Last Level Press

Film Review: Summer Wars

Reviewer: Olen Bjorgo

In the near future, the world is connected by a massive online community called OZ, where everything from games with friends to international business and commerce takes place. Everything is great until a young math genius named Kenji stumbles upon the solution to a riddle that allows an artificial intelligence to overtake the strict security protocols of OZ, and begins to bring about the end of not only OZ but the world. Oh, and he gets roped into being the pretend fiancé of a girl he likes so her very extensive family will get off her back at a reunion taking place at their family estate out in the country, and they all have to combine their forces to save the world. No big deal, right?

“So, how far are we going to take this ‘pretend fiance’ thing?  I vote  

we explore our roles through method acting first!”

Summer Wars, directed by Japanese director and animator Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Wolf Children), is as visually appealing and imaginative as his other films. The physical world never ventures far from a realistic view to better contrast to the virtual world of OZ, where the animation and visuals are vivid and fluid and just all sorts of delicious eye candy. While the physical world has people stuck in basically the same general form of looking human, the virtual world is a menagerie of numerous creatures of various shapes and sizes and colors ranging from the plausible to the cartoonish and unreal. The virtual world isn’t the only place that has astonishing beauty though. The country estate and its surrounding land is just as impressive to see, especially when it’s made clear that the Jinnouchi’s, the family and “future in-laws” that Kenji visits, are very wealthy and have a history dating back four hundred years.

The soundtrack is lovely, with a mixture of music from what sounds like instrumental versions of a Japanese pop song to more bombastic and grandly orchestrated music, to modern electronica and traditional acoustic sounds. Each track helps to serve as this sort-of general theme of this old family with a proud warrior tradition stepping up to help save a world interconnected by a massive online network where the actions in the virtual world have repercussions in the physical world. While it does play up some of the more melodramatic scenes, the film is not without its hushed moments that allows what is played before the audience to speak for itself.

“Do…or do not.  There is no tr-

“Shut. Up.”

The story is, for the most part, somewhat predictable and very similar to a previous film that Mr. Hosoda had directed, where instead of a rogue AI it was a computer virus, and instead of the Internet it’s a virtual community that serves essentially the same purpose as the Internet, if not more regulated as an all-purpose website that serves an international audience; basically, it’s Facebook on steroids. The added elements of family drama does give the film something that can be relatable on a personal scale while at the same time keeping in mind that the world as we know it faces destruction but can feel a bit hokey at times. However, there are a few moments where it does turn the story on its ear, but ultimately it feels more to add on to the tension. I will say that the satire against social networks isn’t unnoticed.

There are a lot of characters in this film, all of them a colorful bunch and each played with passion, but there are four characters to make note of. Kenji Koiso, played by Michael Sinterniklaas (The Venture Bros., Tiger & Bunny), has a somewhat meek voice that fits well for gawky or awkward teenagers, but slowly throughout the film it builds some confidence and strength so that he can become a man who would die for his love. Natsuki Shinohara, Kenji’s would-be girlfriend and fiancé, is played by Brina Palencia (Baccano!, Borderlands), is what one would expect: spirited, loves and cares for her family, and is willing to put everything on the line for what she believes in; her portrayal doesn’t sound clocked in however, since there is some real emotional weight behind her words, especially towards her great-grandmother. Sakae Jinnouchi, Natsuki’s great-grandmother and unshakable matriarch of the Jinnouchi family, is played by Pam Dougherty (Finding Normal, The Lying Game) with the sort of gentleness and spirited tenacity you would expect out of an old woman who cares deeply about her family as well as someone who also knows that her time is nearly up and wants to make sure she can pass on with no worries. And finally there is Wabisuke Jinnouchi, the illegitimate son of Sakae’s deceased husband and the handsome black sheep of the family who teaches at Carnegie Mellon, is played by J. Michael Tatum (Baccano!, Borderlands 2) with a sardonic wit who knows he’s not welcomed by the family except for Natsuki and plays the part well.

Summer Wars is a big spectacle of a film that, while it might not do anything too off the beaten path, it does present it in a way that looks and feels different. If you’re looking for a film with amazing visuals and audio but is outside the typical faire and flare of Studio Ghibli. then Summer Wars is what you’re looking for. If you’re more into plots that are filled with drama and action, you might enjoy this as far as action is concerned but find the drama to be too predictable or corny. If you are curious about the previous work of Mr. Hosoda but don’t know where to jump in, Summer Wars is not a bad place to start. All in all, you’ll have a fun time.

Rating: 7.8

Visuals: 10
Audio: 9
Narrative: 6
Acting: 7
Atmosphere & Experience: 7

Besides, you know you can’t die happily without confronting the

context of an image like this.

Final Verdict:


  Director: Mamoru Hosoda

  Producer: Nozomu Takahashi

                  Takuya Ito

                  Takashi Watanabe

                  Yuichiro Saito           

  Studio: Madhouse

  Release Date (U.S.):  Oct 13, 2010

  Release Date (U.K.):  Feb 12, 2011

  Release Date (JP):  Aug 1, 2009

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