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Summer Wars

FUNimation // PG // February 15, 2011
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted March 4, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
Director Mamoru Hosoda, the man who wowed audiences with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, returns to the big screen with another original animated movie and proves to critics that he's not a one-hit-wonder.  His newest film, 2009's Summer Wars, is a creative, eye-popping, and above all entertaining film that serves to establish Hosoda as a talent to watch.  FUNimation has released this movie with a stunning picture and solid audio options.  If you've been looking for a movie to show to someone who doesn't like anime (or worse yet thinks it's all the same) this would be an excellent candidate.

When the matriarch of the Jinnouch clan, Sakae, falls ill one winter, her distraught granddaughter who is away at college, Natsuki, tells her that she can't die.  After all, she hasn't met the man that Natsuki has fallen in love with.  Sakae recovers and her whole family is getting together to celebrate her 90th birthday, which presents Natsuki with quite a problem:  she doesn't have a boyfriend, much less a fiancée to present to her grandmother.  Rather than get caught in a lie, Natsuki hires a guy she knows, math whiz Kenji, to accompany her and be her boyfriend.
The Jinnouch clan was once rich and powerful, but they haven't been so in many years and now all they have left is the ancestral estate that has been in the family for hundreds of years.  It's a huge, sprawling house on acres of land, and Kenji feels very out of place, especially after he's introduced to all of Natsuki's numerous relatives.

Things start picking up for Kenji on his first night there when someone sends him a text message with a math puzzle embedded.  It's a very difficult puzzle, but that's just what he loves and he stays up all night working it out.  When he finally solves it he replies with the answer and receives only an odd jack-in-the-box animation.
The next day he wakes up to discover that OZ, the international graphic internet portal that everyone (including governments) uses to manage their affairs and to relax (think of Facebook meets a MMORPG) has been hacked and invaded.  It turns out that the puzzle that Kenji solved was actually OZ's encryption code, and now the police suspect Kenji is the criminal.
That would be a minor mixup except that OZ controls just about everything, and with the hacker having access to all of OZ's systems, he's wreaking havoc across the world.  Traffic lights are mistimed, fire alarms go off at random, the water pressure skyrockets blowing out pipes, and even the GPS units in people's cars start giving them the wrong directions.  It's up to Kenji, with the help of some of Natuski's relatives, to get into OZ and stop the hacker.  But when the do manage to break in, they discover that the stakes are much higher than they ever suspected.

This film is great on so many levels.  As simple eye-candy it's at the top of the heap. The world of OZ is colorful and creative, and just flat amazing.  This is where all of the action sequences take place, and those are energetic and exciting without dominating the movie.
It's also has a good character driven story.  The Jinnouch clan is filled with slightly odd, but very realistic people who are definitely grounded in reality.  From the domineering grandmother who fills everyone with fear and respect to the family historian who loves to tell of the clan's great battles from centuries past, the group has enough engaging and interesting characters for an on-going show.  They popular the world of Summer Wars nicely, and give the film a lot of heart.

The thing that makes this film stand above a lot of other Japanese animated features is that it tells a simple yet solid story. There's no bizarre metaphysical ending to leave viewers scratching their heads (though I quite like those some times) and the impressive, detailed animation serves the story rather than supersedes it.  It's hard striking that perfect balance, but Mamoru Hosoda manages to do it and make it look effortless.
The DVD:

This movie comes in a two-disc set housed in a single width keepcase.
Viewers have a choice between the original Japanese audio track and an English dub, both in 5.1.  I viewed the film in its original language and spot checked the dub track and both were very good.  The dub was very well done with talented actors who did a great job of not only matching their speech to the animated lip movements but also brought the characters to life.  Neither track had any dropouts, background noise, or other defects.
This is a beautiful looking disc.  The anamorphic 1.85:1 image is crisp and clear with tight lines and a great amount of detail.  The colors are vivid and strong and really make this transfer shine.  There isn't any digital defects, with even aliasing and blocking, the two most prevalent animation flaws being totally absent.  Fans will be very happy with the way this disc looks.
The second disc is given over to extras, and while there's not a huge amount there, it's worth checking out.  There are short interviews with the main voice actors that run between 2 and 6 minutes in length, as well as an interview with director Mamoru Hosoda that runs for 13 minutes.  (These are in Japanese with English subtitles.)  In addition there's a selection of trailers and TV spots advertising the movie.
Final Thoughts:
This is a wonderful movie filled with great characters and some very impressive visuals.  The perfect film to show someone who hasn't been exposed to Japanese animation, it's a movie is sure to impress.  Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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