Dir: Mamoru Hosoda. 2010. Japan. 114mins
Summer Wars is an exciting and absorbing new anime that looks set to appeal to the teen fraternity with its mix of spectacular visuals, thoughtful family-orientated subplot and an obsession with computer gaming.
The battles are fought out in the magical world of Oz, and it is here that Hosoda’s animation really comes into its own, ranging from the artfully drawn through to the amusingly abstract.
Director Mamoru Hosoda (who has critical and commercial success with his 2006 anime The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) has great fun with his complex storyline, while the film’s style is unexpectedly multi-layered, veering between simple – almost TV-style – animation for the contemporary Japan scenes and wild and inventive computer-generated imagery for sequences set inside the internet.
The film has just opened in the US – in a dubbed English-language version as well as occasional sub-titled screenings – and could well find a welcoming home with other international distributors who specialise in anime and Japanese film, with a life in home entertainment also likely.
The storyline is a coming together of Tron, The Wizard Of Oz and War Games with a little bit of teen romance and family bickering thrown in for good measure. Teenage maths nerd Kenji works part time for the company which operates Oz, a globe-spanning virtual world (like Second Life, but larger) where millions of people interact through their avatars.
He is recruited by schoolmate Natsuki (on whom he has a secret crush) to pose as her boyfriend over four days at her grandmother’s 90th birthday celebrations. When Kenji solves a 2,056 digit math riddle sent to his mobile phone he unwittingly breaches the Oz security measures, allowing a malicious programme called Love Machine to hijack Oz accounts and start to impact on real life as it closes down electricity stations, airports and motorways.
Kenji, Natsuki and her oddball extended family have to band together to try and stop Love Machine from causing mayhem…especially when the programme sends a satellite rocketing towards the family compound.
The battles are fought out in the magical world of Oz, and it is here that Hosoda’s animation really comes into its own, ranging from the artfully drawn through to the amusingly abstract. But while the thrills and spectacular spills take place in the on-line world, the heart of the story is in the animated real world, where Kenji and Natsuki have to deal with death, lies, betrayal and family feuds as well as the small matter of the global threat.
Production companies: Nippon Television Network Corporation, MadHouse, Kadokawa Corporation, D.N.dreampartners, Warner Bros Pictures Japan, YTV. VAP
Producers: Takuya Ito, Yuichiro Sato, Nozomu Takahashi, Takafumi Watanabe
Executive producer: Seiji Okuda
Screenplay: Satoko Ohudera
Cinematography: Yukihiro Masumoto
Animation directors: Hiroyuki Aoyama, Shigeeru Fujita, Kunihiko Hamada, Ozaki Kazutaka
Production designer: Yoji Takeshige
Editor: Shigeru Nishiyama
Music: Akihiko Matsumoto
Main cast: (English voices) Michael Sinterniklaas, Brina Palencia, Pam Dougherty, Todd Haberkorn, J. Michael Tatum, Maxey Whitehead, John Swasey