It is a bit late to be watching Summer Wars, when the animated movie by Madhouse aired 4 years ago and even won the 2010 Academy Prize for Animation of the Year as well as the Anaheim International Film Festival’s Audience Award for Best Animated Feature, among others. However, I had the opportunity to be audience of this film just 2 days ago, and with the memory still fresh in my mind, I figured I’d write my first official movie review.
However, before we go into that, let’s delve into some of the background. The official movie theme song, Bokura no Natsu no Yume, was sung by Yamashita Tatsurou! He’s the 60-year-old man who sang Machi Monogatari, the song that complemented Abe Hiroshi’s TV series Shinzanmono perfectly. If you have to listen to a song sung by an old man, you’ve got to pick Yamashita Tatsurou. He must absolutely go on my top 10 list of favourite old people, together with 59-year-old Inoue Kazuhiko (Nyanko-sensei).
As for seiyuu, I am astounded to note nobody that I know of at all. However, on careful observation, I see some relationships. The male lead of this movie is played by Kamiki Ryunosuke. You don’t know him? Well, if you’ve been watching animated films such as Piano no Mori, which is another Madhouse production, you may know him as Shuhei, the male lead in there (or 1 of the 2, at any rate). He has also played minor roles in Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. One of them movie people, you see.
As for the female lead, Sakuraba Nanami, she is a gravure idol born in the same year I am (which means she was but 17 when the movie was produced, and 16 when she won Miss Magazine 2008!). She’s been the star of many commercials and also shows such as .hack // the Movie. Not much seiyuu experience there, but she’s picking up experience all these years.
And now we go to the movie content proper (which is really only half the story to me).
I cannot quite make up my mind on the art quality in this movie. It seems to me that different aspects of the movie were designed by different people (which is very likely true) and the resulting picture is somewhat inconsistent. The film toggles between the real-life scenes and in-game scenes, so I shall talk about them separately.
When it comes to real-life scenes, the drawing is pretty similar to Grave of the Fireflies, which is somewhat below the standard of Miyazaki Hayao. The characters are drawn pretty adequately — nothing striking about them. Perhaps a gripe would be that the female lead, Natsuki, is a tad too slender. Her arms are long and skinny and she is quite undeniably flat-chested. Facial features are certainly not a priority to the artists, with simple lines to define each person’s face. And yet, the characters are always making little movements that magnify their personalities. You know when you watch a Miyazaki Hayao film and the characters seem to be moving so fluidly, their hair falling into place with every bow of their head? It happens here too, which is not something you see often in anime, where the hair seem to be fixed into place by gel.
As for in-game, well, I must say the design aesthetics of the game couldn’t have been a big selling point in that world. The world of OZ is a mass of utter blinding white as background, followed by bright kaleidoscopic colours to represent the artificial vibrance of the place. Tones are sharply out of place and give off a stark, uneasy, inhuman feeling.
As for the storyline, well, so few movies of such genre have romance as such a strong sub-theme that I guess I was pleasantly surprised that there is indeed a [SPOILER REDACTED] at the end. It seems to remind us that indeed, this is at the end a light-hearted movie for people to watch as a family during get-togethers in the summertime. Also because the heat of summer makes one reluctant to think too hard (which is also a motif of many summer films, and certainly not excluding one with the word in its title), the plot is very easy to follow. We’re supposed to believe that the male lead Kenji is a Maths genius who solves ciphers at an inhuman rate, and he happens to have a friend in school with equally gifted talent in hacking computer systems. I would just like to point out here that being a Maths genius does not necessarily lead one to be skilled in solving ciphers. Ciphers are a completely different puzzle altogether, which involve logic rather than numbers, much like Sudoku.
Anyway, towards the end, we get something quite similar to Digimon. There is a DNA-digivolution-esque sequence, and apparently a female character “powers up” by having longer hair and more graceful clothes (think Sakuyamon from Digimon Tamers). Even the villain feels like a Digimon. Yes, Digimon fans would love this movie pretty much indeed.
There are some touching moments, but once you’ve finished the movie, you may feel just a slight tinge of embarrassment for having sat through a slightly childish film. It embodies the values of family togetherness as its central theme, and criticises our over-reliance on technology. Nothing particularly creative there, but it’s something familiar for us to enjoy while in a good mood.
Also, I totally want to play hanafuda. That was pretty persuasive advertising of the card game in there. Koi koi!