If you liked 2006's "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time," you're going to absolutely love "Summer Wars." Mamoru Hosoda's new film is an oddball mix of science fiction, cyber-punk, teen romance and family comedy/drama, all rolled up into one beautiful, lavish-looking Anime' that also somehow manages to throw in a pretty chilling end-of-the-world fight for the future of humanity. This has to be the best animated film to come out so far this year, or was it last year (I honestly can't remember). All I know is, I would have passed this film had I not read "The Washington Post's" "Style" section early one morning.
Regardless of how you feel about Japanese animation, "Summer Wars" is one film that the whole family can enjoy. Unlike most family films, however, this one doesn't insult the intelligence of the audience, nor does it treat its characters in a half-a**ed, perfunctory fashion. Every character in this film is alive and brimming over the top with personality, poise and humor, a rarity in most films these days - whether they be animated or live-action. But you know how most American audiences are here: they're pathologically afraid of anything foreign (i.e., not American). And then there's also all those negative stereotypes that Japanese animation is violent and full of sex.
Not true here.
It all just shows the marvelous degree of attention to detail that Hosoda paid to this project. It definitely has the makings of a labor of love for the Japanese filmmaker. "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" was an enjoyably light-hearted sci-fi/comedy romp in its own right. I liked it well enough (I rated it a 10/10), yet I still something felt missing from it. I didn't find anything missing from "Summer Wars," a brilliantly inventive and highly original movie that combines elements of the online virtual world Second Life, "The Social Network" (2010), "The Matrix" (1999), "Meet the Parents" (2000), and "The Simpsons" together with a bunch of other stuff I can't really remember.
17-year-old high schooler Kenji Koiso is a mathematical genius who like most high school geniuses, is shy, uncoordinated, and inarticulate in the area of girls and love. Things become even more complicated for him when the girl of his dreams (and fellow classmate) Natsuki Shinohara "hires" him out to be her fake fiancé to please her ailing great-grandmother at an upcoming family reunion. Cue the family dramatics. Cue the crazy and/or obnoxious relatives. Cue all-out familial craziness!
Sakae Jinnouchi is the 90-year-old family matriarch of this motley bunch of oddball relatives. The Jinnouchi clan fought bravely against the army of the Tokugawa shogunate that ruled all of Japan for nearly three centuries. The spirit of the Jinnouchi clan lives on to the present day, as poor Kenji finds out first-hand. His feelings for Natsuki will have to take a backseat when he receives a random text message one night that contains a 250-character algorithm. Kenji solves it with little difficulty.
The next day, Kenji finds out that he is responsible for bringing down Oz, the film's online equivalent of Facebook combined with MySpace combined with a world-wide chat room/business center. Additionally, when Kenji solved the algorithm, he also gave a malevolent A.I. (artificial intelligence) called "Love Machine" instant access to pretty much everything in the online world. And it isn't long before "Love Machine," using Kenji's online avatar to hack into accounts and steal information, sets its sights on also conquering the real world, even if it means killing all life on Earth as we know it. This apocalyptic showdown between man and A.I. unfolds amidst the family drama at Sakae's hilltop estate - Will Kenji get the pretty girl Natsuki? Will Natsuki return the affection? Who will stop "Love Machine's" online rampage?
"Summer Wars" is very easily one of the greatest Anime' films ever made. The film is a dazzling display of vibrant, pretty colors, computer-generated backgrounds/scenery, and lively three-dimensional characters. I honestly haven't been this in love with a group of characters in animated form in a very long time. Every single member of the Jinnouchi family is alive & well and have their time to shine with familiar family theatrics in carefully written scenes of family comedy/drama. And the battle scenes in cyber-space are brilliantly animated and executed, and are appropriately edge-of-your-seat thrilling.
You have to give praise to a movie that starts out like something off "The Brady Bunch" and ends with an apocalyptic showdown like in "The Matrix." Now in today's filmmaking industry on both sides of the ocean, that's what I call originality.