“You got your family drama in my cyberspace action-adventure story!” “You got your crazy Matrix-y adventure story in my complex, heartwarming family drama!” Two particular tastes that might not normally taste great together, and yet…
What is it?
Summer Wars is an animated film which takes place, figuratively and somewhat literally, at the intersection of one family’s ongoing internal drama and the attempt by an AI in cyberspace to attack humanity’s industrial infrastructure.
What kind of story is it?
You know how it is: Boy likes girl, girl invites boy to a family gathering, boy makes fool of himself, there’s a redemption arc, and there’s a kiss at the end.
Of course it’s nowhere near that simple. The girl’s merely pretending that she’s dating the boy for the sake of appeasing her family matriarchs. The boy gets involved with a rogue AI and chaos ensues. Oh, and almost half of the plot takes place in a kind of funhouse brightly-colored crazypants VR/cyberspace realm.
When you get right down to it, though, the heart of the film is its slice-of-life depictions of a big crazy sprawling (oh, also rich & influential) family. The “rogue AI trying to kill us” aspect is almost irrelevant in some ways.
Why do you like it?
Any time you can do a good slice-of-life family situation on film without relying too much on situations that trigger my “embarrassment squick,” I feel like you’ve done pretty well. The drama here is good, and it feels real… gritty on some levels, goofy on others. You know: Like a real family.
And then there’s the stupendously imaginative portrayal of the cyberspace elements. This movie is just plain pretty to look at, and never dull.
What might one not like about it?
There’s a lot going on in this story and if you can’t buy into both key elements (family drama, cyberspace AI) then you’ll spend at least half the time being frustrated. The huge cast can also lead to troubles keeping track of who said/did what to whom and why it matters, which can pull you out of the movie a bit. You might not be able to buy into some of the conceits required to make the cyberspace plot work, or maybe its depiction is too brightly colorful.
I urge you to try to get past these elements, of course.
Other thoughts about it?
Without spoiling the movie too much: It’s interesting that while the story does have a triumphant victory and a generally happy ending, the overall theme seems to be, “Life goes on regardless.” There’s a strong thread of thoughtful contemplation running through what is generally an energetic, arguably chaotic film.
Where can I watch it?
Buy the Blu-Ray release.