Summer Wars (review)

Published on March 27th, 2011.

Directed by: Mamoru Hosoda
Animated by: Madhouse
Released in:  2009

Overall Rating: B+

I saw this movie a few weeks ago and was planning on writing a review for it when the magnitude (now rounded up to) 9.0 earthquake hit Japan on March 11th. Coincidentally, I find a warm connection between what happened in the movie and the disaster that actually happened in Japan.

Told through the life of Kenji Koiso, an 11th grader gifted in math, Summer Wars tells a story of a modern Japan where the country and the rest of the world is linked to an online network known as OZ. People can access the network through their electronic devices that range from portable gaming devices like the Nintendo DS to cellphones. OZ is more or less the equivalent of the internet but more advanced. Not only is it a place to meet people and find information, it also provides the data backbone of hospitals, traffic system, and other important systems for the real world. Once inside, your security is assured thanks to the most advance encryption system known to mankind protecting each and everyone’s information.

Of course that’s a big lie and there’s a crack in everything. When Kenji  solved a math equation sent to his phone, it opens to door for a powerful AI called Love Machine to invade OZ and takes control of everyone’s account. These accounts, unfortunately, include those that could influence real life such as the ones said above and other high profile account like a satellite system that can be programed to crash into a nuclear power plant and let’s not forget all the nuclear weapons of the world as well. When OZ breaks down and along with it the orderliness of the real world, can a nerdy math geek save the day?

The World of OZ

Natsuki and her giant family

Kenji solving math equations within minutes to save the world

Concurrently with the explanation of the  high-tech world of OZ, the movie splits to modern life in Japan with the main setting of the movie in Ueda, Nagano Prefecture where Kenji is staying for the summer. Kenji who, after being asked by his long-time crush Natsuki Shinohara, is pretending to be Natsuki’s boyfriend for the summer to please her 90 years old great-grandmother, Sakae Jinnouchi, whose birthday is coming up. He didn’t know that was to be his job until he got to the family estate far in the country side. Awkward. Luckily, he didn’t have time to wallow in embarrassment with Natsuki’s large family bustling in and out of the doorways always with something to do. The summer rolls on with Kenji getting acquainted with everyone at the house, and most importantly Natsuki’s great grandmother who is head of the household.

When OZ crashes and Japan is thrown into turmoil, Sakae used an old telephone and called all the people she had met over her life who can help during this time (all of whom are high profile officials, doctors, rescue workers, etc) and give them words of encouragement. From this point on in the movie, I can see a correlation between the disaster that broke out with OZ being down and the earthquake that occurred recently in Japan. In the movie, in order to save OZ everyone who uses the network (everyone around the world) volunteer their account for Natsuki to play againts the Love Machine AI in a game of Hanafuda. Similarly, after the earthquake, everyone around the world willingly donate to help out Japan. I find the idea of everyone coming together to help out during a tragic time really inspiring and the fact that it can actually happened gives me hope for humanity.

Love Machine absorbing everyone's account

Great-grandma Sakae

Natsuki's family dinner

Natsuki's family fighting together

Directed by the same director of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, one of my favorite movie, I had high hopes for this one as well. The movie speaks about family, and obviously our growing dependence on technology and what a foolish idea that is. In between, it tries to show the beauty of the real world over artificial ones like those in OZ or say Second Life or World of Warcraft. However, the story-line is a bit weak for me and the characters not all that likable. Kenji is made out to be the unlikely hero, but it was Natsuki who ultimately save the day by fighting the Love Machine AI herself. There was also another character, Natsuki’s cousin Kazuma Ikezawa, who did most of the fighting with this OZ avatar King Kazma.

So Kenji basically solves a math puzzle, destroys everything, and back-up/work with other people to save the day. Which is fine, but if you’re going to be define as a hero, I feel he needs to play a more active role. Redeeming qualities about the movie is an overall good time that makes you think and the art is beautiful as expected from Studio Madhouse. The fact that it shows the world working together to save Japan and correlating that to what’s happening right now in Japan, watching it just feels like a good foreshadowing. So final thoughts: it was a good movie, not a great one.

  • Anonymous

    Nice review I think I might get around to watching it after my exams :)

    • http://twitter.com/yaadayaada Loc Lam | ロックラム

      Is it exam time already? Mine won’t be until May *phew*, but good luck! Definitely check it out when you get the chance.

    • http://www.mybrogu.com/ Ben

      yep april 4-20 life will suck.
      good luck on your exams.

  • http://www.bradleyfarless.com/ Brad F.

    Well, maybe the character was done that way on purpose, to further reflect real life vs an imaginary one. In imaginary worlds, like WoW, everyone is a “hero”, but in real life, there are no heroes. There are just ordinary people who come together to overcome the odds. Some may occasionally stand out from others, but it’s the team that matters, and it’s only history and (usually) skewed media that makes heroes.

    This seems pretty interesting. I’ll try to check it out next week sometime. I have two papers to write and a mid term next week. =(

    • http://twitter.com/yaadayaada Loc Lam | ロックラム

      True, your comment reminds me of a Korean movie called “A Man Who Was Superman” that calls on everyone to be heroes and not wait for someone to be the “Superman.”

      However, if that was the case, the movie still didn’t clearly bring that up. It was just always Kenji, Kenji, Kenji and Kenji didn’t do anything lol.

    • http://www.bradleyfarless.com/ Brad F.

      Makes sense. I guess I can’t say for sure until I see the movie. =)

  • http://twitter.com/JapanNewbie Harvey

    I really liked this movie! I also love that it reintroduces modern Japan to Hanafuda!

    I blogged about Hanafuda and the movie and a free Hanafuda iPhone App here.

    http://www.japannewbie.com/2011/02/21/play-hanafuda-on-your-iphone/

    Hanafuda is awesome. Summer Wars is very geek and very cool too!