When thinking family as a unit comprised of varying components, functioning as best they can with their respective abilities and personality quirks, it isn’t hard to think of how cool it would be if this were so on a regular basis. Or at least, when the world needs it most. Which is all the more heartening to see a film that not only gives us the ultimate expression of this in anime form, but succinctly embraces its identity as singular 21st century entertainment. The many levels of enjoyment to be had from Mamoru Hosoda’s follow-up to Toki Wo Kakeru Shoujo are wide and plenty, making it not only great reminder of anime’s many wondrous attractions, but also a grand example of family-geared amusement sans pandering, and packed with savvy.
Summer Wars is a tale of shy 11th grade mathematics genius Kenji, who’s daily summer journeys into a massive, globally-connected ubernetwork known as OZ are interrupted by an invitation from his school crush, Natsuki, to accompany her to the countryside of Ueda for a job. Unwittingly, he is thrust into a charade, playing pretend fiance in front of the girl’s well-to-do clan, the Shinoharas. A family lineage known for not only generations of silk dealing, but also as a famed clan known to have taken on legions of Tokugawa armies during the Edo period. The whole family is arriving en masse for the 90th birthday of the biggest audience of Natsuki’s facade, her grandmother, who’s power and influence is still widely respected in Japan.
Now that paragraph alone serves as merely prelude, and yet warrants this much space simply because of how poor Kenji’s life takes this one already twisted situation, only to exacerbate into an adventure that defies expectations involving mistaken identity, technological chaos, and even impending world catastrophe. Rarely has the drama of being young been more beautifully exaggerated. To go from the pangs of young longing, to out-and-out saving the world, Hosoda’s film handles this jumble with the ease of a master. Think of his work as a progessive, optimistic response to Miyazaki’s output, and one is halfway home.
Worthy of note is the astounding animation, by none other than animation juggernauts, MADHOUSE, who’s work here is as beautiful as ever, treating Yoshiyuki Sadamoto‘s signature character design work with a delicate beauty alongside the lush background and CG work. And of course, one couldn’t discount the computer-generated, Murakami-tinged cyberuniverse, OZ, and its impressive beauty. The very concept of this is indeed made seductive by this work, and is definitely worth price of admission alone. As with Tokikake, the humanity of Hosoda’s characters are paramount, and have individual vitality that is even rare in modern anime work. Just more proof of the still-important power of 2D animation.
The film’s themes of interconnectivity take on a most wonderful conceit in the form of the Shinohara clan, sharing multiple generations, occupations, and temperaments offering a notion that simple communication remains the simplest, most effective means of making waves in the oceans of life. Satoko Okudera’s script lays out a diverse cast of memorable family members that never stray too far from any real clan, and offers a grand argument for the bright side of technology, and its place in the contemporary family. (Call it Tech-Blanc if you will) Even as the film’s third act careens into action-blockbuster territory that even James Cameron would respect, it never lets us forget what is truly at the heart of the piece.
And yet the connections don’t end here, as Hosoda’s concerns, and thoughts on the possibilities of successful online cooperation have been explored once before in 1999’s Dejimon Adobenchā: Bokura no Wō Gēmu! * (Hosoda’s feature debut, and film this work most resembles- Think of it as his Alive In Joburg.) We are shuffled in between the real and virtual, as both worlds threaten to collide in a potential cataclysm, as the wits of multiple generations band together to save their respective worlds. Hosoda expands this by allowing the animation to show us what hangs in the balance, alongside the beauty of inspiration. (something that keeps recurring in his work it seems) This is a rare film that adores the power of intelligence & heart, and knows how to deliver both with universal grace.
*understood that not all the footage in this clip is from the same film, but do you see any resemblance here?