Monday, January 10, 2011

Movie Review: Summer Wars

Really fast, sorry for not updating yesterday, I’m back at school now so I’m going to have to cut down on the number of reviews each day I do, I just don’t have the time to write up two reviews each day. So, I’ll try my hardest to get one out each day or at least every other day and I’ll see if I can get two a day up on the weekends (since I still have a large backlog to get up) but it’s going to get a little slower here for a while, sorry!

Back when Funimation was first announcing the cities that would have Summer Wars showings I was disappointed that the closest city to me was 10 hours away. However my city did get a showing after all and it managed to coincide with the end of my winter break. So, what else was there to do but to grab a friend (who didn’t even look up any information on the movie besides seeing the Cyrus Virus movie, that made things interesting for her I think) and go over to see it. Just seeing it was fun since it wasn’t in a normal theater but rather a small room off to the side with comfy chairs and sofas like a VIP lounge that my anime club could’ve filled up, makes sense since there were only five of us watching but it certainly made for an interesting experience.

Summer Wars

Summary: Kenji is an eleventh grade mathlete who is less than thrilled that the only thing he has to do this summer is his part time job of being a moderator on the computer network OZ (which has basically replaced the internet). So when his crush at school, Natsuki, asks if he could come along to her family reunion/great-grandmother’s 90th birthday as help he readily agrees.  And his vacation is set to get even more interesting after an AI called Love Machine hacks OZ and sends the whole world into chaos and Kenji with the rest of the clan seem to be the only people trying to stop it.

The Good: This is an unbelievably fun, over-the-top (just watch the scene when the family is preparing for the attack on Love Machine) and exciting film. In short, it’s a summer blockbuster film that’s accessible for all ages, I would’ve loved this movie just as much at ten as I did the other day. The central theme of the movie, family is important, was also done well, it’s constantly present yet never feels anvilicious and not all kids movies can pull that off. Another thing done well in the movie is the large cast of characters, none of who feels like cutouts or resort to stereotypes to flesh them out. Great-Grandmother Sakae was a great example of how a character doesn’t need to be an action hero to accomplish something (Kenji as well since his great skill is being able to do math super fast) and the large cast manages to feel very human throughout the film.

The Bad: There are a few instances of almost deus-ex-machina and the plot is one of the weaker parts of the story. It’s consistently there (Love Machine is taking over OZ, how do we stop it?) but this story is really more about the characters and their actions than a really clever plot (like I said earlier, this is the anime equivalent of a summer blockbuster and those films aren’t know for their plots either). Some of the more dramatic moments of the film come off as a bit silly and some of the technology (like Love Machine) feels rather implausible. It's not a style or substance movie, but it is a character driven movie instead of a plot driven one.

The Art: The art is bright and vibrant in OZ and slightly toned down in the real world but it was good looking no matter which world it was in. The backgrounds were well done, all of the extensive cast looked different from each other, and the layout of OZ actually made sense (many films dealing with cyberspace have some odd ideas about how it should be portrayed and manage to look dated after a few years, I don’t forsee Summer Wars having this problem). Of course this is a movie and movies have bigger budgets so it should look good and it certainly did. I think I was also watching a BR of the movie instead of reel (or however they show movies in theaters these days) so I can say that the BR looks pretty good now too. One stylistic thing that caught my eye however, in most American films if we cut to say, a clock ticking down, usually the movie cuts to the clock just a couple of seconds before it hits zero and in Summer Wars those kinds of cuts seem to happen a few seconds earlier  (like, instead of seeing the clock go 3 2 1 it was more like seeing it go 5 4 3 2 1). If it was supposed to make the moment even more dramatic I'm sad to say it didn't work on me, but I do wonder if this is one of the differences between Japanese and American movie making or a stylistic choice on Hosoda's part.

The Music: Didn’t notice much background music actually, although the movie did make good use of the times when everything was silent for extra dramatic effect. The room’s volume was up a bit too high for me but everything sounded good other than that. This showing had the dub playing and no problems there, my friend and I were commenting at how many names and voices we recognized in the cast (well, by this point we’ve started to recognize the names of the Funimation staff as well) and Funimation brought in a lot of their regulars so no weak spots in the dub*.

So yes, I went in expecting an anime version of a summer blockbuster and that’s what I got out of Summer Wars so of course I liked it. Definitely going on my BR “to-buy” list (I just, you know, need to get a BR set up first) and have been recommending it to all my friends in the area to get out and see it too. I don’t think it’ll get nominated for the Oscars (I don’t think they had enough submissions to have five nominations instead of three in the Animated Film category, otherwise I would say that Summer Wars had a good shot of being nominated) .

*I don't know what the reviewer on rottentomatoes was going on about "squeaky voices," maybe they saw the sub? Which is still odd since our leads are in the eleventh grade, there are a few little kids who don't get much airtime and then a lot of adults, how were any of them squeaky?