For the past decade, Hosoda Mamosu has proved himself to be a very capable director. He debuted with a Digimon short film, ‘Digimon Adventure’, followed by a longer Digimon feature ‘Our War Game’. I remember seeing both films in grade school and being captivated by their unique visual style. I’ve been introduced to more great anime since then, but I’ve always craved for more animation done in the style of Hosoda.
Years later I watched ‘Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island’, a movie from the massively popular manga/anime ‘One Piece’—and something looked familiar. Something about the stylization, quirky animation, and beautiful color palette was seemed heavily nostalgic. I quickly looked up the film credits and there was his name: Hosoda Mamosu. ‘One Piece’, my favorite on-going franchise, paired with Hosoda’s animation? It was gift from heaven.
But heaven had more in store for me. Not long after was the release of ‘The Girl who Leapt through Time’, which was his first original film. With this entry he showed me that he was adept at portraying a more mature story with complex relationships. Hosoda was quickly rising in my list of favorite anime directors. And with his latest entry, I’m happy to say that his latest, ‘Summer Wars’, is his best film yet; he has achieved a level of quality that can hold its own against the best of animated films.
‘Summer Wars’ takes place in the near future, where most of the world operates and depends on a unified online network called OZ; a giant virtual reality world in which over a billion users with unique avatars use as a platform for any online activity. Operations in the real world heavily rely on OZ, as it is in charge of countless computer systems in control of anything from traffic signals to satellites. OZ is also responsible for providing nearly all online and cellphone services which are linked to their avatars.
The story begins when the school beauty Natsuki is looking for someone to help out for a weekend for a massive family reunion. Math-nerd schoolmate Kenji, who harbors a crush on her, eagerly accepts her request. Much to his horrified surprise, Natsuki later reveals to Kenji that the favor entailed posing as her fiance for the weekend. After a stressful night of dodging questions from her many eccentric relatives, he receives a numeric puzzle on his cell phone, which he spends all night solving and sends back to the sender. What he didn’t know was that the numeric puzzle was a code protecting the supposedly impenetrable OZ mainframe, and that he had just given someone access to it, with disastrous consequences appearing the following morning.
The story masterfully blends family drama with science fiction, as the narrative goes back and forth between the relationship between characters in the real and virtual world to stop whoever it was that is throwing OZ and the real world into chaos. The film juggles so many themes, characters, and subplots that it could easily collapse under its own weight, but somehow Hosoda not only manages to keep everything afloat, but delivers all these elements to us in a cohesive, entertaining package.
Hosoda’s films are known to have clues and foreshadowing elements cleverly placed throughout, which makes re-watching it a rewarding and worthwhile experience. You’ll be finding little easter eggs on multiple viewings, and enhances the experience as a whole.
‘Summer Wars’ is stunningly beautiful. It’s clear that Hosoda took inspiration from the Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami to create OZ; the virtual world is vibrant with a neon-saturated color palate and impeccably clean design in contrast with the real world which is represented with soft, earthy tones. The animation is masterfully done. the flowing animation brings a huge cast of characters and the world to life in a way many animated films don’t. As Hayo Miyazaki has a distinct visual vocabulary and animation style, Hosoda has his own instantly recognizable traits that make his movies stand apart.
While the movie provided me with a fantastic experience, there was just one thing that sullied my enjoyment. The plotline, specifically the one that deals with the virtual world, is almost completely pulled out of one of this first anime films, ‘Digimon Adventure: Our War Game’. The progression and unfolding events follow ‘Our War Game’ to the letter, and lessened the impact the climax would have had for me. Other miscellaneous elements also reappear without much change that had me experiencing extreme deja vu. If you haven’t seen ‘Our War Game’, these points are irrelevant; but it’s interesting to look up after you watch ‘Summer Wars’ to see the similarities.
‘Summer Wars’ is a unique intertwining of family drama, action, science fiction, and thriller. Never providing a dull moment, there’s always something new and interesting presented to the viewer. It takes the awe-inspiring sci-fi sequences from ‘Our War Game’ and the mature complexities of ‘The Girl who Leapt through Time’ to create a beautifully crafted film with soul.