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The Asian ApertureSummer Wars (2009)
POSTED BY JASON FETTERS, April 17, 2011    Share

Things are definitely heating up as people everywhere are racing towards Summer with endless sources of amusement and entertainment such as Summer blockbusters at the movies. There is one movie that says more about Summer than most other Summer movies. In Summer Wars, produced by Madhouse, directed by Mamoru Hosoda, and distributed by Warner Brothers, several anime motifs are successfully combined to create a feel good theatrical release that is sure to have wide appeal. There is slice of life sitting alongside Sci fi, with techno thriller, and even romantic comedy all thrown into the mix and well blended. With a larger budget that televised anime just can't compete with, Summer Wars pulls out all the stops and shows how so many talented individuals worked together to create something beautiful.

The movie starts out with the nerdy Math genius, Kenji Koiso sitting behind a computer and performing basic grunt level customer service for a huge social network called Oz. To visualize Oz, imagine all the people on Facebook, being able to create an avatar and allowed to move around freely in a virtual world where other members can sell and buy anything from music to cars. Oz members can even pay their bills and check bank accounts all inside one online community.
Just as Kenji settles into a boring job with his buddy, enter Natsuki Shinohara, the prettiest and most popular high school girl. She runs into the small, cramped computer lab and asks who wants to help her out for a few days, shy Kenji, bubbling with low confidence is reluctant at first but decides he wants the job after a little convincing from Natsuki. This could be his only chance to spend a few Summer days with someone who is super hot.

Kenji and Natsuki arrive at a huge Japanese style mansion in Ueda in Nagano. There are several shots of how traditional the house is, with samurai armor, rock gardens laid out between rooms, and a giant low table that can accommodate such a massive family. Also, the house is situated peacefully in the mountains with no city noise and a tranquil Koi pond. It is the ideal place to spend the Summer and would be the Western equivalent of vacationing at a quaint country home.
The main reason why the entire family is coming together is to celebrate the 90th birthday of Natsuki's great grandmother. In a brief humorous introduction, Kenji is presented as the fiancee of Natsuki. This is her little white lie to appease her family. It also sets up the beginning of the romantic story arch.

Since Summer Wars has such a large casts of characters, everyone must be introduce and this is done very well as the entire family sits down to dinner. Every family has certain quirky members that we all can identify with, and Natsuki's family is no exception. This is a very real family with loud strong women, nerdy quiet males, and tough guy types with manly occupations who shout out each word.. Kenji is made to feel at home and then he quickly gets embarrassed by the good nature bantering going on about his supposed love for Natsuki.

Everything seems so perfect and something has to happen to break through all the tranquility or there would be no story. Conflict occurs when Kenji gets a message on his cell phone that is a mathematical code. Always wanting to solve difficult math problems, Kenji wastes no time and spends all night working out a solution. Then submits his answer. The next day all is not well as Kenji discovers that he can't log onto Oz. In fact no one can.

All over Japan problems start happening such as traffic lights not working, GPS systems not responding, but the worst of it all is that all electronic devices quit working. Meanwhile, while all that is going on in the real world is bad enough, inside the virtual world, a avatar called Love Machine, named after the Morning Musume song of the same name, is stealing accounts including identity information. Love Machine is taking over Oz and absorbing any avatar that gets in his way. Love Machine is an AI that was created by Natsuki's uncle during his time working in the US as a computer programming. Her uncle makes a brief appearance and gets kicked out of the house by great grandmother because he is the black sheep of the family. Later on he returns to right his wrongs such as creating Love Machine that has done so much damage to so many other families. Love Machine's destruction starts out in Japan but quickly moves out to negatively impact the entire world. It is up to Kenji, Natsuki, and her entire family to try to put a stop to Love Machine, who appears in Oz as a giant rabbit avatar that is stealing member accounts and stopping all Kenji's attempts to hack into the Oz mainframe.. This starts the Summer Wars and the clock is ticking.

Summer Wars has a fast pace for all the plot points involved. This is the type of anime movie that moviegoers, regardless if he or she is an anime fan or not, will want to view multiple times. The feel good upbeat vibe that runs throughout the entire running time is addicting and draws the viewer in. Despite all the hardships and problems, Summer is about having fun and Summer Wars will provide that same kind of fun.
I recommend buying this on Blu-ray, which does a tremendous job of showing off quality animation on the same level as Pixar and Disney. The Blu-ray also has the original Japanese audio track and a good English dub that really makes excellent use of surround sound for the total audio visual experience. Give it a shot just before Summer begins and see if it gets you into that fun, loving Summer mood.

Highly Recommended with 5 out of 5 Stars.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2011 by Jason Fetters. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.

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