Today I wanted to touch back on a previous topic I did with Battle Royale, and that’s how to deal with a large cast of characters. However, this time I’d like to recommend a film! If Battle Royale is a little too much of something for your taste, then I highly recommend the Japanese animated film “Summer Wars.”
What I love most about Japanese animation (aka “anime”) is how serious most stories are. Western animation tends to be more lighthearted, geared for children with some adult nuances to keep the older audience listening. Or in the grand scheme, a lot of us in-betweeners just love to watch animated films because they give us a sense of nostalgia. Anime isn’t always like that, and a majority of the material is very serious, strange, or relatable to an almost disturbing degree. I could go on, but it’s a way for me to lead into “Summer Wars.” What appears to be a childish animated film actually goes much deeper into family relationships, and our relationship as humans with evolving technology.
“Summer Wars” was released in 2009 in Japan, and later picked up by Funimation for the English dub. It’s a story set in a world where nearly everything digital and electronic is run through an online world called Oz. Think of it as Facebook times a billion: every citizen of the world has an account and you can manage your entire life through Oz. Kenji is a high school student and part-time coder who occasionally does side projects for Oz administrators in Japan. One afternoon, he’s asked by his crush, Natsuki, to accompany her to her family home for the summer. He isn’t told why at first, but to his dismay she announces him to her huge family as her “fiance.” Not only that, but while he’s spending time there, Oz is hacked by a self-learning program and the world spirals into chaos, both online and offline.
This movie will never, ever leave you bored. It grabs you by what you know and doesn’t let go. What I mean is, the director Mamoru Hosoda expertly hones in on how the millennial generation has grown up becoming more and more connected everyday. Be it social media, advancements in programming, and more, the future he depicts with Oz is colorful and could be just around the corner for us. But he also connects to us on a spiritual, familial level. Natsuki’s family, the big Jinnouchi clan is comprised of many members. You don’t learn all their names (or remember most of them!), but they are each animated distinctly from each other. Each character’s screentime is so little, aside from the grandmother matriarch, but you understand who each one is so quickly just by the way they’re dressed or how they act. There’s overbearing and nosy aunts, neurotic cousins, annoying nieces and nephews, uncles with secret jobs, and even a black sheep of the family who comes into play later in the film.
Like Battle Royale, Hosoda managed a large cast of characters beautifully, even without knowing their names. Out of all the action scenes, beautiful scenery and engaging story, I was most floored by these characters and their interactions, especially when they band together to save the day. You can easily spot your family in them, even if you may not be close to your family. It’s a brilliant film that contrasts a digital life online and the palpable history of this family in the physical world. One of my favorite scenes is where an uncle recounts tales of how the Jinnouchi clan are descendants of great samurai, while they’re eating dinner together in this great, big house that was passed down for generations. It’s a stark contrast to the color-pop-funk world of Oz and all their avatars, but the balance of the two worlds throughout the films is definitely a feast for the eyes.
If you’re looking for a new film to enjoy that has a big cast of fun, relatable characters, I can’t recommend “Summer Wars” enough. It’s a great flick for the whole family and all ages, and my siblings and I will always turn it on when it’s a rainy day outside. Grab a copy and get watching!