Film: “Summer Wars” (2009)

I was having a lazy Sunday, so after finishing my chores I decided not to review another album (it’s exhausting), and instead to watch one of the DVDs that sits in my cupboard gathering dust. I like anime a lot, but I’m a bit lost really. I love Studio Ghibli and have all their films on DVD, and a handful of other anime, but really I don’t know where to start.

Summer WarsI took a punt on two DVDs one day, and by sheer coincidence they were produced by the same studio and director (Madhouse and Mamoru Hosuda). One film was the wonderful “The girl who leaps through time”, and the other was “Summer Wars”.

“Summer Wars” tells the story of Kenji, a shy mathematical genius who gets roped in by the beautiful Natsuki as a fake fiance to please her ancient grandmother ahead of her 90th birthday celebrations. It turns out that Natsuki’s family is a sprawling clan dating back from the samurai era, with an enormous family home. The deception works for a while, until Kenji unwittingly hacks into a massive global social network, allowing a rampant artificial intelligence program to wreak havoc on Japanese infrastructure. The crisis escalates as the clan fight against the AI, culminating in a nailbiting showdown with massive stakes.

I don’t know if this is an everyday anime plot. It does seem rather high-concept, but it doesn’t pander to the audience, nor swamp the dialogue in techno-babble. After all, there are only a few techie characters in the huge ensemble cast. The plot seems even more timely, as parallels are easily drawn between the online network Oz and Facebook, it does make you wonder what the risk is of increased connectivity.

Though several characters are nondescript, the film supports several vividly defined main characters, including the formidable family matriarch Sakae. There are plenty of mid-film curveballs to turn the story on its head and keep it interesting.

The animation is superb too. The ‘real world’ looks as you expect from a modern-day anime, very clean and well-defined, while the online “Oz” world is strikingly colourful and detailed, with much of it rendered in CG. There’s the vaguely Tron-like outline to the online avatars, as well as their sheer number and variety of looks. The last act that shows a massive composite character made of many avatars is truly eye-popping.

Maybe I just lucked out with this selection, but I was relieved to find something to easy to watch outside the Ghibli umbrella. Madhouse seems to be a massive studio, so that’s a good lead for my future investigations. But “Summer Wars” and “The girl who leapt through time” are both well worth checking out, and priced reasonably.

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