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May Movie Challenge

May 8: Summer Wars | A Western Animation or Anime

Maximilian Rivera May 8, 2017


By Max Rivera | @MaxRiveraFilm

In the category of a Western Animation or Anime, Max selected Summer Wars (2009), directed by Mamoru Hosoda and written by Satoko Okudera with a story by Hosoda.  The Japanese cast includes Ryunosuke Kamiki, Nanami Sakuraba, and Mitsuki Tanimura, while the English cast features Michael Sinterniklaas, Brina Palencia, and ​Maxey Whitehead.


​What do you get when you mix Can’t Buy Me Love, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and the Digimon Movie? On a thematic level, you could argue that you get Summer Wars, directed by Mamoru Hosoda with a screenplay by Satoko Okudera.

As far as selecting this film, I literally googled around for the best animated films of the last decade and hunted down anything that sounded interesting that I hadn’t heard of. Summer Wars had decent reviews and an interesting premise: A student accidentally causes an internet meltdown while pretending to be the fiancé of his friend at her grandmother’s 90th birthday.

As the film opens, a quick sequence of exposition informs you that the world now relies on Oz, a digital world that streamlines international communication, enhances commerce, and provides entertainment in many forms. Oz is the internet evolved, and our main character Kenji works as a lowly moderator while going to school. Natsuki, an older, popular student propositions Kenji and his friend for a summer job — she needs someone to help her at a family event.

Kenji agrees, but his low self-esteem and aloofness give him an awkward start. Natsuki informs him as they arrive that he’s actually playing her fiance, which sets him even more off balance. However, Natsuki’s great grandmother Sakae Jinnouchi meets Kenji and approves of him right away, much to everyone else’s surprise.

​Speaking of everyone else, one of my favorite things about this film is that the family is big, outrageous, and feels completely real. As someone with a big family, there are a lot of nuances and quirks that go along with these groups and Summer Wars managed to catch almost all of them. Large families are well-meaning, yet in your face. There are politics to navigate at the dinner table, yet they’re all based around the preservation and security of the family. The Jinnouchi family is an old one, boasting ties to the government, military, and political sphere. They live in what is basically a castle, and the walls are adorned in relics of Samurai culture.

Kenji, however, is basically a nobody. He’s introduced as also being from an old family, with money and experience traveling the world. We later find out that characterization is based on someone else from Natsuki’s past, right when the Jinnouchi family finds the truth out about Kenji.

After the first day at the castle, Kenji wakes up to a strange email with a large encrypted code. He simply solves the equation and responds with the decryption. When he wakes up, the national news as his face plastered across the screen. That’s because Oz was hacked overnight, and he’s been attached as the culprit.

I haven’t much mentioned the Oz portions of the movie because I found the family aspect endlessly more compelling. The real world portions of the film tapped into the culture and history of Japan very well, and also brought compelling relationships between a ton of characters.

​While I at first had trouble keeping track of a few of the characters, I could have spent all day watching a film or series in this setting.

There are several subplots with all these characters, and many are compelling enough on their own. There’s a young boy who is diminutive in person, but is also a legendary fighting avatar in Oz. There’s a banished uncle returning to his family. There’s even a secondary plot of one of the grandsons playing in a regional baseball championship that is only showed through TV screens in the background.

Yet the Oz scenes are pretty cool, and I enjoyed them as well. Oz is like if Nintendo could take over the Internet completely, and that was definitely intentional. You can access Oz through your computer, your game console, and even your phone. After Kenji’s hack, we learn that an invasive artificial intelligence is the culprit for the mayhem in Oz. It manifests itself at first in Kenji’s account, and then as its own separate being. The AI is godlike within Oz, and as the film plays out, the real world influences become very clear to both Japanese society and the Jinnouchi family. Like I said, I do like how this played out, and once it became more evident how the AI could hurt the family itself, I felt it became a really strong picture.

My favorite moment within Oz was the climactic third act scenes, where the Jinnouchi family had to tap into their rich history to defeat the invasive AI in OZ. Beautiful animation and wonderful payoffs made the entire story even better.

​If I were to have any complaints with Summer Wars, it’s that the initial hack of Oz doesn’t seem dire enough, and that the plot could have been tighter leading into the final act. However, that doesn’t mean I disliked this film by any means. However, the similarities between Digimon Adventure: Our War Game (also directed by Hosoda) and Summer Wars is so strong that I wish I had never seen the Digimon movie, or at least not before seeing this.

However, I do feel compelled to check out some more of Hosoda’s work, including The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006), Wolf Children (2012), and The Boy and the Beast (2015).

Interested in Summer Wars? Check out the trailer below!

Grade: B+

Want to keep up with the rest of our scavenger hunt? Check out the rest of our May Movie Challenge here.

Max is a marketing copywriter by day, filmmaker and screenwriter by night. He resides in Charlotte, NC, and loves his dogs, watching movies, building LEGO sets, and eating food. Lots of food.You can find Max at his personal website and twitter.