This time, let’s take a break from rants and trashing stuff.
This, in my opinion, isn’t a good movie. It’s a great one.
Don’t click away just yet! I know what you’re probably thinking, but stay! Prove me wrong and show me your attention span isn’t that tiny!
Oh, look! A butterfly!
No two Japanese anime shows or movies are alike, but a lot of them have similar elements. Most of them take place in Japan or mystical worlds based on Japan. They have a lot of cultural references and humor, the latter mostly composed of homonyms, puns, pain, and humiliation. They tend to focus on character growth and relationships (not always romantic), and often teach those characters, and by extension the audience, the importance of nature and humanity.
A lot of Americans in particular write Japanese animation off for being childish, perverted, silly, or just too foreign. Which is a shame.
That’s why you were going to leave this page, wasn’t it? Be honest.
Some anime are shallow or lack substance, certainly, but it’s hardly a genre-wide problem. As with other genres and styles, it’s all about knowing what you like, knowing where to look for it, and trying new things from time to time.
And if reading subtitles and listening to Japanese isn’t your thing, search or wait for the English language version, or dub. They’re out there, and thanks to anime’s ever-growing popularity outside of Japan, many are of as good, if not better, quality than the Japanese dubs.
*sighs* I’d better turn in my geek card. I’m pretty sure I just committed heresy.
Anyways, Summer Wars takes place in Japan, but a good portion of the movie takes place on the world-wide web, and has stakes that are important to the rest of the world. The jokes are mostly based on the context of the situation, rather than obscure (to Americans) Japanese history and culture. The film has elements of culture that are not terribly distracting or confusing, give the movie a distinct flavor, and may in fact get a few more uninitiated viewers to do a little research post viewing.
As for the story itself, without giving out too many spoilers, think the family from My Big Fat Greek Wedding in Japan, discovering and fighting off a HAL-esque computer virus. A big family slice-of-life mixed in with a cautionary tale about heavy reliance on machines and automation. And it’s one of those rare instances where the film doesn’t push the opposite extreme as the solution.
Our main character is Kenji Koiso, a quiet, nerdy almost-mathlete who works as a moderator on OZ, a virtual reality/social networking/gaming site where anything and everything that you want to do is possible. People have accounts that are in charge of everything, from controlling water pipes and traffic lights to allowing people to play games and do their shopping.
He gets roped in to a scheme by Natsuki Shinohara, the most popular girl in school, to come home with her and be her pretend boyfriend (for pay), so that she can assure her sick, aging great-grandmother that she’s fine, happy, and taking care of herself and her future. You know, in case the old lady, now pushing 90, passes away.
Then Kenji meets Natsuki’s family, all gathering in preparation of the great-grandmother’s birthday.
As you might imagine, hijinks ensue.
Kenji is, as I’ve mentioned, nerdy, shy, and well-meaning. He’s a great contrast to Natsuki, who is really upbeat and not afraid to come out and say what she wants. The two are charming and engaging enough, skirting the lines of their stereotypes a bit without coming across as boring and one-note. They are fine protagonists (although I wish Natsuki got a little more screen time, talking about what she’s going through. We do get thoughtful glances though).
The family really makes this movie for me.
Similar to The Hobbit films with their dwarves, or, as previously mentioned, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the Jinnouchi (Natsuki’s) family has a lot of characters and only so much time spent getting to know them. But the difference (from Hobbit specifically) is that their actions, however few and simplistic, let you know who these people are immediately.
Mansuke is a hardy, stubborn, nostalgic fisherman who is really passionate about his job and doesn’t take nonsense.
Kazuma is the bullied kid who shuts himself out of the real world and lives almost entirely through his computer, training in martial arts to deal with his anger and bully problems.
The great-grandmother, Sakae, values family and communion more than anything, and she’s not afraid to fight (sometimes literally) for what is right and what needs to be done.
There are many others, like the aunts, daughters, and wives, who are all “take-charge” women.
Watching this family eat dinner, you will easily be reminded of people in your own family. The ones who butt into your business, for your sake or theirs, and gossip or try to “help” you; the crazy, bratty kids and cousins; the problem children, or black sheep; the apple of the family’s eye; etc. There’s something to like about everyone, even when they make mistakes.
The story is great as it is, but I would have enjoyed a movie just about these people, interacting and going about life. They are that compelling.
*Fun fact: the Jinnouchi family is based on a real family from Ueda, where most of the movie takes place.
Some of them might be stereotypes, but that’s not done for the sake of mean-spirited humor. It shows that the family is large and full of different people, but they are all willing to come together when any one member is threatened.
And, in its optimistic altruism, the film portrays the entire world this way.
This film came from well-known animation studio Madhouse, which gave the anime community such gems as Trigun and Death Note, and director Mamoru Hasoda (formerly with Madhouse, but who left two years after this film came out to found his own studio, Chizu), who gave said community The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Wolf Children.
For people who grew out of anime, but watched the stuff as a kid, you may also recognize Hasoda from parts of Digimon: The Movie, as cobbled together by Fox Kids.
The movie is a blend of traditional and 3D CGI animation, with the latter looking like a pretty decent video game. Which it’s meant to, by the way; Hasoda said he based it off of Nintendo games, and the world of OZ itself has numerous virtual gaming areas. It’s bright and colorful, and the shapes and designs are nicely varied. Kenji’s avatar in OZ looks vastly different from that of his friend, which looks like a 2D, pixel sprite face.
The scenes out-of-OZ are gorgeously drawn, with softer colors and more visible, defining lines. The best way I can describe it is inviting. The movements of characters are, surprisingly at times, hyperbolic and goofy, but in a charming, engaging sort of way.
The two styles blend relatively well, with the popping CG and the more understated hand-drawn animation each showcasing action, drama, and suspense in their own ways. It’s quite a feast for the eyes.
Not much to say here, other than it just fits.
Some songs are more memorable than others, such as the music in the opening when Kenji is meeting the family members step by step, and the ending theme, which is relaxed, happy, and very minimalist in terms of instrumentals. The rest is fitting, but blends together at times and is, at least to my mind, just okay. It works for what it is, but I wouldn’t necessarily buy the soundtrack.
Or, in this case, the voice acting!
I haven’t seen the Japanese version yet-
I haven’t seen the Japanese language version, but I plan to soon. If you want the film in its “purest” form, with nothing altered or dumbed down at all, see the Japanese version. I’m sure the seiyu (Japanese voice actors) do a wonderful job; I haven’t heard otherwise, by myself or from others, yet.
The English dub was handled by Funimation, which has a veritable phonebook of great English voice talent. I won’t bother listing them all here, even the most notable of actors (because those of you who know, know, and those who don’t probably won’t care), but I will say that they do a wonderful job creating “characters” for their characters and deserve a listen too. Or a watch, I suppose. 🙂
Dubs vs. Subs (subtitled in English, but voiced in the original language) is a debate for another day. Lay off me, fanboys and girls!
What else is there to say, without spoiling the thing? It’s a good movie that is totally worth your time. Even if you don’t think so, it is. Sit through thirty minutes at least, then come back and comment to me if you aren’t even remotely interested. There might be something wrong with you, and I can surely help you contact someone to get it checked out right away.
No video or pictures belong to, or were made, by me. As usual. Support the official release of Summer Wars and at least give anime a try once. You might decide you like it 🙂