Summer Wars features family ties and virtual reality program
Summer Wars (2009) is a swooshing, surreal clash of new and old, of the comp-sci-fi and the domestic: Grade 11 math-whiz Kenji, doing low level system maintenance for the sprawling virtual reality program OZ, is tempted away by Grade 12 student Natsuki to her grandmother’s ancient estate, where Saeka’s turning 90. Natsuki passes him off as her boyfriend and Kenji, yanked into the sprawling Jinnouchi family at this grand celebration, reluctantly plays along with this fake reality. But then, his second day there, he finds he’s been framed for hacking into and vandalizing OZ. The true culprit, artificial-intelligence Love Machine, has stolen users’ accounts and Japan’s infrastructure goes haywire: false alarms, major traffic jams, and more chaos.
Director Mamoru Hosoda’s work (Wolf Children, The Boy and the Beast) tends to focus on growing pains and pangs. Puberty’s trials and tribulations are reflected not just in Kenji’s or Natsuki’s moments of embarrassment or anxiety but in Kenji’s struggles to fight back against a world suddenly lined up against him. This is often a film of comic blusters and flusters, with faces stretched into incredulity or dumbfoundedness, and it can be a little overcooked—too dramatic, too broadly comic—here and there. But the “superflat” look to OZ, a grinningly mad place teeming with satellites, avatars, and poppy colours, lushly contrasts with our messier earthbound reality. Then there’s the melding of family life and virtual reality.
When OZ goes berserk, Saeka phones everyone in her impressive social circle, encouraging them to struggle on and to call others, too, to resolve this mess. This tough super-matriarch’s own resolve is formidable, and soon many of the men in the family, with the help of a super-computer, rally together to wage war-by-proxy against the AI foe (one grandson, Kazuma, is a champion warrior-rabbit, Kid Kazma, in OZ). As this sweltering fever-dream—replete with orbiting bodies and ghostly avatars; blurring game and reality; mashing up samurai spirit and cyberwarfare—shimmers along, connectivity leads to community.
Techno-optimism, perhaps, but Summer Wars brazenly builds up to it, battle by battle and family unit by family unit(ed).
Sat., Aug. 5, Mon., Aug. 7, Wed., Aug. 9
Summer Wars (2009)