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Timid eleventh-grader and math genius Kenji Koiso is asked by his secret crush Natsuki to come with her to her family's Nagano home for a summer job. Turns out Kenji discovers his "summer job" is to pretend to be Natsuki's fiance, for the celebration of Natsuki's spunky grandmother's 90th birthday. There, he receives a strange math problem on his cell phone which, being a math genius, he can't resist solving it. As it turns out, his solution creates chaos within the virtual world of OZ, translating into anarchy in real-life.
For more about Summer Wars and the Summer Wars Blu-ray release, see Summer Wars Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on February 13, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Michael Sinterniklaas, Brina Palencia, Pam Dougherty, Todd Haberkorn, J. Michael Tatum, Maxey Whitehead
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
» See full cast & crew
Summer Wars Blu-ray Review
The relationships within a family are a force to be reckoned with.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, February 13, 2011
Winner of several international awards for Best Animated Feature, Summer Wars is Mamoru Hosada's poignant look at the power of family bonds and the precarious nature of technological advancement. As odd as it may sound to place those two themes side-by-side within the same storyline, the result is something many of us rarely consider. For instance, we've all witnessed the rapid expansion of social media throughout the developed world -- to the point where human interaction is often replaced by the transfer of acronym-laden text messages. Furthermore, with the use of smart phones, telecommuting, and simple tasks such as online bill-paying, we've transitioned entire sections of our previous lives into a digital format, thereby placing our faith in passwords, encryption, or firewalls. Summer Wars doesn't necessarily offer a cautionary viewpoint on the direction we're headed in the digital realm, but it does point out the increasing importance of a physical family within these new societal boundaries, and champions the idea of standing united for a common good.
In the not-too-distant future, a technological breakthrough known as OZ will emerge as the centralized network for many of the business and social functions required by users all over the world. Each user develops their own avatar within the alternate world, and places their trust in the security protocols established by the developers of OZ. Serving as a moderator within this digital medium is a high school student named Kenji, who also happens to be a mathematical genius. One day while passing time on his computer, he's approached by a female friend named Natsuki, with a request to join her on a summer trip to Nagano for her grandmother's 90st birthday celebration. Offering to pay him for the work he's expected to do on the rural estate yet cagey about the details, Kenji reluctantly agrees to the terms of his "summer employment". Upon their arrival at the estate, he's introduced to Natsuki's colorful extended family and learns her real plan involves a charade to make everyone believe they've been engaged. Instructed to play along or forfeit the money he's been promised, Kenji stumbles his way through uncomfortable dinner conversations with the opinionated group and begins to question his ability to play along indefinitely. Later that night, Kenji receives a mysterious text message containing a complex mathematical problem. Casually solving the equation before retiring to bed, the young lad's awarded a brief "Thank You" from the source of the original message and thinks nothing more of it.
The next morning Kenji wakes up to find a photo of his face prominently displayed on every television news channel, with accompanied reports of an OZ infiltration by a hacker using his personal Avatar. Desperately hoping to clear his name, Kenji enlists the aid of Natsuki's tight-knit family to devise his own cyber counter-attack on the person or program responsible for disrupting OZ, and stop the resulting terrorist acts beginning to crop up in the real world.
Summer Wars is a film that simultaneously delivers simplicity and complexity to create an end product that will surely resonate in a different way with each viewer. Considering its family-friendly MPAA rating of "PG", I went into the film expecting something akin to Miyazaki's edgier productions (though minus the environmentalist components), meaning the film would be accessible to younger generations, yet still relevant to adult family members. What I discovered isn't far from such assumptions, since kids will undoubtedly adore the sequences that take place in the cybernetic world of OZ ľ as they giggle with delight at the outrageous avatars, frenetic environments, and all manner of digitized phenomenon. As much as I enjoyed these segments of the film, the true meat of the story takes place outside the world of OZ, and concerns the actions of the Jinnouchi family. When faced with adversity, it's the family's ability to pull together as a collective body to overcome the impossible that lends the story moralistic depth and true widespread appeal.
Unfortunately, the elements I enjoyed the most in the film are also the ones that may turn some viewers away. Looking at the cover art for the Blu-ray, you'd anticipate a heavy focus on the alternate universe of OZ, but in reality there's not much time spent away from the Nagano Estate. As a result, we have a storyline that delves heavily into themes of young love, familial deception, and the redemption discovered in the heart of tragedy. These are all interesting components to dissect, but when they significantly slow the pacing of the film and fly over the head of anyone under the age of 13, we're forced to re-evaluate who the true target of Summer Wars really is.
Regarding the animation courtesy of Madhouse, we're shown an interesting dichotomy between the sequences in the real world and the frenetic environment of OZ. From the opening credit sequence, OZ is revealed as a detailed, multi-dimensional plane, that stands as a true visual force. The best comparison I can provide is Satoshi Kon's 2006 film Paprika, but minus the nightmarish imagery. Turn the coin over to sequences in the real world (which dominate the film), and we find a stark shift to the mundane normalcy of the Jinnouchi family's peaceful rural estate. There's still a certain beauty to the plain world, but the simplicity of the animation will make most viewers crave the otherworldly visual assault in the realm of OZ.
Summer Wars Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 28Mbps), Summer Wars looks superb in high definition. Considering the bulk of my anime review slate involves budget-conscious television productions, it's always a pleasure to delve into the visual prowess of a heavy-hitting theatrical offering. As mentioned earlier in the review, the animation quality of Summer Wars is a bit hit-or-miss depending on the reality displayed, but regardless of the nuances in the hand-drawn or CG animation, the transfer itself is spot on. Line definition is crisp and detailed, avoiding any shred of blurring or stairstepping; the color palette is vivid and bright, with bold hues that match the inspiring nature of the storyline; and contrast differentiation is completely uncompromised, revealing every nuance against the predominantly white backdrop of OZ. Beyond the aforementioned visual strengths, I never noticed any instances of edge enhancement, banding, or digital anomalies, leaving me with an overall impression that's difficult to beat.
Summer Wars Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As is customary with a theatrical anime release, we're given the option of a surround mix on both the native Japanese and English dubbed offerings. This diverges from the situation we often find on television productions in Japan, which routinely deliver a 2-channel stereo mix (in case you weren't aware, in-home surround sound hasn't gained the foothold we've witnessed in America). Fortunately for us, this translates into a rare opportunity to enjoy a native track with the same level of immersion found on the English dub, ruling out the need for debate over which is the superior option. Getting down to the specifics of each audio track, we have excellent spatial separation during the frenetic scenes inside OZ, which range from a rollercoaster aerial battle to the creation of a monstrous demon built from millions of individual avatars. During these epic sequences, the audio mix delivers on all cylinders, but also tends to overshadow the subtleties of the dialog-heavy real world sequences. Such is the reality of contrasting elements in a production of this sort, since there's ultimately nothing wrong with the quality of the track at any given point, yet it still runs the risk of diminishing the level of enthusiasm felt by each viewer.
Taken as a whole, this is an above average audio presentation that should please the most discerning audiophile, despite not making it onto many lists of demo-worthy material (thanks entirely to the nature of the production).
Summer Wars Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Special Features are limited to five brief interviews with members of the Japanese voice cast (Ryunosuke Kamiki, Nanami Sakuraba, Mitsuki Tanimura, Ayumu Saito, and Sumiko Fuji), a longer interview with Director Mamoru Hosada, collections of trailers and TV Spots for Summer Wars, as well as previews for other productions on Funimation's release slate. All special features are presented in 480p with a lossless stereo track, and run a collective 40 minutes in length.
Note: All interviews were conducted in Japanese, so they've been included here with forced English subtitles.
Summer Wars Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Theatrical anime often differentiates itself from Hollywood animated productions in two recognizable ways. In the first category, we have anime that's defined by its over-the-top take on action and comedy, which is often considered too outrageous for the American market. Look on the flipside, and we're given predominantly moralistic productions that focus on the human element, but lack the excitement and pacing of your typical Disney fair. In the case of Summer Wars, we have a storyline that incorporates both extremes to some degree, delivering an end product that may not be accessible to all, but should feel familiar and appealing to anyone with an appreciation for anime in general.
Summer Wars: Other Editions
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• This Week on Blu-ray - February 15-21 - February 15, 2011
It is not uncommon for directors to have favorite actors, but it is a bit unique for a director to use the same lead actor three films in a row. Of course, that is exactly what director Tony Scott has pulled off with his favorite actor Denzel Washington for their ...
• Anime Blu-ray Wave from Funimation in February-March - November 18, 2010
FUNimation has revealed its Blu-ray slate for February-March 2011, with a dozen titles. They include two eagerly awaited anime movies: the second Evangelion feature, Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance, and Mamoru Hosoda's Summer Wars, previously only available ...
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