Summer Wars was Mamoru Asada’s follow up to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Both films are imperfect, but showcase an appealingly developed personality. Both are films that straddle the line between high concept sci fi and the rhythms of day to day life. Both are films that handedly equal parts virtuoso and completely by the book.
Set in the near future the film has parallel storylines in which a high school boy brought along by his crush to her family reunion. In the meantime a malignant AI uses the boy’s identity to infiltrate, manipulate and finally assimilate a high powered Internet 2.0 construct referred to as OZ. The sci fi in Summer Wars is surprisingly (and gratifyingly) hard. Despite its candy colored shell there is nothing that happens in OZ that doesn’t happen on our own humble interwebs with much less flash. The concept of cyberspace as a candy colored wonderland where creativity is untethered from physical concerns, rather than a dank enabler of humanity’s basest desires, recalls Neil Stephenson.
The entirety of Summer Wars has the same appealingly loopy feel as the Oz sequence. I can’t help but like any film that features long sequences of its hero engaged in what I can only describe as “Doing the shit out of some math.” Who can resist as existential a moment as the hero forced to confront the Dark Artificial Intelligence that has framed him for crimes and hijacked his life, while represented as a giant tubby squirrel?
Meanwhile on the physical plane the story hums along quiet nicely as your usual “several eccentrics are gathered together and plus there is a secret” farce. Nothing to write home about but well done all the same. Part of what makes it work so nicely is just how angst free it is. It is perhaps the first Japanese film I’ve seen about a large group of different generations coming together that wasn’t sweating over how everything is being lost and old traditions being forsaken. Of course one can hardly make grand sweeping judgments from a single film, but the portrait that Summer Wars consciously paints is one of the seismic generation gap closing. Summer Wars was of course made and released several years before the disastrous Tsunami. But it can’t help but take on some added poignancy in the aftermath of it, with its portrait of a Japanese Family banding together against terrible threats.
The film does have a few flaws, like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time it plays long, though it has less of that film’s naturalistic style to justify it. A story about a prodigal son never fully coheres with the punch that was probably intended. And unlike The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, non anime fans probably won’t find much to love here.
Yet on the whole Summer Wars remains a well crafted, imaginative, and surprisingly heartfelt little film and like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time it leaves one wondering where Asada will go in the future.