Friday, March 25, 2011

Summer Wars

Summer Wars is an odd film. Supposedly the director, Mamoru Hosoda, wanted to make a film for everybody - something that a wide range of people could accept and enjoy. Perhaps that's why this films seems to have to very opposing storylines running concurrently together, before merging together at the end. It's part romance, comedy, drama, science fiction, action, and family film all put together in one film.

In the movie society is greatly connected like never before, though a computer system called OZ. It's essentially a giant anime version of Facebook. At first you get the idea that this society is so different, being so utterly immersed in the connective features of OZ. But the opening of the film quickly snaps you out of the immense VR world, and shows the world is pretty much like our everyday real society. Nothing much is different - it just represents the internet in Anime form. The story follows Kenji Koiso, a young high school student computer worker with a talent for mathematics. He's roped into joining his friend Natsuki Shinohara to her family reunion celebrating her great grandmother's 90th birthday. She springs on him at the last moment that she wants him to pose as her boyfriend, to make her great grandmother happy. Kenji is suddenly in the middle of this huge family reunion. The great grandmother, Sakae Jinnouchi, acts as the shepherding head the Jinnouchi Clan - and even though she's reaching 90 years old, she's very alert and keen, especially with judging Kenji as to wether he'd be good for Natsuki. Everything seemingly goes fine, with the exception of the return of the black sheep of the family, Wabisuke Jinnouchi, Natsuki's uncle. He's been away working in America for a long time and does not have a good relationship with the rest of the family.

Late one night Kenji recieves an email on his cell phone. It's a mathematical code, and he decides to work on it and figure it out. He figures it out and sends it back. The next morning he's shocked to find that his face is on the news, as apparently his account had been stolen. Kenji is able to get in touch with his friend and co-worker Takashi Sakuma, who still at home. (They both work writing code for OZ servers). Through communicating with his friend Kenji is able to find out more of what's happened. Apparently the code Kenji broke wasn't a puzzle - but rather the security code for all OZ systems! The entire country of Japan, in fact even the world, has descended into disarray as all OZ systems have been corrupted. A hacking program, called Love Machine, had taken over Kenji's account and is using it to disrupt systems everywhere. OZ links into virtually every modern day system there is, from utilities, shipping, traffic lights, electricity. While trying to figure out how to correct the problem, Kenji meets Kazuma Ikezawa - one of the young kids at the reunion. It turns out Kazuma is quite famous on OZ servers as one of the best video game fighters. He uses a rabbit-themed avatar named King Kazma. With Kazuma's help they are able to log onto OZ and confront the rogue program that is causing so much havoc. Despite Kazuma's skill, the Love Machine program is able to quickly evolve - and soon begins absorbing the account and avatars of more and more people. Meanwhile this disaster, and the TV New's announcement of an arrest warrant going out for Kenji - Natsuki's cover story for him is blown. One of the people at the reunion is an overzealous patrol officer who promptly puts Kenji under arrest and goes to take him to the police. Before leaving Kenji is able to express to everyone how much he enjoyed spending time with this huge family and the kindness they had showed him. Kenji's trip to jail is quickly cut short, as all the roads are completely blocked, as the corrupted traffic system has tied everything up. Eventually the origins of the crisis become more clear, as it's discovered that Love Machine was created by Wabisuke. He had developed it as the ultimate hacking program and had sold it to the US Military. He had hoped to earn money through this sale, and be able to return to the family successful. Even though he hadn't released the program - this turn of events lead to a huge argument, and eventually with Wabisuke leaving, disappointing everyone - especially the great grandmother.

The great grandmother decides to take the initiative during this crisis and uses all of her family's extensive connections to contacts people in the local government to physically get to work fixing the problem of the crisis - instead of depending so much on the computer systems. The grandmother sees this situation like a War, and the Jinnouchi Clan has a long history of taking the battle head-on.

The next day, after the great grandmother's tireless efforts the night before, tragedy strikes. Medical monitoring systems meant to watch the great grandmother's health fail to alert people when her health begins to decline. She dies in her sleep, plunging the family into great sadness. Wishing to continue the fight the great grandmother had started, the men of the family begin enacting a plan to destroy Love Machine and restore order. Many of the family members have access to high-tech equipment and are able to get it the house, including a huge super-computer, to give Kazuma more processing power to take on Love Machine. The situation in OZ goes from bad to worse - as Love Machine is able to take control of an orbiting satellite, and puts it on a collision course with a nuclear power plant. At first the rest of the family ignore Kenji, Kazuma, and the rest of the men's efforts - as they are focusing on preparing for the great grandmother's funeral. But it quickly becomes apparent to everyone that the cyber-world events where going to have real-life repercussions. If the satellite did hit the nuclear power plant, them and everyone else for miles around where going to die. It becomes more important than ever for Kazuma to defeat love Machine. Yet, just when they believe they may have the upper hand in the battle - the super computer begins to over-heart. Large blocks of ice had been brought in to keep the system cool -- but one of the family members had foolishly moved the ice into the great grandmother's room to keep the body from decaying. Once Love Machine had escaped deletion, it began taking on even more accounts - growing into a devastatingly powerful monster. With their lives on the line Natsuki desperately tried to get in contract with Wabisuke, to see if he might be able to find a way to destroy his creation. Natsuki is able to contact her uncle, and before being brushed off over the phone Wabisuke is told of the great grandmother's passing. He returns home. Also, while searching the place for pictures and materials for the great grandmother's funeral, a letter to be opened upon her death is found. It tells the family to come together, and even advises them to make peace with Wabisuke. Once Wabisuke returns the next fight against Love Machine begins. It was noted before that Kazuma thought, when fighting against the program - he thought it felt like the program actually enjoyed gaming. With this knowledge they set up the ultimate high-stakes game - a Hanafuda duel (a Japanese card game) - offering up everyone's accounts as collateral. The idea was to reduce the number of accounts Love Machine possessed, making it easier to dismantle him for good. The entire Jinnouchi Clan being very good at this card game, having been taught all these years by the great grandmother, Natsuki goes into OZ to represent everyone else. The card match is quickly noticed by everyone across the world; and when Natsuki no longer has enough accounts to continue the game, people from all over the world give their accounts as collateral. Eventually Natsuki wins, with Love Machine reduced to just two accounts. Time is running short, and to help ensure his victory Love Machine had redirected the falling satellite to fall right on top of the Jinnochi Clan residence. The program still put up a fight, continually changing the code needed to hack in and change the trajectory of the satellite. Kenji had to put all of his effort into hacking the code again, and again, and again - until he was finally able to change the course of the satellite. It still landed, but Kenji was able to have it land in the lake outside, causing a tidal wave.

The movie ended nicely enough, with the family having the funeral/birthday party for the great grandmother. The family shoved Kenji and Natsuki into a kiss at the end - as it was clear by now that they both liked each other.

Summer War was really quite an experience. I'm unsure wether to say it all fit together well, but by the end of the movie you really did feel like you had gone on a journey through the lives of Kenji and all the members of the Jinnouchi family. The dynamic between the craziness of the virtual reality scenes and the heartwarming story was a bit jarring, but it successfully touched on several themes and effectively gave us what the director had set out to give us - an all purpose movie-going experience that everyone can enjoy. It's not a non-stop action anime, and it's also not just a quite family drama; it's both. I enjoyed the film, and would recommend it to anyone else - especially if the typical violent or overly weird anime of other series isn't their thing. It might not have been my favorite Anime movie - but it definately succsseded in making me care for the characters.

Here's the trailer for the film itself.

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