Monsoon-A-Day ‘Summer Wars’ (2009)

Welcome to Monsoon-a-day

Where I watch and review a movie a day. Or whenever I fucking feel like it.

Day 104

 

Even though Hollywood has been pilfering from it for years, anime has yet to be embraced by the mainstream. In a culture that worships at the alter of fandom, it’s strange to me that anime and manga are still branded with the stigma of nerdiness. There’s a new superhero film released every other day and the most popular tv shows are based on a zombie comic book and a fantasy soap opera involving dragons but the vast majority of Americans are completely oblivious to the existence of anime and the ones that are usually ridicule the ones that do.

When it comes to embracing the cultural output of the East, we’ve taken a shine to Mario and to a lesser extent Hello Kitty and that’s about it. I have two theories as to why that is.

1. Americans, for the most part, associate anime with hentai and hentai with tentacle porn.

2. Every time they are introduced to it, it’s in the form of a terrible Americanized remake.

Now, we can debate the appeal of tentacle porn all day but since that’s kind of irrelevant to the topic at hand, I’d rather table that for another day. In regards to the second point however, the best example of long Hollywood has been obsessed with anime is the production life of the live action adaptation of Akira. If Taika Waititi finally makes the damn thing, by the time it’s released, the project will have been in development for at least 20 years.

They’ve been trying to make it a thing forever and while I admire their tenacity, the previous live action anime adaptations give me no hope that it’ll be any good. The Guyver was bad (although the sequel was pretty solid), Death Note was terrible, Crying Freeman wasn’t good, Dragon Ball: Evolution was atrocious, Ghost in the Shell was forgettable and Alita: Battle Angel looks like a mess.

The only ones that have worked are the ones that borrow without remaking wholesale. Lucy borrowed (some would say liberally), from Elfen Lied, Inception has been attacked by fans for ripping off Paprika and Aronofsky loved one particular shot in the film Perfect Blue so much, that he acquired the remake rights just to use that shot in his film Requiem for a Dream.

The most egregious offender however, is the Ernest Cline nostalgia porn/celebration Ready Player One.

If you were to make a one to one comparison between that and Summer Wars, there wouldn’t be enough to build a plagiarism suit over and besides the virtual worlds found in both, there isn’t anything linking the two films together.

But the fact remains, there simply is no Ready Player One without Summer Wars. Uber nerd Wade Watts never has his epic Easter egg hunt without the OASIS and there is no OASIS without Summer Wars‘s OZ getting there first.

But unlike Ready Player One, Summer Wars is more than just it’s virtual world. The virtual world is more of a catalyst for the action and emotion than the crux of the story. If Ready Player One is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory meets The Matrix, Summer Wars is more akin to an Ozu film with a dash of Sci-Fi fantasy.

The story of Summer Wars takes place in Ueda, Japan. A boy named Kenji, a math genius and moderator for OZ (a virtual utopia that almost everyone uses), is invited by his friend Natsuki to come to her great-grandmothers 90th birthday celebration. He’s hoodwinked into believing it was for a job but when he gets there, he realizes he’s signed up to be her fake fiance for the week. To make matters worse, while there, he unknowingly decrypts OZ’s security and allows a rogue AI to take over OZ which controls practically everything in the world.

The foundation of the film is Natsuki’s rather large family and how they, along with Kenji, save the world from nuclear annihilation. This film eschews the typical wish fulfillment or the cliche heroes journey found in most action films to create a rich tapestry of characters that all have a role to play in the third act. Kenji is the protagonist and he does ultimately save the day but he’s not the hero. This is a film who’s heroes involve a 90 year old woman, a crazy fisherman, a computer salesman, a thief, a couple of kids and a gambler.

On paper, it sounds like a rock’em sock’em adventure film by Wes Anderson and that description is not too far off. Much like his film The Royal Tenenbaums, the film has a strong emphasis on family and both films have a crazy third act that involves everyone in one way or another.

In summation: anime isn’t tentacle porn, Ready Player One is garbage and Summer Wars is an underrated masterpiece.