Summer Wars

OZ is an online platform that has become ubiquitous on the internet, used for everything from email, social media, online dating and personal finances to government infrastructure and corporate logistics.  Its success is due to the allegedly unbreakable encryption codes that ensure the privacy and un-hackability of every OZ account. High school student Kenji Koiso is a maths prodigy and computer nerd who works part time as an OZ systems engineer. Utterly unworldly and lacking self-confidence, he is astonished when attractive and charismatic Natsuki Shinohara asks him to spend a weekend with her at her family home near Ueda in western Japan. There, he meets the various aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, cousins, nieces and nephews that make up Natsuki’s extended family, all of whom have gathered to celebrate the 92nd birthday of the formidable family matriarch, Natsuki’s great-grandmother, Sakae. He also discovers Natsuki’s motive in inviting him: he is just her “cover”, intended to ward off prying questions from the family about her personal life. The night of their arrival, Kenji receives a mysterious email asking him to solve what he thinks is a maths puzzle; the next day, he is mortified to discover that it was actually the “unbreakable” encryption codes for OZ. Worse, the source of the email was an AI called Love Machine, which, thanks to Kenji’s puzzle-solving skills, has now taken over the OZ platform and is causing havoc the world over. Together with Natsuki’s cousin Kazuma, Kenji manages to confront Love Machine and break its stranglehold on OZ; the platform, however, remains disrupted, with millions of people shut out from their accounts. That’s when tragedy strikes: the OZ-based health app that was supposed to monitor Sakae’s wellbeing fails to function due to the ongoing disruption, resulting in her death from heart failure. What’s more, the family learn that it was Sakae’s maverick adopted grandson Wabisuke who is responsible: it was he who developed the Love Machine AI and set it loose on OZ in order to prove its effectiveness as a cyber-weapon to the Pentagon. But now Love Machine has re-emerged on OZ and is threatening to do worse than disrupt traffic and email accounts: it has hijacked an orbiting satellite and has sent it plummeting toward a nuclear reactor. Somehow, Kenji, Natsuki, Kazuma, and Wabisuke must break into OZ and stop Love Machine before disaster strikes…

Produced by famed anime studio Madhouse and directed by the acclaimed Mamoru Hosoda (“Mirai”, “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”), “Summer Wars” premiered in Japanese cinemas in August 2009, taking the familiar trope of a socially awkward teenager swept off his feet by an outgoing girl and turning it into an entertaining and yet thoughtful action-adventure that combines keen social observation, warm-hearted humour, and telling commentary on the interface between the online and real worlds.   Animated in a style that owes clear influences to Hayao Miyazaki, and yet departs from a “classic” Studio Ghibli aesthetic through the skilful addition of CGI, “Summer Wars” is a fast-paced romp shot through with the humour of situational embarrassment and wry truths about the joys and difficulties of belonging to a large family. But the dynamics of family life and the awkwardness of adolescent emotions form a background to a wider narrative about the total dependence of the world upon its vaunted cyber-networks, and the vulnerabilities which this dependence creates. It also raises the disturbing question of what might happen when the systems our technological ingenuity develops move beyond our capacity to control, evolving into a form of intelligence that may not necessarily be sympathetic to our continued existence. Commercially successful and critically acclaimed, “Summer Wars” is both an entertaining family-based comedy, and a somewhat discomforting examination of the price to be paid for technological sophistication – a rare example of both breezy humour and thoughtful commentary brought together in the same, well-crafted package.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.