Mamoru Hosoda’s new classic takes its inspiration from Japan’s rich past as well as our wildest dreams of the future. He takes samurai and virtual reality, hackers and hanafuda, and blends it all seamlessly together.
Licensed by: GKIDS, Funimation Entertainment
Limited theatrical release
December 3rd 2010 - January 2011
Our hero is Kenji Koiso, the Michael Cera of mathematical geniuses. When we first encounter him, he’s a high school student working as a code monkey for OZ, a virtual world that has become more ubiquitous to global life than Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr combined. He drops his job to take a trip with his friend Natsuki (a pun on natsu, or summer, as a Japanese speaking friend pointed out) to the countryside to help out at her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration. The night he arrives, he receives a mysterious math problem on his cell phone and it’s only second nature for him to solve it. The next day, he finds himself wrongly accused of hacking into OZ, and it’s up to him and Natsuki’s enormous family to keep the virtual world from turning the real one on its head.
You see, when Kenji solved that math problem, it allowed a computer program named Love Machine inside OZ to wreak havoc. It’s lucky that Natsuki’s many family members all have their own special talents to bring to the table.
The visuals in this film are astounding. The virtual world of OZ was designed by artist Takashi Murakami and it shows: the world is a technicolor kaliedoscope that myriad avatars soar through like tropical birds. And when Love Machine is hacking into the mainframe and causing every sort of real world trouble you can think of (or have seen happen in Die Hard movies,) it’s animated literally. For example, the visual used for hacking a passcode is a constantly shifting key fitting into a lock.
Meanwhile, most of the real world scenes take place in the family’s enormous Meiji-era home in the sprawling Ueda countryside. The house, bedecked with samurai gear from the family’s earlier days and equipped with sprawling porches perfect for the family to eat at on hot summer nights, is a fascinating backdrop for anybody who has an affinity for historic Japan.
But the film is not just eye candy. The characters are full of expression and incredibly relatable. With so many characters you’d think it’d be easy to lose track or stop caring about most of them, but each has a personality that makes them much more than 2D. Natsuki’s grandfather is not just a fisherman, for example, but also a Shaolin kung-fu master. And Great Grandma is not the quiet old woman she at first pretends to be.
The movie keeps its pacing quick through the use of an on-screen television. Sometimes the news is on, foreshadowing events that would otherwise be slow to reach the family’s rural home. Other times, the family watches one of their own, a high school baseball star, as his wins and losses reflect the overall mood of each scene.
In conclusion, it’s no coincidence that Summer Wars is near universally critically acclaimed and up for several awards. It’s the best movie I’ve seen all year, and it’s only January. This is coming from a girl who can barely sit still the whole time for most movies. What’s more, this is a movie I felt compelled to watch repeatedly, and picked up new details each time. Summer Wars has something for everyone; just watch and find out.