How many movies do you remember seeing where the audience clapped at the end? Not many, right? It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by Summer Wars, an ambitious movie that presents a rich tapestry of themes, rather than the loosely connected string of ideas going from start to finish that I’ve become accustomed to expect lately. I’m not quite sure what I would say is the main theme of the movie, but it could easily be any or all of these (and more):
- the dangers of the receding boundary between digital and analogue;
- the role of families and communities in modern society
- a restoration of pride in Japanese identity, history and culture
All this is told through the eyes of the Jinnouchi family, as they come together to celebrate the 90th birthday of their matriarch. There’s a a grab-bag of stereotypes: the wise-old grandmother, the quiet kid, the black sheep (an adopted son), the loud uncle, the gossiping aunts, and the uncontrollable kids, but because they each play a critical role in the story, and the very real and warm way in which they’re portrayed, made them seem to me like the most compellingly realistic fictional family in recent memory. This is one of the things that I love most about anime – how they often depict “humanity” even better than live action dramas.
This, of course, is set up against the virtual world of OZ – an idealised representation of the Internet. A lot of geeks might cringe and groan at some of the representations, but the makers did a good job of ensuring that things never gets so technical that ordinary people wouldn’t be able to follow. My measure of this as usual, is my wife Jenny. She had no difficulty understanding the comments that the story was making about issues that we face as the digital world continues to encroach into the real world.
Being anime, there were still some unfortunate genre conventions that were sadly obeyed, one of which is the obligatory nudity of a young female character – I really don’t see why when every other character’s digital presence was some kind of cartoon animal, the girl’s avatar turns out to be … a girl. Who gets (partly) naked.
Be that as it may, it’s a minor quibble to an otherwise excellent movie. If you enjoyed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time – or less likely, the Digimon movie – by the same director (Mamoru Hosoda), then you’ll love Summer Wars.
Now if only I could get a round of applause at the end of my reviews :-)