Summer Wars (PG)
ANN; Council of Geeks; FUNimation; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: iTunes; Vudu
Caution: potential spoilers.
Well, this is not something I recall having ever heard of before one day in early 2011, when I happened to see it for sale at Walmart. (Which once again makes me lament the end of my favorite magazine ever, Anime Insider.) But apparently it did quite well critically and commercially, when released theatrically in Japan, in 2009. Anyway, because the title has "summer" in it, I thought I'd wait to watch it in the summer of 2011, and I did, on the first day of summer. I had no idea what to expect of it, whether it would be much good or not, because as I said, I hadn't heard of it, and didn't read anything about it until just now, as I started writing this review. I thought it'd probably be alright, but... OMG, let me tell you... It starts out reasonably fun, and interesting, but over time, the story built to something truly amazing. Well before it was over, I had completely fallen in love with the movie. It's the kind of thing that makes me cry tears of sorrow, tears of joy, tears of laughter, tears of insanity, and tears of sheer awesome. The kind of thing that makes me love life, that makes me want to work harder on my own writing even though I know it'll never be as good as this. The kind of thing that makes me need to get drunk just to ease myself down from the high produced by watching it.
Now, I suppose I should explain the plot. It starts by introducing us to this online virtual world called OZ, which has hundreds of millions of users, all of whom have their own unique avatar. Businesses and governments around the world also have their own presence on OZ; one can do pretty much anything via the community, from buying clothes to paying taxes, etc. But while OZ will play an important role in the story, the majority of the movie is set in the real world. We meet a couple of high school boys, Kenji Koiso and Takashi Sakuma, who have part-time jobs helping maintain OZ. One day a girl named Natsuki Shinohara shows up and says she needs to hire someone for a few days, to go with her to a reunion where her family will be celebrating the 90th birthday of her great grandmother, Sakae Jinnouchi. She wasn't exactly clear about what the job entailed, but Kenji goes with her. When they get there, Natsuki introduces Kenji to her family as her fiancÚ, much to his surprise. She's also invented a fake backstory for him.
Um, I should mention that when they got there, there were already too many relatives for a newcomer to keep straight, and more were supposed to show up later. It's a very big family, with a proud history (one of them, Mansuke, was always talking about battles throughout Japanese history in which the Jinnouchi clan had fought, always against overwhelming odds). Anyway, I should also say Kenji is a mathematical genius, but he says that's all he's good at. And he's definitely not comfortable around a lot of people. So it's even harder having to go along with the pretense of being romantically involved with Natsuki, especially when not everyone in the clan approves of him. Luckily, at least Sakae is on his side, and everyone in the clan has deep love and respect for her. As well they should; she eventually proves to be pretty damned amazing. And while I never did learn who most of the people in the movie were (names, familial relationships, etc.), I did love the family. I couldn't help thinking that I have a fairly large extended family, myself, and while I'm not very comfortable around large groups of people (even family), at least it's kind of nice to be a part of a family like that. Anyway, the movie had some really good characters, whether I got to know them well or not. And Sakae was the best one. Another important member of the family was a 13-year-old boy named Kazuma, who mostly hung out by himself (though he did practice Kung Fu with his grandfather, Mansuke). Yet another important character is Wabisuke, who was the illegitimate son of Sakae's late husband, and who they had taken into their family when he was a boy. Ten years ago, Wabisuke had gone to America with money given to him by Sakae, and... well, he's kind of the black sheep of the family. Most of the other members of the clan don't like him, though Natsuki apparently had a crush on him when she was little. Anyway, he returns now, and Natsuki seems to be the only one who's glad to see him.
Then late one night, Kenji gets a mysterious text on his cell phone, which just contains a long sequence of numbers, which he copies down on paper and uses his math skills to decipher as a code phrase, which he then replies to the sender of the message. The next day, Kenji is woken up by some of the young children, who have seen a picture on TV that looks like him. He's being accused of having caused a great deal of trouble, by hacking OZ. Kenji's totally freaked out, of course, and finds he's been locked out of his account. He calls his friend Sakuma, trying to figure out what's going on. Sakuma gets Kenji a new avatar on OZ, which he uses to confront his old avatar, which has been stolen by the true hacker. Kenji is assisted by King Kazma, an avatar that kind of reminded me of the main character from the Usagi Yojimbo comics, though I've never read any of them, and the avatar was much more modern than Usagi. King Kazma is a famous fighter on OZ, who's never been defeated in his online matches; and now Kenji learns that King Kazma is actually Kazuma's avatar. However, at first the hacker beats both Kenji and King Kazma. After awhile, Sakuma learns that the hacker is actually an AI called Love Machine. Love Machine continues to steal more and more users' OZ accounts, growing ever more powerful. And whatever a given user's job allowed him or her to do, their avatar could also do. Which meant that Love Machine soon had control of vital systems in the real world, including traffic signals, communications, all kinds of things, which caused ever-increasing inconvenience, and eventually the potential for nuclear catastrophe. So, Kenji, Sakuma, and Kazuma will have to work together to try to stop Love Machine, and receive assistance from various other members of the Jinnouchi clan, most notably Natsuki and Wabisuke. (Sakae herself described the current situation as war, which ties into the thing about the clan having been involved in many wars over the centuries.) Though many members of the clan had no idea that the situation was anywhere near that serious, and went about dealing with more normal concerns. And at the same time, one member of the clan, Ryohei, was playing in a series of baseball games with his high school team, getting closer to reaching the national championship. At first the whole clan was interested in that, though eventually it pretty much got down to one diehard fan watching the games on TV (I'm not sure if she was Ryohei's mother or just a baseball fan or what). But the nervousness over whether his team would keep winning or not was a nice sort of parallel to the far more important situation with Love Machine and OZ.
Well. I think that's pretty much all I should say about the plot. But like I said, the characters were great, and there were some very sad things that happened, as well as very funny things, and very cool things, and very weird things. There were things I predicted and things I could not possibly have predicted. The balance of the ordinary and the epic was perfect. And I should mention that one of the things I predicted (which took longer than I expected to happen, but was awesome when it did) was a marvelous demonstration of how the internet can bring the whole world together. Anyway, it's just... a crazy and beautiful and amazing movie in every way, and it has a great ending, too. Seriously, I just can't recommend the movie highly enough, and if you watch it and don't fall in love with it, too... I'm afraid we can't be friends.