movie has pushed me to get to know my family more when we have another reunion. I am now more interested in the history of my family thanks to this movie... who knows, my family may have lost an easy battle to the Jinnouchi.
I feel as if Mamoru made Kenji a reflection of the people who are watching the movie. In modern society, it is safe to say a sense of strong family bond has weakened, much like Kenji's parents (Sorry about the slight spoiler). Towards the end, Kenji gains support of the Jinnouchi family as well as supporting the family and learns what it means to be part of one. This is why I say the message is about the meaning of family. I will suggest this movie to be a great movie to watch with family.
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