Animated film (2009 Japan). Madhouse, NTV, Kadokawa, DN Dream Partners, Vap, Warner Bors, Yomiuri TV. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, starring Ryūnosuke Kamiki, Nanami Sakuraba, Ayumu Saitō, Sumiko Fuji. Written by Satoko Okudera. 114 minutes. Colour.
Teenage maths geek Kenji (Kamiki) agrees to help the school beauty Natsuki (Sakuraba) on an unspecified task, only to discover that he must pose as her boyfriend at a family gathering to satisfy the conditions of a vow to her great-grandmother Sakae (Fuji). Out of place in Natsuki's country mansion, and overwhelmed by her extended family, Kenji inadvertently helps the military Computer program (> AI) "Love Machine" hack into the worldwide computer network OZ (> Internet). With OZ compromised, modern society threatens to fall apart (> Disaster).
When asked for an original piece after his successful Anime adaptation of Toki o Kakeru Shōjo (2006) director Hosoda cannibalized his earlier Digimon: Bokura no War Game (2000 Japan; US release as part of Digimon: The Movie, 2000), in which a rogue artificial intelligence threatens to launch a nuclear missile at Japan (> Wargames). But the genre trappings of Summer Wars are only a calculated half of its content, which assigns equal weight to the large, multi-generation family gatherings, seasonal reunions and innocent pursuits of a bygone age – compare to Hayao Miyazaki's Tonari no Totoro (1988), which similarly eulogized a lost Pastoral existence. For Hosoda, himself an only child who married into a large family, the depiction of Natsuki's lively, confusingly massive clan seems tinged with personal experience, and with the recurring unease in twenty-first century Japan that an idyllic, late-capitalist existence is fuelled by distant wars.
Despite reasonable box office in Japan and a Seiun Award, Summer Wars is less a cinema event than a well-constructed movie-for-television, offering vacation diversion to every generation portrayed, from the sullen teenager who fights as a champion in Virtual Reality, to the aging matriarch whose little black book allows her to call in favours on an analogue "network" that gets the better of her digital foe. There are only two minor missteps in this gentle comedy, both born from its underlying adherence to deeply conservative traditions. The "Love Machine" is created as work-for-hire for the American military-industrial complex (> Weapons; > Imperialism), restating the customary Japanese self-image as plucky innocents in thrall to foreign duplicity. More noticeably, the denouement relies upon the arcane and infamously complex card game hanafuda, reducing the final "battle" to a shouty series of reveals and special moves unlikely to mean anything to viewers outside Japan. Arguably, such a creative decision squanders much of the previous efforts in setting up the virtual world of OZ, which makes winning use of 3D computer graphics. However, at its heart, Summer Wars is an accomplished demonstration of the interconnectivity of all things, from computer networks to social media to family ties. [JonC]
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