A few weeks ago, there was this buzz on twitter about Summer Wars airing. It’s a 2009 Japanese movie written by Satoko Okudera and has won numerous awards, but from the hype going on (it even trended at some stage), I knew that I had to check this out. Now I’d like to apologize in advance. I’m not really a movie guy. I don’t go out of my way to watch every little thing that comes out. Series I like, but movies? Unless it’s something as epic as Spider-Man or The Avengers, I skip it.
That’s plot one, plot two revolves around an artificial intelligence program breaking the internet. Oz is sorta like the virtual version of the world we live in. Anything you can do in real life can be done in Oz: Buying cars, chatting – business. The world is run on Oz – until Love Machine (the AI I spoke about) hacks into Oz by duping Kenji and a bunch of other smart people around the world into breaking the master code needed to hijack everyone’s Oz accounts and destroying the planet as we know it. The scenario is played out rather expertly as this is how hackers in the real world also operate. We (the viewers) are given a unique insight into just how much the planet and it’s people rely on the internet and just how much damage can occur if it suddenly turned against us.
I know what you’re thinking: What does a Slice-of-Life have to do with a 2009 remake of War Games? Answer: Spoilers! This review is meant to inspire you to watch the film yourself and I dislike spoilers. The two plots are connected as I mentioned and your attention is always divided between the two. Kenji, who is mostly by himself when at home, finds comfort in this huge family he’s lying to on behalf of Natsuki. He is also determined to stop Love Machine as the AI has hijacked his account and put the blame for ending the world on him.
The story takes a dark turn in the middle and without spoiling things, my heart went along with it. It broke! As diverse as the family is, there are just some things that create a universal sensation. This film is more about standing together as a family and doing what’s right as opposed to doing what you want. Pain hurts. People don’t see eye to eye. What I love about this film isn’t just the spectacular CGI of Oz, it’s seeing this family go through on of the most horrible ordeals in life and watching them start to rely on each other fervently. The compulsory nerd-popular character love story doesn’t feel like that either. We all called a romance blooming from the opening sentence, but that is something I hate about love stories – they’re too cliché and not real enough. Summer Wars doesn’t do it like that. Natsuki starts relying on Kenji for emotional support and in return he pushes his game as a loner out the door.
One key feature of this film is the game Hanafuda Koi-Koi. It is written into the plot and sorta hidden in plain sight (Steven Moffat Style) until the climax when it’s used to full effect. Upon first viewing, I didn’t understand a lick of what was going on. I just followed the musical cues and the emotion of the characters and then rode it like a wave. Natsuki gets into a Koi-Koi battle with Love Machine and if you don’t know the rules to this complex game, you’re just going to have to do what I did. Even without knowledge of the game, it’s brilliant and manages to draw you in. This movie actually inspired me to learn the game myself and I’ll confess without prejudice that it is addictive once you understand what the hell is going on.
Another aspect that deserves a mention is the CGI used to animate Oz. It is really, really beautiful and puts a lot of what Hollywood is doing right now to same. If there are two things the Japanese are great at, it’s animation style and storytelling!
I don’t know about you fans, but I for one dislike reading television programs, so I prefer English dubs, regardless of what anyone says. FUNimation dubbed Summer Wars and they cast each role with perfection. Brina Palencia is emotionally captivating as Natsuki and Michael Sinteriklaan, who plays Kenji puts in a powerful performance as the timid math genius. It’s not just these two though, it's the whole cast that just fit this story flawlessly. There isn’t one flat line in this movie. This is as good as it gets!
Finally, before I sign off, I’d like to showcase just how good this film is by revealing how successful it was (and still is). Not just is it one of those films that you can literally watch ten times in a row and still cry at the same scenes, but this movie managed to win numerous awards and was submitted for at least three other categories which it did not win. Below is a list of awards this film managed to take home. If you’re a fan of animated films and even if you aren’t, this movie is worth making an exception for. Thank you for reading. I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Did I inspire you or simply wasted your time on this film? Hope you enjoyed it!
List of awards won by Summer Wars include:
Won the Animation Division Grand Prize at Japan’s 13th Media Arts Festival
Won award for New Media at the Digital Content Association in Japan
Won a Golden Gertie award for Best Animated Featured film
Won the Audience Award for Best Animation Feature at the Anaheim International Film Festival
Won the Award of Excellence in Animation at the 33rd Japan Academy Prizes
Won the Animation of the Year Prize through which nomination can only be achieved by winning the Award of Excellence above
Mamoru Hosoda, the film’s director, also won an Annie Award for Best Director