Thursday, May 17, 2012

REVIEW: Summer Wars

Summer Wars
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Year 2009
Summer Wars is an enchanting science fiction drama that combines an intriguing premise with an intimately strewn cast of characters, in order to make a very interesting and unexpectedly fun cinematic experience. Created in a beautiful animation style, the film emphasizes the increasing reliance that our culture has on technology and through some creative storytelling, the filmmakers stress the dangers that this lack of control could result in over a global scale. With other sci-fi films aiming for the stars and the far flung future, it’s nice to see that Summer Wars takes a more personal and subdued approach to the material. This is one science fiction flick that has a whole lot of heart that results in a plethora of heart-warming moments. Awwww!
The film follows Kenji Koiso, a math wiz and all-around socially inept high school student, as he agrees to take a summer job helping out the most popular girl in his school, Natsuki Shinohara. It turns out that the job is anything but typical, because Natsuki wants Kenji to pose as her fiancé, in order to appease her grandmother who is having her 90th birthday party. The girl-shy Kenji reluctantly agrees to continue the farce, but remains weary because of his real-life crush on Natsuki. Things really start to role out of control though, after Kenji responds to a math problem that mysteriously is sent to him via his phone. Upon solving the equation, all hell breaks loose, sending a computer virus into the world’s largest social network, OZ. The digital world holds the key to billions of accounts worldwide and once hacked; the user can manipulate and cause an abundance of chaos over the world’s real life networks. Once the world succumbs to the control of the infected OZ and begins falling into chaos, Kenji is named as the man behind the mayhem by news reports around the world and he must do everything in his power to clear his name and stop the real culprit behind this increasingly dangerous technological terror attack and foil his diabolical plans. Is this math nerd up to the task of getting the girl of his dreams and saving the world? I sure hope so or we’re all screwed.

The first thing you’ll notice about Summer Wars is that it isn’t your average science fiction film. The movie is set in a time that doesn’t seem very different from our own and it is one that is extremely typical of our modern day lifestyle, only enhanced slightly. In fact, the only real element of this film that warrants the science fiction label is the inclusion of the digital world OZ, where people live their lives on another plain of existence, set apart from the normalcy of the real world. The closest thing that we can compare this concept with is the social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace, but in Summer Wars these simple applications that allow us to connect with family and friends is taken to extreme levels and substitutes this digitally created society as a second life for a majority of the film world’s citizens. People work, play, and interact, all through the actions of their avatars, which are cartoon created characters that each user is able to concoct in order to represent their physical self in this online realm.
The concept of people living out their lives online in a fabricated digital world isn’t that original of an idea, having been treaded on earlier in such films as The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor, eXistenZ, Nirvana, and most recently Black Heaven, but it is the inclusion of family and the relationships that come with having an extended family tree that really make Summer Wars an interesting concept in such crowded and favorable company. As if making a commentary on the status of human interaction and the lack of face to face time that we share with both family and friends in the real world, the film highlights the notion that not all of these technological innovations are moving us in the right direction in understanding the more human qualities in all of us. This is an interesting idea to fathom and the film touches upon this in a subtle and passionate way, without derailing the thrilling moments of the story or knocking the viewer over the head with over indulgent preachy delusions of grandeur.

The mixture that the filmmakers are able to conjure up and gel together is essentially exquisite and allows the narrative to tell the lesson of technology stripping us of our humanity and human connection to each other, over a gradual reveal. From the get go, we are introduced to both Kenji and Natsuki as they are bombarded by a wild array of interesting characters while arriving at Natsuki’s grandmothers house, and it’s during this moment that we are witness to the separation that technology has wrought upon this family. We have one of Natsuki’s aunts that is glued to the television watching one of her nephews playing in a championship baseball game, fixated on the tension filled playoff matches but ultimately ignoring the rest of the brood that is right there all around her. This seems like a small example, but it is one that lasts the entire span of the film, that is until the inspiring fight led by Kenji against the now corrupted OZ interface, that forces the entire family to band together and connect once more.
There are so many moments like this one, where we are shown a gap in communication between one family member to the next, that bare witness to a reconnection brought on by the troubles at OZ. Some of these situations have nothing to do with technology or the existence of the digital realm OZ, but through the calamity that the infected social site is creating the family is able to come together against one common enemy and finally see that they are a family and that they need each other in order to be whole and content. One of the biggest examples that showcase the reconnecting of the human spirit during a moment of crisis, is when the 90 year old grandma begins calling every single person that she has ever had an interaction with over the course of her 90 years on this earth, reassuring them that if they do their job and help their fellow man then everything will be alright. It’s a heartwarming moment and one that really establishes the essence that mankind is retaking what technology had taken away from them and that’s genuine interactions and inspirational, intimate moments. On the surface the film seems like it’s going to be a by the numbers story about a boy finding his courage over the course of one crazy summer, and it is, but you’d be surprised on how much the movie has to say about the status of our own world and the dangers that await us if we don’t pull back the veil of technology and start living. Summer Wars was a great treat and damn did I enjoy the wonderfully wacky world of OZ.

Summer Wars is an interesting combination that uses the aspects of a technology driven society to tell a story about one family reconnecting with each other amidst a potential global meltdown. The story is epic in scale, but delicately handled in order to hit all the right notes with its emotional pull and relatable tale. Both the world of the digital realm of OZ and the real life elements of this fictional, yet extremely familiar culture is lovingly detailed providing a perfect setting to hop the narrative back and forth between the plain of fact and fiction.
Though the movie is subtle in its inclusion of a metaphorical allegory, the visual flare of this flick is off the charts. It’s high energy, without a second of disregard for the audiences’ senses. In the span of this flick you’ll go from an extremely intense battle royal between two over stylized avatar characters within the OZ world, to a heartbreaking moment between a handful of vividly portrayed characters as they mourn over the loss of someone that they truly seem to love with all of their heart, and then bitch slapped right back into the unruly world of OZ filled with all of their hyper spastic digital citizens. The film is a whirlwind of motion and emotion, and if you’re not ready for it, it could knock you on your ass. It’s always nice to see a film like this step up to the plate and usher a concept into existence that really breaks the mold and shows us something new. Summer Wars does just that, while pulling the heartstrings for extra measure. I loved the hell out of this movie and I’ve got one thing to say. Check this flick out and witness Kenji’s……

You better not have been looking up what I think you were. Perverts.

Even working online sucks.

Who's bad?

Note to self.... don't fart when meeting grandma for the first time.

Damn you and your creepy minions!

The horror of internet pornography. Will someone think of the children!

Wipe that face off your smile..... Bitch!

Well don't you look FABULOUS!

You ever have the feeling you're not wanted?

Judo kick!

This intervention is for you pops. You have to get rid of the mustache.

Regulators! Mount up!

Grandma's got some mad skills!

Come here and give me a big old hug.

Looks like everyone's got their game faces on.

Damn, I hit like four hobos on the way here.

Looks like Auntie and her flachulence problem ruined another family get-together.

What the shit? The oddest reaction to being kissed for the first time... EVER!

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