director Mamoru Hosada
Despite the fact that we weren’t all that taken with director Marmoru Hosada’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006), for some reason, perhaps just looking for the right amount of variety to switch up for our movie nights, I decided we’d give his Summer Wars a go, despite not knowing a whole lot about it. I had queued it because I must have read some positive things at some point.
While The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was cute but vapid, Summer Wars is far more ambitious and varied. It starts out with a scene in a computer lab, where two teen dweebs are moderating a social network more like an elaborate, more integrated “Second Life”, when the cute older Natsuki shows up and is looking for someone to come help her with a part-time job. One of the boys, Kenji bites and travels to Ueda to Natsuki’s family’s home, a huge estate in very traditional rural Japan. It turns out that she’s tricked him into coming to her grandmother’s 90th birthday, to pretend to be her boyfriend.
The story fluctuates between the traditional family story of the Jinnouchi clan (their sprawling family with a long, proud history) and what they represent in the film and the world of this virtual reality universe which has become almost as real and impinges on the real world in a major crisis. The switching makes the film a little hard to get a handle on at first, but ultimately works pretty well as the story plays out. In the “real world”, Kenji becomes insinuated in a cyberattack on OZ, the virtual world, and is exposed to the family for who he is. The cyberattack on OZ is launched by an artificial intelligence (sent by the US military!) but because of the uncontrollable nature of the AI and the real world connections (credit cards, phone identifications, power grids, etc.), the attack is having effects everywhere, eventually and ultimately potentially launching a nuclear assault.
While parts of the story are facile, such as the black sheep bastard child of the great grandfather returns to rile the family and is also the creator of the AI that he sold to the US (it’s all about the family), the representation of traditional Japan, even the local high school team playing on television during the heat wave, the history of the clan, the food, family traditions versus this slick, Takashi Murakami-inspired OZ, populated by avatars of all stripes, like modern personalized yōkai, if you will, Summer Wars is a sprawlingly complex narrative with a cast of “thousands”.
The ambition serves Hosada and the film well. While I wouldn’t call it a great film, it’s a far more interesting and complicated picture, something quite interesting.
The kids liked it pretty well. They found it a bit strange, flipping between the two main story lines, much as I did, but also felt that it all came together pretty well.