Summer Wars: Computer viruses and teenage love

I bought this movie a few months ago, but it's only now that I actually managed to watch it. And now I regret every second I didn't watch this movie after I got it, because "Summer Wars" is simply AMAZING!

The film centers around Kenji, a high school math quiz who was 1st runner up to be Japan's representative at the Math Olympics. At the start of the film, he and his friend Sakuma are doing some summer part time work as admins for OZ, a vast online community that's sort of like an even more immersive version of Second Life or the Metaverse from Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash." You can do everything from paying your taxes to playing fighting games to chatting with people all over the world. However, when cute girl Natsuki bursts into the computer room looking to hire one of them for an easy job, Kenji jumps at the chance, having been told that it'll consist of going out to the country to meet Natsuki's family and help out at her great-grandmother's 90th birthday.

However, when Kenji arrives he discovers that there was an element to the job that Natsuki forgot to mention: he has to pretend to be her fiance, in order to comfort her great grandmother that she's got a boyfriend. Kenji is nervous about this, both because he apparently actually has a bit of a crush on Natsuki and because her family, the Jinnouchi clan, is extremely intimidating, extremely large and influential (although somewhat impoverished), and very proud of their samurai past. However, he is eventually convinced to go along with the ruse.

The first night, he gets a strange email with an extremely complex math problem and an invitation to solve it. Kenji can't resist, and figures it out, sending the solution off and not thinking anything of it, until the next morning when he discovers that his OZ avatar has been stolen, he's on TV as a dangerous hacker, and the math problem was actually OZ's security encryption key.

The hacker that stole his and many other people's identities is a mysterious AI named Love Machine, which absorbs unwary OZ users and by doing so gains access to everything they had access to. As this includes things like traffic lights, water mains, the bullet train, and automated alert systems, the world is soon thrown into chaos, and it falls to Kenji, Natsuki, her middle-school aged cousin Kazuma, and her black-sheep uncle Wabisuke, backed up by the Jinnouchi clan, to stop Love Machine from causing any more mischief, which is good, as Love Machine has both the GPS coordinates for several nuclear power plants and a satellite to drop on them...

The film is filled to the brim with excellent characters. From the adorably awkward Kenji, obviously terrified of embarrassing himself in front of Natsuki's family, to the sullen and withdrawn Kazuma, who spends most of his day on the computer, from the exiled Wabisuke, who is loathed by everyone in the Jinnouchi clan except Natsuki for selling the family's property out from under them (also because he is illegitmate) to the tough-as-nails Granny Sakae, all of the characters feel like real people, and it is fun to watch them all bounce off one another. A lot of the movie's most fun scenes revolve around Kenji attempting to understand the members of this gigantic and fiercely proud family.

The art is amazing as well. It resembles the art style of "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time," with which it shares a director (Mamoru Hosoda) and creative team. The art in the real world is stylized (as anime always is) , but something in the way people walk, talk, and act make it seem like these characters actually exist as real people. Hosoda and his artists are geniuses at catching all of the subtle little movements that people do when they move around, making it easy to forget that they're not real people. The art style of OZ, on the other hand, is beautiful and strange, with a pure white background contrasted with the bright and colorful residents and locations. It is a true treat for the eyes to see all of the different avatars, everything from a ninja squid to Kazuma's badass rabbit avatar King Kazma to Natsuki's fox goddess. And of course, there's Love Machine, which first appears to be a demonic Mickey Mouse and then evolves into some sort of evil Boddhisatva, complete with halo made out of captured avatars.

I really liked all of the little touches to the story. For instance, I liked that while Kenji, Kazuma, and some of the younger and more tech-savvy members of the Jinnouchi Clan were aware of the disastrous effects of OZ being hacked, the older members were either dumbfounded or angry at Kenji et al for what looked like wasting their time playing video games. I also liked how the samurai spirit of the Jinnouchi family showed itself off throughout the film, shown most especially in a scene where Granny Sakae decides to do her part to solve the multiple problems that Love Machine is causing by calling up all of her family members and connections (which go all the way up to members of parliament, apparently) to bluster and encourage them to work to fix the chaos.

There really are only two issues with "Summer Wars." The first is that there is too little of the relationship between Natsuki and Kenji, as Kenji spends most of his scenes with fellow tech-nerd Kazuma and Natsuki spends her part of the movie either with the female members of the family or chasing after Wabisuke. Which is unfortunate, as the few times we see them together they are ADORABLE, especially the incredibly awkward Kenji. Secondly, the film doesn't hold your hand or explain in depth some of the stuff going on onscreen, which is mostly computer science techy stuff but also includes the rules to the Japanese card game Koi Koi, which proves to be very plot relevant. However, it's fairly easy to catch on to the general gist, even if you aren't conversant in computer science or Japanese card games.

All in all, this film is amazingly fun and entertaining. If you spend way too much time online, as do we all, or if you come from a large family, this film is especially good for you. Even if neither of those describes you, however, you should still seek it out, as it is amazingly good.

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