Four years ago I saw an animated picture that hit me the only way that, up until then, had been achieved by some of the best work out of Studio Ghibli and Pixar. It was a story of deep friendships and lost love told with the science-fiction plot device of time travel. That film was The Girl Who Leapt Through Time by director Mamoru Hosoda who, up until then, had only worked on the Digimon and One Piece franchises. Now, with his latest picture, Summer Wars, about a terrorist computer virus threatening an incredibly elaborate online world that’s been so ingrained and relied upon for businesses, social lifestyles, and even government and state controlled occupations all across the globe, Hosoda is establishing himself as one of the premiere storytellers working in the arena of animation.
Like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, the device of a social network/world revolving multi-functional business operations takeover by an unrelenting intruder works as a means to tell a more intimate story about a family with a very proud and tight-knit history struggling to hold it together in the twilight years of the family’s 90 year old matriarch. Kenji, a very timid young outsider, is brought to the family’s celebration of the 90 year old Grandmother’s birthday by her granddaughter Natuski, who needed someone to act as her boyfriend in order to impress her family. A few slight (and by slight I mean considerably large) fabrications about Kenji’s accomplishments and age notwithstanding he doesn’t find out about her real intentions until he’d already won the role away from his friend – both of whom were already hired to work for the summer maintaining the Oz system (said online worldwide computer program being attacked) – and was already settled in for lodging.
While there, within the first night, we learn two very important things about our unsuspecting hero. One: He is a rather brilliant mathematician with a penchant for solving complicated equations and codes; and two: He’s barely got a spine (metaphorically speaking). His first night with the Jinnouchi clan he receives an anonymous text message with a sequence of numbers asking if he can crack the mystery. Ignorantly, he does so and triggers a series of catastrophic global events he never could have predicted. But, what transpires from the events involves the Jinnouchi family much more so than they could have predicted even after discovering Kenji’s innocent, though direct, actions for causing such a high magnitude problem across the planet.
The event itself serves to uncover not only some dark secrets amongst the family members, but is also what helps bring them all together in ways they hadn’t been in years. Some members thought to be black sheep turn out to be important figures in getting the world back online and functional, and other members struggling to find self-worth and dignity worthy of the family’s history find the strength and support needed to keep the pride running through the generations. Not to mention, our outsider Kenji – who was being asked to be someone he wasn’t in order to impress a family of successful businessmen, strong women and a 90 year old woman with enough self-assuredness and will to be the one everyone else looks to for approval – finding his own place in the family and proving himself a valuable addition by realizing the oldest of lessons; Be who you are and embrace what you can do. Then, once you’ve accepted what you can and want to do, do it until your fingers can’t move, your eyes bulge from the sockets and your nose starts to bleed if need be. Otherwise, you didn’t do enough.
Few films at this year’s festival resonated as much with me as this film did. It highlights some of the best components of a vast array of genres such as the family drama, sports film, comedy, and even heist films in a sense – and even though the scope of the picture gets about as big as conceptually possible the focus remains solely on how a single family can not only cause worldwide calamity, but also inspire solidarity simply by choosing to not do nothing.