Summer Wars

4 12 2009

A summer net-thriller movie whose most intriguing character is a 90-year-old woman who’s idea of ‘high-tech’ is a rotary phone.

Panda Masamune here bringing you our first movie review.  I came across Summer Wars through a review on Anime News Network and was intrigued by all of the good things that the reviewer said about it.  So I picked up a copy and watched it, and I have to say that it deserves every good review that it gets.  It is a social commentary packaged as a blockbuster, and it illustrates clearly how people who normally wouldn’t get along can combine their gifts to accomplish a lot when the time calls for it.

Title: Summer Wars (サマーウォーズ)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Studio: Madhouse

Medium: Anime Feature Film (1 hour 54 minutes)

Genre: Net Thriller

Availability: This is a very new movie, so it is currently only available in Japan and South Korea.  If you can track down a copy, there is an English fansubbed subtitle track around on the internet that you should be able to find with minimal effort.  But beware.  At about the 30-minute mark, the subtitles get off by about a second, which can be very distracting unless you can follow the flow of the conversation in Japanese.


It’s summer vacation, and Kenji has a short job: to accompany an attractive upperclassman named Natsuki to her grandmother’s house in Nagano Prefecture.  At first, he believes he is just carrying her luggage until she introduces him to her family as her fiancé.  You see, Natsuki is there to celebrate her grandmother’s 90th birthday, and for various reasons, she needs her family to think she has found an amazing guy.  As Kenji is trying to keep his backstory strait, deal with Natsuki’s eccentric and very well-connected family, and somehow manage to keep his sanity, a very unlikely thing happens.

Kenji, as it happens, is a math whiz who works as a lower-level programmer for a network called OZ (you know, in his spare time when he’s not studying).  OZ is a centralized network meant to represent the internet—people play games, chat with each other, conduct business, and do whatever else they can think of.  One night, Kenji gets an email on his cell phone that is simply a string of 2056 numbers.  Kenji recognizes it for what it is: a code.  Unable to sleep because of the stress caused by Natsuki and her family, he sets about solving the code and emails the answer back to the unknown sender.  Then he is able to fall asleep.  When he wakes up in the morning, he is an international criminal.  The code was the security code for OZ, and by solving it, he has allowed a very powerful AI to crack the network and absorb people’s online identities.

Chaos ensues.  The AI, known as “Love Machine,” starts messing up the emergency phone systems, GPS navigators, and anything else it gets its hands on.  Kenji, the one being framed for all of this, gets help from an unlikely source: Natsuki’s cousin.  Her cousin’s name is Kazuma, and he is the owner of a celebrity-status avatar known as “King Kazma,” famous for being one of the best brawlers in OZ.  Together, the two of them try everything in their power to defeat Love Machine.

But they are not alone.  As the story unfolds, they receive aid from all of Natsuki’s family, whether it be in the form of a supercomputer, a power generator, or a home-cooked dinner.  A key contribution is made by Sakae, Natsuki’s 90-year-old grandmother, who uses the technology of her generation, a rotary phone and a hand-written address book, to unite the efforts of the local police force, fire department, and emergency responders in order to quell the chaos.  Together, they unite their gifts to take down Love Machine.

Review: 4.75/5

As I said, I became aware of this movie by reading a review on Anime News Network, and this is very nearly a perfect movie.  All of the elements work together for maximum effect.  It has great animation, a good mix of real and virtual landscapes, good music, attention to detail, a plot that knows exactly when to use comedy and exactly when to use drama, and a message.

Let’s start with the animation.  Madhouse did a good job.  They take an approach that was perfected by Studio Ghibli, which is to have only a little bit of detail on the human characters, but gorgeous backdrops.  The understatement works really well here.  Every once in a while, there will be a great scene with lots of movement, and you’ll be able to see just how incredible the animation is.

Of special note is the OZ world.  It is done in “superflat” style and it reminiscent of things like Katamari Damashi and Nintendo’s Miis.  It might not be the most beautiful way to do it, but it is visually striking, and you never have to scratch your head to figure out whether you’re watching something in the real world or in the virtual one.

The music is also very good.  It never stands out, and is not the type of soundtrack that anyone is likely to go out and buy, but it fits the movie well and accentuates key moments.

The charm in this movie lies in the plot.  When Kenji becomes an international criminal, you are just as surprised as he is.  Then, when the movie feels like it’s coming to a close, something drastic happens and you realize you’re only at the halfway point.  The best thing about this movie is that even though it’s a net thriller, it’s down to earth.  So Kazuma spends most of his life on OZ.  The movie never dwells on that; it just uses it to establish Kazuma as a real character.  So Natsuki is from an ancient family that dates back hundreds of years.  They’re still a family, and they act like one.  So OZ is on the fritz and people are being majorly inconvenienced.  That doesn’t stop the high school baseball tournament from happening.  In fact, up until the end of the movie, if people simply ignored the world of OZ, none of this stuff affected them.  It’s only in the end that people realize how important the situation really is.

The only thing that stops this movie from being a 5/5 is the characters.  There is one amazing character, and that is Sakae, the grandmother.  Her quiet strength, insight, resourcefulness, and know-how make her extremely endearing, and her standout scene, which happens about 45 minutes in, is the most powerful scene in the movie.  However, aside from her, none of these characters are likely to stick out in my mind two or three years down the road.  Kenji was likeable enough, but he pales compared to the average Ghibli character.  Natsuki is barely present in the movie, and Kazuma is just the (virtual) muscle.  They serve their roles, and they serve them really well, but they don’t stand out.

Bridging Nerd-dom and Life:

There are two things which made me say, “I have to write a Segue post about this immediately!”  Let me deal with them in turn.

First, this movie illustrates that though it’s okay to live a lot of your life in a virtual world, we need to be aware of how to live life without that virtual world too.  We also need to not begrudge those who choose not to.   In Natsuki’s family there are people who spend a great deal of time in OZ and there are those who stick to a more traditional life.  And both are needed.

Think about it this way.  Let’s say that tomorrow, Facebook shut down permanently.  How many of your 600-or-so friends would you ever hear from again?  Do you even know how to reach them apart from Facebook?  I’d say that if that happened, my “social network” would probably drop to about 50 people.  Maybe 80 if you include my extended family.  As I said, the most powerful moment in this movie is when Sakae responds to OZ’s malfunctions with a rotary phone and an address book.  She has kept up relations with people who know and respect her, and she almost single-handedly averts a crisis in her town.  It is not a criticism of the method used (the internet vs. telephone and mail), but it makes you think about how and why it is used.  It also makes you think about this—if your method changed, would your relationships with people change too?  Asking that question can be a good test of the quality of your relationships.

The second main thing that this movie illustrates is that everybody has different gifts, and we need all of them. When Natsuki’s family pulls together to try to restore order to OZ, everybody uses their gifts to work together, and the conclusion couldn’t have happened if even one of them had withheld their gift.  Kenji is a whiz with code.  Kazuma is a great online battler.  Natsuki is extremely good at playing card games.  Kenji’s friend is great at finding and transmitting information.  Natsuki’s uncles provide them with good equipment and electricity.  Her little cousins give the only thing they can: their logon information.  But all of them are needed.

I once went on a mission’s trip (yes, I’m a Christian) to four different countries, and it was really interesting.  Each of the 19 people on our team had different gifts, and each of them were used over the course of the trip.  The thing is, they weren’t used at the same time.  Some people were deadweight in one country, only to prove themselves invaluable in the next.  In Romania, I basically led the trip.  In Mozambique, however, I was stuck painting a roof because I didn’t have any other useful skills.

Coming to this realization makes you take a second look at the people around you.  I believe that everyone shines given the right situation.  Maybe if you have a friend that doesn’t seem particularly good at anything, or maybe if you are that person, it’s simply because your situation hasn’t come yet.  Rather than being jealous of others or feeling superior, you should just be glad that you are gifted in different areas.  No one person can do everything, but a community can meet any challenge.



One response

31 10 2010
PCSO Lotto Draw Results :

card games are my favorite past time when not surfing the net `

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