Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Anime Movie Review: Summer Wars

My one of my guilty pleasures is that I actually liked and still like the Digimon movie growing up. It wasn't until I was much older that I realized that the movie was a cut and paste compilation three much shorter films, and that my favorite bits mostly came from the same one. Our War Game, the plot of which is that a digimon virus "wrecks our shit up".

Notice how almost every moment in the trailer comes from the second "act" (Our War Game) of the movie.

Summer Wars made by the same director of that short serves as an updated stand alone version of that movie.

The Set Up
Before the plot gets going the first act of the movie is all about setting things up.

Family and Character Dynamics
 One of the most interesting things about the movie is that most of the main characters are related and form "the clan".  I come from a pretty huge extended family (My mental joke is that I could raise a brigade if I wanted to.)  and it was interesting seeing on film the dynamics of being in such a large family portrayed.

Everybody loves and supports each other, yet everyone also has their own personalities and interests the family being a unit comprised of yet larger than the individuals who make it up.

There a nice scene where after dinner the protagonist gets to meet some of the family members when they aren't all hanging together, when they're alone doing their own things.

Also one of the central drivers of character conflict is the individual vs the family, maintaining your own identity while still acting in the group. It's subtle and the younger members of the audience probably won't notice or appreciate it, but it's there.

Our Individuals
Summer Wars does a really good job at defining a few key players and how they are related to and deal with the more active problems in the story. I always like films and TV shows that explain how characters personalities and skill sets are likely to play out later and Summer Wars is no slouch in this department. While sure a lot of the family serve as background a good deal of the cast is given something to do pertinent to their previously established traits.

For instance the film explains early on the family matriarch has several political and economic ties so when it hits the fan she's on the phone using that influence to gain intelligence and help perform damage control. The Rolodex of ultimate power!

The family gamer uses his avatar to also hold things down in virtual reality and computer specialists try to code a solution with hardware of epicness. How did the guy get a hold of a university supercomputer! I want one.

Virtual Reality
So in Digimon the audience probably was already on board with the "virtual world" set up.  But here the movie really needs to explain it. And ultimately I like it. While technically it's kind of like Second Life it's bigger than that being more functionally analogous to Facebook or Google. See back in the days of digimon the idea of everything being networked in that way was still sort of far fetched. Sure the futurists could see where things were headed but we were still in a web 1.0 world. The sort of mass user interactivity we have today was still a few years off.  Today though because users expect that sort of convenience almost everybody, business and governments included, have some sort of account with these services and I could totally see the world being turned upside down if Antisec or Anonymous decided to take down Facebook in mass.

(For the love of god if they are reading this don't do it!)

Let me put it this way my cable company allows me to log in through Facebook. Well that's just asking for trouble.  Imagine what would happen if corporate accounts got hacked and their internet and phone service were... (stop giving hackers ideas Miles!).

What about all those companies and institutions that rely on gmail, Google ads and Google Analytics.

My point is that now days  the mass havoc that ensues when things get screwed up is much more plausible. There is a reason why Google's slogan is "Don't be Evil"

And don't get me started on Visa, Amazon, GoDaddy and Paypal. We are living in the days when the Queen of England's phone can be hacked.

It also might seem a little silly all of this stuff being represented visually but the art and animation are awesome enough to pull it off.

It's Japanese (Thank you captain obvious)
Something to keep in mind in this movie is that it is very culturally Japanese.  When I said clan earlier I was being literal. These guys are an old samurai family who talk of the glory days, and our villain is a visual reference to Raijin. At the movie's nadir Seven Samurai is quoted and the climax involves an epic hanafuda game, which is an adaptive nod to an American movie that both films are an homage to.

 Well baseball is universal at least.

The Second Act
So stuff happens. What is really amazing about the film is how many tones it has and none of them seem forced. The comical first act the somber moments in the second and the franticness of the third all seem organic and authentic. This movie has range.

Particularity there seems something very real about how the movie portrays death in a family like this.

Our Summer Game
If you've watched Digimon you've basically seen the last 40 or so minutes of this movie with the exception of a few well placed twists. I'm not going into spoilers. Digimon was more so about the giant.. oh screw it. The movie is 13 years old. The virus launches nukes and the race is on to fix things before kaboom.  And yes that is more or less the third act of Summer Wars but because the characters were so well set up everything has not just those immediate stakes but also personal ones that transcend the usual let's save the world because who else will stuff.

The core of the movie isn't about the overt conflict of nuclear obliteration, rather the nature of family.

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