Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Summer Wars

Summer WarsIf Hayao Miyazaki made a cyberthriller, the result might be something like "Summer Wars." This colorful little anime movie spends most of its run straddling the line between a family reunion comedy and a world war entirely on the web. And the results manage to stir your heart and make you laugh at the same time.

Math nerd Kenji is shocked when popular upperclassman Natsuki asks him to come to her family's country house for the weekend. Unfortunately, he's there under false pretenses -not only is Natsuki claiming that he's her boyfriend, but that he's a wealthy college student at Tokyo U. Yeah, that is inevitably going to backfire.

But something far worse happens when OZ (a crazy hybrid of, Facebook, fighting video games and... well, just about everything you can find on the WWW) is hacked -and Kenji is the main suspect.

The truth is actually much more sinister -a horrendous program called Love Machine is devouring OZ user avatars, and is using the computer connections to cause chaos all across the world. When tragedy strikes the family, Kenji inspires them to fight back against Love Machine. But can the family's plan stop the program before it has a chance to take revenge on them?

"Summer Wars" isn't really like any other movie I've ever seen -it's part cyberthriller, part bittersweet family story, part crazy comedy, and part colorful anime. It starts off as a simple family dramedy, with Kenji getting thrown into Natsuki's eccentric family and dealing with all the baggage they bring with them. Plus, you know he's going to get busted.

But when Love Machine appears, the stakes are suddenly the technological safety of the ENTIRE WORLD. So we get a wild, crazy guerilla cyberwarefare (involving a boat, a giant computer, an army truck and lots of ice!) as the family (plus Kenji) unites to battle Love Machine. At the same time, the writer maintains the focus on the eccentric family, their grudges, and their unique personalities.

Plus, the animation for this movie is SPELLBINDING. The "real world" stuff is rendered in traditional hand-drawn anime, but the scenes set in OZ are brilliant, surreal, colorful and dreamlike. Whole civilizations on shelves, crowned whales, floating islands, stacked sports stadia, and endless chambers filled with strange little creatures.

And all the characters are very well-fleshed-out. Kenji is a nice, rather socially inept guy with epic math skills, and Natsuki is a strong young girl who finds herself with the weight of the ENTIRE PLANET on her shoulders. The entire cast is well-developed -from the stately grandmother to the idiot cousin who doesn't know what's going on -but one of the best is Kazuma, a 13-year-old kung-fu expert/computer nerd.

"Summer Wars" may start small, but it quickly grows to the epic size of the World Wide Web itself. Even better: it's funny, heartwarming and all-around engrossing.

Or is it the other way around?

Reminiscent of American movies like "War Games," as well as anime greats like "Spirited Away," this movie blends suspense, comedy, family, and a touch of romance in an expert mixture that is fun and heartwarming.

Kenji is a math genius with no self-confidence and, in his opinion, nothing else he is good at, especially when it comes to the fairer sex. He is spending his summer break working in tech support for the mega-giant, all pervading social networking site Oz when the girl of his dreams, the popular upperclassmen Natsuki, asks if he can work for her over the summer. The job is simple, she says. He just needs to accompany her on a trip to her Grandmother's house for a family reunion and do whatever odd jobs are needed to help out her big family. When it turns out that the real job is to pretend to be her fiancé, he balks at first. After all, he has never even taken a girl on a date, let alone gotten serious enough to be engaged! (My perception is that he was thinking that he can't pretend to be in love with someone that he has loved from afar for years!) But he agrees to go along with the ruse with some gentle pleading by the pretty Natsuki. When an AI cyber-terrorist attacks Oz using Kenji's avatar, most everything hits the fan. But Natsuki's large, eccentric family mobilizes, with inspiration from the matriarch and an extra push from Kenji himself, and works to counter this threat to the world, since much of the real world's infrastructure is routed through Oz, and Oz is being eaten by the AI. Can a math geek, a middle school fighting game expert, and a beautiful, self confident young woman save the world? Watch this masterpiece by Mamoru Hosoda, the director of the stunning "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time," and find the answer.

The BluRay is well presented, with easy to use menus and stunning graphics. The background art, both in and out of Oz, is breathtaking art in it own right. The character designs in the real world are natural and effective. The Oz avatars are cute, but have amazing capacity for creepiness and emotional expression. The English dub cast, comprised of veteran voice actors like Brina Palencia, Michael Sinternicklaas, Todd Haberkorn, and J. Michael Tatum, do a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life. Many big name anime films use big name actors instead of professional voice actors, and the dubs frequently suffer because of it. "Summer Wars" does not fall into that trap. The dub script is well wrought, with extremely natural turns of phrase and an excellent "lip flap" match, so much so that it is hard to tell that it isn't the original language of the film. There were a few spots were on-screen kanji were not translated that would have been helpful, but other than that, the localization is extremely well done.

In short, I highly recommend this film to young and old, anime fans or not! It is more than an anime film, it is a great story!

Buy Summer Wars Now

I received my preorder of this DVD the other day, and I'm thoroughly delighted with it. Having seen the original Japanese version, I was pleased to see that the localization to English was well done. The dubbing is good, the translation natural, and the voices match to the originals quite well. There are subtitles in a few places where necessary. You get art cards showing the Oz avatars of the main characters, which are quite nice. And the extras (interviews with voice artists and original commercials for the movie) are good too. Besides being a great story in its own right, this'll be the perfect DVD for me to share with family and friends to help them understand what this crazy anime hobby of mine is all about.

Read Best Reviews of Summer Wars Here

I love Madhouse. The Studio has produced some of the best anime to come out of Japan in the last decade, including the recent "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time". Much of that team re-assembled to put together the ambitious "Summer Wars". The result?

I was entertained and disappointed. I felt moments of "wow, that's storytelling" and stretches of "that doesn't make sense". I was impressed by creative plot twists and turns that ultimately wound up in all-too-familiar territory.

One thing I found was that two dozen one-dimensional characters didn't engage me in the least, but I would have sat and listened to the wisdom and life stories of the family matriarch for hours on end. Unfortunately, even the main players -whom I found really interesting, or bold, or mysterious at first -evolved into stick figure shadows of themselves by the end of the film.

Hosoda's attempt to create a sort of anime version of "Nicholas Nickleby" is daring, and I admire the effort. I couldn't escape the film without wanting to "tweak" it here and there, to temper its extremes and make its deus-ex-machina moments a little more plausible. It was as if the writers wanted it to be a slice-of-life fantasy with romantic elements and martial arts combat mixed in with deep historical roots set in a William Gibson-esque landscape -and the whole thing collapsed under its own weight.

So, I was less impressed by this than other Madhouse productions. I wanted to really like this film, but instead came away with melancholy feelings of what might-have-been.

Want Summer Wars Discount?

There have been many excellent reviews written about Summer Wars already, but as a member of a family that does not frequently watch Japanese animation I have an obligation to let people know that this is not a niche film. Summer Wars, like all great animation, succeeds on many levels. It has stunning visuals, an excellent and intriguing story, (that's not hard to follow despite it being largely set in cyberspace) and excellent characters. The story is about a family, but, unlike so many animated films, the family doesn't take a backseat to the story--it IS the story. It's amazing to watch a realistically depicted (although delightfully quirky) family reunion transform into a show of touching family resolve that will ultimately inspire viewers both young and old. I highly recommend Summer Wars to be viewed as a family or, of course, by any lovers of animation.

One last thing I have to add. The Jinnouchi family's matriarch, Sakae, is the true star of this film. She is a character that you will not soon forget. Satoko Okudera, the screenwriter of Summer Wars, manages to bring to Japanese cinema an elderly woman that demands respect for her both her wisdom and her bravery.

Save 43% Off

No comments:

Post a Comment