Summer Wars (2011)

Directed by Mamoru Hosoda
Written by Satoko Okudera

Anime is such a unique form of art. And yes, it is most definitely art. Of course the Japanese style is animation, but it has such a distinctive flair to it that attracts many fans. There are also those Americans who are generally unfamiliar with it. I for one am not well versed in the anime world; however I can openly admit that I greatly admire it. Anime has a style that affords itself so well to particular stories that it almost seems a natural fit between the story and style. “Summer Wars”, with its modern, sci-fi, cyber thriller plot, is a good example of this successful marriage.

The film opens with a bit of background on the program “OZ”, which allows users to create avatars to interact with other members and do pretty much anything. Think “Surrogates” meets Facebook. Members can even pay their taxes in this program! Well Kenji is a high school math whiz who works part time for the program. But when his crush, Natsuki, asks him to do a job for him, he accepts, but little does he know that his decision could bring the end of the world, literally. Natsuki takes Kenji to her family’s home, where her grandmother is celebrating a birthday. Fearing she will die soon, Natsuki has recruited Kenji, unbeknownst to him, to pose as her fiancé, a job Kenji may not be up to. But what happens next is even crazier. Kenji receives a text from an unknown number, asking him to solve a complicated math formula. When he does, the world of “OZ” comes under attack from an AI bot called “Love Machine”. The whole family must scramble to save the world.

Whew. Just typing that made me realize how much stuff was going on in this movie. I even left some stuff out, but it is all important. That is just a testament to how great of a concept for a movie this is, especially an Anime film. It is a taut cyber thriller with interesting characters and sub plots, like the romance between Kenji and Natsuki. With the ever evolving world, it is not impossible to foresee a program like “OZ” to develop in the near future. We already have Facebook, which has millions of users. Perhaps the real-life simulation effect of “OZ” is a fair bit further off, but the concept of being able to do real things, like pay your taxes, through the program seems reasonable in the near future. Technology is always evolving and it seems like at an exponential pace.

What “Summer Wars” does so well is it sets everything up. The characters, the program, the whole situation is so well formulated that when the heavy stuff goes down, we as the audience understand how and why, though the thriller aspect of the film is also handled quite well, keeping us on the edge of our seats where applicable.. And in addition, we care what happens to these people. It is a fun adventure to spend time with this family and its strange cast of characters. There are times where the film gets somewhat derailed, like with the high school baseball team, but looking back, “Summer Wars” was a unique experience and one worth having. It has so much going on, it almost takes a minute to sit back and reflect on its brilliance in order to find it.

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