Continuing from last week, we look at another film directed by Mamoru Hosoda. Like the The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, it has a sci-fi element, but instead of time-travel, it deals with computers, virtual worlds and artificial intelligence. It also features a very large family. It was highly successful in terms of box office takings, taking $1.3 million on the opening weekend and over $18 million at the end of its run.
The film, set during a hot summer, begins with schoolboy Kenji Koiso, who has a talent for maths and also works part-time as a moderator for a virtual reality world called “OZ”. His friend, a girl called Natsuki Shinohara, invites Kenji to her family estate in the city of Ueda. He accepts, and discovers several shocking things. For one, just about all of Natsuki’s extended family are also over to visit. But the biggest shock is when Natsuki, in front of her great-grandmother, 89-year-old Sakae Jinnouchi, lies to her and says that Kenji is her fiancé.
The visit then gets even more troublesome. The black sheep of family, Wabisuke Jinnouchi, has also visited the estate. He is hated by most of the family after stealing the family fortune a decade ago. Then, overnight Kenji gets an email with a mathematical code. He cracks it and sends a reply back. However, this triggers a rogue A.I. called “Love Machine” to hack into his account and use Kenji’s avatar to cause havoc all over Japan. Kenji is blamed for spreading the A.I. and gets arrested, but Love Machine’s chaos spreads to the traffic and so he cannot be taken to a police station.
Eventually the family consider the situation to be akin to a war, and so use Kenji to help fight against Love Machine. Luckily for them, one of the other members of the family, 13-year-old Kazuma Ikezawa, controls the rabbit-like avatar King Kazma, famous for coming top of all OZ’s fighting games. With their combined power, the family declare war on Love Machine – a war in which they discover that the future of the world hangs in the balance.
Summer Wars at times is quite a tricky film to follow. For starters there is the large cast. You have various off-shots of the family each with their own foibles. One member is an expert on the family history, another is a woman who is constantly watching her son play baseball, several of the family work in different branches of the emergency services and so on.
Another element that makes it a challenging film for western viewers is that one of the key plot devices is a card game that is not generally known about in Britain. The game is called “Koi-Koi” (“come on”) and is a card game. But the cards are “Hanafuda” or “card flowers”, which look nothing like the standard playing cards we use. Instead they have pictures of flowers in them. The rules of the game are never properly explained in the movie so it is hard to understand.
However, there is still plenty to like about the film. The animation is good, and there are plenty of action sequences, so if you do not know the rules to Koi-Koi you can still enjoy a decent fight between Love Machine and King Kazma. The plot also builds up dramatically as it progresses. The family experiences tragedy and Love Machine’s terror takes whole new proportions that could spell mass destruction.
Summer Wars is released on DVD and Blu-Ray from Manga Entertainment.