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Despite what the above picture might lead you to believe, there are no giant robots in Summer Wars. The gorgeous new animated feature by Japanese director Mamoru Hosada features no Samurai showdowns or ancient wizard brawls. It’s a family-oriented picture aimed at not just anime enthusiasts, but anyone who loves a masterful animation. The major battles and monsters in the film are contained within a virtual world called OZ that doubles as both a social networking site and a Web-based program that runs every imaginable service from cell phones to stop lights.
The plot follows whiz kid Kenji, who accompanies his friend Natsuki to her grandmother’s 90th birthday party. While Kenji is getting acquainted with Natsuki’s large extended family, OZ is attacked by a virus, and things lose control from there. The beauty of the film lies in the two very distinct animation styles it contains. The real world Kenji inhabits is carefully detailed and fleshed out, while the world of OZ has a flat, polished appeal that hearkens to the style of Takashi Murakami, who crafted the brightly colored art for Kanye‘s Graduation.
The interplay between the virtual and traditional world is at the heart of the film—-Kenji learns the depths of Natsuki’s family history and tradition, and that all comes into play when interacting with the trouble in OZ. It’s particularly interesting in that Hosada doesn’t shoot for stale tradition vs. technology themes; rather, he takes both as a given and explores the convergence of the two. Everyone is part of OZ, and Narsuki’s family all pay respect to their elder matriarch. Kung Fu training informs computer gaming, and the digital realm of OZ is incorporated into nearly every aspect of real life. With that in mind, a disaster in OZ means a disaster in the rest of Japan, and the tightly woven family’s response to the crisis is what gives the astounding visuals a beating heart.
Summer Wars opens today at West End Cinema.