ANIME & MANGA - Review
08:28 - 27th June 2013, by Tom Smith

Summer Wars

It's so good we cried. Thrice. Each and every occasion was entirely unexpected - there wasn't even time for that lump in the throat feeling to develop. We watched Summer Wars with some Japanese buddies. They also cried, but at completely different points than we did. We now want to watch it with you lot to see if you cry too - perhaps if we could find the right people we could create a Mexican-wave of tears spanning the whole movie?

The odd thing is this; Summer Wars is not a depressing film. It's a film celebrating the mayhem of spending time with extended family. It's a film about your annoying uncle Jack, your mischievous little nephews and your aunt Beth who likes David Beckham a tad too much. It's a film that's all too real, whose characters could easily be replaced with members of your own family. It's a film that, if produced in the west, would be called Winter Wars and set at Christmas - and whole families would flock around the TV to watch it while finishing off what's left of the brandy and the mince pie stash. But, we reckon the west would likely leave out one crucial part... Thankfully, this was made Japan, where there's no such thing as a 'typical family film' - Summer Wars is proof.

It begins with the unassuming maths Olympian (if only he'd been chosen) Kenji, who is tapping away at his part-time job between classes. He's a low level mod of the biggest social networking site to hit the internet, OZ. Its influence is so strong that nearly every aspect of modern life is connected to the site, from your mobile phone, to the stuff you buy on your credit card. It's Facebook on acid, and the Takashi Murakami styled visuals of the online world only add to that notion.

Kenji's daily mod duties are interrupted when the hottest girl in school, Natsuki Shinohara, bursts into his makeshift office and offers the occupiers, himself and tech-chum Takashi, a job for the summer - except, there's only space for one. Being noble types, Takashi and Kenji duke it out like gentlemen; over a game of rock, paper, scissor. Kenji emerges victorious, and sets off on an adventure that will change not only his fate, but that of the entire world.

Flash forward, and Kenji finds himself out of his comfort zone and slap-bang in the middle of Natsuki's zany extended family, where his 'job' isn't quite what he had in mind. The occasion is the ninetieth birthday of Sakae Jinnouchi - Natsuki's great grandmother and a pillar of the local community - and to celebrate, all of her relatives have descended upon the family's grand estate en masse. It's here that we're introduced to the kind of characters mentioned in the opening of this review, and it's also here that the fun begins.

At this point, it's worth noting that since directing The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Mamoru Hosoda's grasp of 'family' has changed. How? He got married! The experience opened him up to the idea of having to get along with total strangers - something that Kenji soon becomes all too familiar with, as it's one of the key concepts of the movie.

The other major theme, as much as we hate to write it, is one found in every other episode of Naruto: 'if we work together, we can accomplish anything!'. It may not be a particularly new concept in anime, but the way it's handled here is poetry in motion. It turns out that OZ has a flaw in its encryption. And Kenji just may have accidentally triggered it and brought down the entire internet in the process. Now a malicious piece of coding has got into the network and is consuming profiles and gaining more power as it devours endless amounts of user information. Soon it has control of every major piece of electronic data across the globe, and it's ready to use it against mankind - Sarah Connor would be livid.

With modern technology going haywire, the emergency services in a spin and traffic across Japan being brought to a standstill, the country (along with the rest of the world) is practically powerless. That is, until one bad-ass great grandmother kicks into action and shows the young whippersnappers of today how to get things done, oldskool style. Soon, the whole family's working in its own bizarre way, even though half the members don't grasp what all the fuss is with this t'interweb malarkey. Things only get worse when the virus finds its way into Japan's space program's GPS and sets a rocket on a collision course with a nuclear power station, the results of which would be catastrophic. Told you there was an element we doubt the west would've included!

Another surprise is that besides family unity, cyber-terrorism and the end of life as we know it, there's an underlying love story at play too. It's all a bit beauty and the geek meets The Matrix / Tron, but without the pretentious script, much less PVC and with characters you don't want to slap. The relationship between Kenji and Natsuki isn't forced into action either. As with every other aspect of the film, it feels natural and very real - and this is what sparked our tears in the beginning. It reminded us of family members who have passed away, and for our Japanese friends, it made them realise how much they miss their home country. For you, who knows? What we do know is that it will connect with you, each of you, differently, and for that reason we cannot recommend it highly enough. This is not animation, this is art.

A contemporary romance for the Facebook generation! Throw in cyber-terrorism, the end of the world and good old family spirit and you've got one of the films of the decade. Summer Wars is a modern classic and even rivals the work of Ghibli. There, we said it.
SCORE: 5/5
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