Since moving to Japan I have made a conscious effort to watch popular Japanese films and try to understand more about their pop culture. This would be difficult to do in the cinema as Japanese films are almost never shown with English subtitles. All of my efforts must then be focused on older Japanese releases. Summer Wars (サマーウォーズ) was a recommendation by more than one of my students. Mamoru Hosoda is becoming a more and more popular anime film maker in Japan and many of my students rushed to limited release theaters to see his newest film The Boy And The Beast. They all came back raving about his new film and when I pressed them for more information, they all said the same thing, “Watch Summer Wars, it is Mamoru’s best.” I looked up Mamoru and found that his last four films (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children and The Boy And The Beast) were all met with great reviews and fan acclaim. This was more than enough to convince me to give it a shot, so I followed my students advice and started with his best, Summer Wars.
Watching the trailer made me expect an engrossing sci-fi adventure dealing with the future of the internet and a more immersive computer experience than the present day. While it would prove that this was one aspect of the film, it was was only half. The film has two parallel themes, one dealing with the future and a virtual community that encapsulates almost all aspects of society and the other dealing with traditional family values, isolation and history. The main character, a high school boy is invited to the ancestral home of his friend and potential love interest, but soon after arriving things in the virtual world (Oz) start to fall to pieces. Someone or something in Oz is wreaking havoc in the virtual world and having some serious real world repercussions. When much of the world grinds to a halt and our protagonist Kenji is stuck in the Jinnouchi ancestral home which, as luck would have it, is a bit off the grid. Kenji and Jinnouchi and in prime position to possibly save the world.
The movie is filled with interesting ideas, beautiful imagery and what could be a thrilling adventure, but after watching the film I found that it doesn’t work so well. There are lots of intriguing aspects, but as a whole the film seems to drag. Kenjin is a likable and relatable character, but the films action sequences and story struggle with pacing issues. Battles in the virtual world fail to create a sense of danger or urgency, so much of the excitement falls flat. Overall I think it was enjoyable enough to watch, but I doubt I will ever pick it up again. I would imagine that film would be far more appealing for a younger crowd, but for me it was simply mediocre; especially when compared to such anime classics as the Studio Ghibli films. If you are a fan of anime or Japanese culture, give it a watch. One thing I can say, was there was enough promise there to make me interested in checking out Mamoru’s other works. I’d give it 2 out 5 stars.