Summer Wars (Movie) Review

Director Mamoru Hosoda

Animation ProductionMadhouse Studios

After the excellent 2006 movie “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” Mamoru Hosoda was a man to watch in the Japanese animation industry. Given a larger budget he set out to create a summer blockbuster with the appropriately generic name “Summer Wars“. It’s a summer blockbuster in every way in terms of the film’s budget, marketing and broad appeal which instantly should have signalled that it was not going to be like his comparatively indie classic “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time“. A blockbuster approach doesn’t necessary have to result in poor plot and character that are overshadowed by the action but in the majority of the cases this is what happens. “Summer Wars” does exactly what it sets out to do trying to appeal to the broad Japanese audience which from my view (an Anime fan outside of Japan) was never going to impress me. I was bitterly disappointed that it is not as good as his brilliant previous film but it is a different type of movie that sets out to do precisely want it wants, enjoyable for the 2 hours but there after completely forgettable.

The premise of “Summer Wars” surrounds high school math wiz Kenji Koiso who takes on an unusual job offered by fellow student (Natsuki) who is from a large prestigious family (descendants of a warrior clan). Natsuki initially tells Kenji his job is to come to Ueda to help with Natsuki’s Grandma’s 90th birthday. But in reality his job is to pretend to be her girlfriend as she promised her ailing Grandma she’d bring her boyfriend the next time she visited. This is all just to conveniently set up Kenji to be in the right place at the right time. The internet has evolved into a true virtual world called OZ which controls the real world (traffic, gas, water, and even over military weapons) and has become a business hub,  and essential for the functions of the government. An A.I. has taken over OZ by hacking and controlling user accounts causing havoc by messing with important services all over the world. There is definitely a need suspend your disbelief (especially if you know anything about networks and security) which might turn off some people but to the general audience they have no idea that this is pretty ridiculous situation. Kenji has to try and get rid the A.I. as he is surrounded by a family who have strong ties to OZ and the problematic malignant A.I.

The implausible plot is my main problem with the film which just escalates as you watch. The ridiculous ending, let’s just say it involve playing cards, was the peak of the problems. The characters were my other problem with an annoying cop the worst culprit. Everything else is fantastic, which definitely does allay some of the problems. The animation is amazingly detailed with vibrant and lively colours of the countryside contrasting with the virtual world of OZ. There are really some great backgrounds and sequences showing us the beauty of Ueda’s countryside and life. Like “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” there are some humorous moments but nowhere near as hilarious. Also this is the first time I so clearly noticed embedded advertising of well known products in an animated movie (i.e. NDS, Sony monitors, iPhone).

Ultimately it’s a techno thriller that has been done better elsewhere. It treads familiar ground and doesn’t do much more than what it aimed to do as a summer action blockbuster. It is still worth watching with some redeeming qualities but mostly because there is shortage of decent big budget Japanese animation movies.

Rating – B

Year – 2009 Length – 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Genre – Adventure, Action, Comedy

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