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Wow, I tell ya, the Japanese sure know their way around a sketch pad and a surrealistic premise.  One of the few recent films that really should have been released in 3D, but for some unfortunate reason wasn’t is Summer Wars; an eye-popping symphony of colour and imagination that leaps from the screen to blow the viewer’s mind.

What would you do if the most sought-after girl in school asked you to spend a few days with her in the countryside over summer break?  Kenji might be shy but he’s no dummy, so off he goes, unwittingly giving credence to Natsuki’s elaborate fib.  On this journey to the Jinnouchi family seat, Natsuki wants to please her beloved grandmother on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday by presenting her with Kenji, who she hopes will pass for a boyfriend.  Amiable and crushing on Natsuki, Kenji goes along with the story and finds himself accepted into the family and witness to their mighty bonds and equally impressive quirks.  A mysterious text message bearing an intriguing puzzle for math whiz Kenji sets off an unexpected chain of events.  The planet is plugged in; a computer interface that is part social network and online concierge also takes care of the world’s financial and defense concerns, serving a crutch taken for granted by its millions of global account holders.  Oz is a candy-coloured, anything-is-possible dimension where just like on Facebook, Youtube, Blogger or Myspace, your average schmoe can become Scarface, Einstein or Angelina Jolie; or, like Kenji, you can just stay a nerd.  Naturally, in an unnatural environment so dependent on an outside source to do its thinking, something goes terribly wrong.  A very smart hacking program has hijacked Kenji’s online avatar and worked its way into Oz.  Starting small, it messes with the town’s traffic lights and GPS systems just to get its pixilated feet wet before the naughty program sets its sights on higher, more crucial targets.  The artificial (overly-) intelligence, dubbed the Love Machine by its creator makes a drone of every other program in Oz, and eventually moves to control the world’s banking, transportation and weapons systems.  After discovering the digital menace’s roots were actually planted in the Jinnouchi garden, as descendants of an old samurai family, the clan bands together to take on the Love Machine and to avenge their good name, recruiting Kenji as an honourary member serving as their guide into Oz.

Summer Wars is a stunning and hypnotic allegory for man -- or woman -- versus machine.  Comparisons to the 1983 cult classic Wargames would not be remiss.  Director Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time {2007}) traces over tried and true ground and makes it fresh by virtue of the film’s stunningly beautiful artwork and the charming subplot of the Jinnouchi family reunion.  It also brings up the sobering question of what sort of chaos might ensue should all the computer systems that hold our daily lives in overwhelming thrall go off the rails.  How we would all cope?  

The fracturing of the world’s order parallels the increasingly fragmented Jinnouchi family, who only come together because of matriarch Sakae, the silver-haired powerhouse in a kimono, whose storied history and regard amongst highly placed government figures looms imposingly over her offspring.  Sakae’s mythical status in the community matters to her not at all, but comes in mighty handy when Oz goes haywire.  Digging out years of letters and cards from VIP’s, Sakae galvanises the various official branches using old-fashioned analogue communication to right some of the community’s ills with a steely determination and sense of purpose that further awes her family.  The tough old lady is a source of love and inspiration to her granddaughter, Natsuki, who takes up the mantle of strength carried by the family’s women for generations.  It is Sakae’s lessons that prepare Natsuki to combat the Oz monster with a gentle game of Hanafuda {flower cards} that may decide the fate of the planet.  

As I mentioned, Summer Wars deeply deserved to be filmed in 3D; from the first moments, we are immersed in a surrealist paradise with architecture and inhabitants that might have been designed by the Japanese pop artist Murakami.  The hyper-coloured, aggressively cheerful dimension of smiling figures is meant to lull users into a sense of complete security and peace.  The programme even has two giant whales called John and Yoko swimming through its space, acting as guardians of this digital Utopia.  Summer Wars uses a combination of techniques; obvious computer animation for the Oz scenes and gentler, hand-drawn art for the family sequences effectively capturing the duality of existences between life in the real world and in the impossible online playground.  The evolution of the artificial intelligence would make Akira proud as all the tiny avatars are absorbed into a hive that makes up Love Machine’s final stage personification and the splintering and coming together of the collective at will is a neat effect.   

Boys will identify with King Kazma, a goggles-wearing, unstoppable fighting rabbit who was tops in the Oz battle arena until the Love Machine showed up.  Kazma‘s alter ego, a moody emo-ish junior high school cousin of Natsuki’s is more comfortable interacting inside Oz as King Kazma than anywhere in the real world.  While we have that very boy moment and the men of the Jinnouchi family bluster about with hilarious results, it’s made clear the greatest members of the clan are its women.  It’s nice to watch the flighty, sometimes selfish Natsuki mature before our eyes when she takes her place in the battle, shedding layers of childlike delusion in the process.  Her budding romance with Kenji is also very sweet.  Everyone will be able to relate to Kenji, the overwhelmed, would-be boyfriend to the coquettish Natsuki.  The shy boy is thrown in the middle of this hurricane of a family with all its squabbles and defensiveness and then finds himself in over his head with the Love Machine artificial intelligence with only his very human intelligence as a weapon.  Good thing Kenji has an ally in the imposing, nonagenarian birthday girl or he’d never be able to face it all.

Summer Wars is beautiful, charming and absolutely dazzling.  It entertains all ages on every level and is a real feast for the eyes.  Wonderful.

Koi, Koi, y’all!


~ The Lady Miz Diva

February 14th, 2011


PS:  Watch Summer Wars on big screen as it makes its way across the country to experience its full gorgeousness, or if you are so inclined, the good folks at Funimation have just released an amazing DVD set worthy of the magic within.  Funimation truly gives anime fans their money’s worth with an entire second disc of extras that has those all-important Japanese voice cast and director interviews that we never get to see in the US.  It’s fantastic to see the actors who originated the roles discuss how they came to embody them, and to watch these respected artists interacting together in the studio while actually recording their characters is fantastic.  This is exactly what anime fans want from their distributors.  Funimation just gets better with every release.




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(Courtesy of  Funimation Entertainment)





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