25: Summer Wars (DVD)

I became aware of Summer Wars last year, flicking through some news item trying to work out why so few Japanese films were being released in the UK at the moment*. There was someone bemoaning the lack of anime releases, and in particular when would they get to see Summer Wars. I watched this trailer below I think and though it looked like a cute, if somewhat serious, Pokemon type film. But it was by the director (Mamoru Hosoda) who made The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which I liked, so on the list it went. I am glad I did as I don’t think I have been as surprised and delighted by a film I selected at a whim since Ping Pong.

I really have a soft spot for films which get the internet wrong. For films that try to envision a type of internet that would exist for the storytelling purposes of the film. And in Summer Wars the internet has almost been replaced by OZ, a Facebook like social networking site which seems to be all things to everyone. Hence cutesy avatars and epic battle sequences. But surrounding that is a wonderfully sweet story of a large Japanese family and what family can or can’t mean in the internet age. It is a bit like an animated Ozu film, intercut with this epic internal online battle. Its a film whose stakes lurch from a teenage boys embarrassment to the end of the world. Not many films can pull that off. Summer Wars does with aplomb.

As mentioned above one of the great things about Summer Wars is an almost mid-nineties idea of what a mega social networking site could be. The film could replace its gaudy OZ with Facebook and it would probably still work, though the zingy battle sequences may have to be replaced by someone giving someone else a pig in Farmville. It make age terribly, already the social networking issues in the film seem a touch past it. It also has a hero who is a mathematician, which as you will understand, instantly puts it near my favourite genre of film. All of which makes it a genuine pity that Summer Wars, which is a great family film, has gone straight to DVD in the UK. Particularly if competitors like Studio Ghibli seem to be aiming squarely at the under fives at the moment: here is an intelligent, all-ages amime for everyone. As a bonus it also seems to subtly embody and be a commentary on much of the great cinema history of Japan. Which I hope to continue.

*The answer seems to lurch between death of J-Horror, and very introspective Japanese cinema scene, and medium collapse of the companies that did a lot of Japanese film releases. Though there was a strong subtext that basically Japanese cinema has been pretty weak of late which I cannot comment on because the films haven’t been released much. Though the last modern Japanese film I saw, Confessions, was pretty ropey.

Film 2Oh!! is an attempt to write about every film I have seen this year which is really quite tricky. This year I have seen 122 films, written about 25. Its tricky.