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In the future, social media has led to the creation of OZ, a digital world where many business and social functions take place (think Second Life to the next level). Kenji Koiso is a mathematics whiz and moderator for OZ. At the beginning of summer vacation, he's asked by one of the most popular girls in his school, Natsuki, to help in celebrating her great-grandmother's 90th birthday. After the birthday, he receives a text message with a math problem inside, which he easily solves. The next morning Kenji awakes to find that his face is on every television news channel, with reports of an OZ infiltration by a hacker. Desperately hoping to clear his name, Kenji enlists the aid of Natsuki's family to devise his own cyber counter-attack on the person or program responsible for disrupting OZ, and stop the resulting terrorist acts from cropping up in the real world.
I'm not the biggest fan of anime, save for a couple films that some people would say have 'crossover appeal'. The GHOST IN THE SHELLs, the BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIREs and so on have been welcome additions to my library of films. This is also coming from a guy who didn't like AKIRA. So with that out of the way, here's SUMMER WARS, which has garnered several international awards for Best Animated Feature. Based on that, director Mamoru Hosada's story of the power of family bonds and the frightening possibilities of technological advancement certainly has that potential crossover appeal.
For starters, the concept of a virtual world where business transactions and social interactions take place via user-created avatars is nothing new. As I mentioned before, Second Life has been doing it for years. Obviously, the film takes the concept and turns it up to eleven, which makes the whole thing very plausible and appealing in today's society. But even with the online component's contribution, there's still a story about a family that endures that's palpable for those not considered 'in the know' for online social interactions.
But perhaps the greatest thing about the film is the cast of characters: over 30 unique individuals, each one having a personality of their own. With a cast this size, it would be difficult to pick out a handful to follow, but that's part of the fun. Each character, despite some possibly having just a few dozen lines of dialogue, still manages to create a presence that sticks with you. Even though there are the typical standbys (the wise grandmother, the mischievous little kids that run around at every gathering), every family has them, and everyone can identify with that. It also doesn't feel like these characters weigh the film down and steal away the spotlight from our main protagonists, which is also something impressive.
Honestly, I can't find a single major problem with the film. Sure, part of me wishes that more focus was on OZ (much of the film and its story take place in reality), and the result (and story) might turn away those individuals who grew up on Digimon and wanting to see more virtual martial arts videogame-style battles rather than exploring real-life problems faced as a whole by a family, but that's their problem. The colourful animation and imaginative visuals complemented (not dominated) by CGI coupled with a story that reaches a wider audience than what you'd expect are the real deal here.
So yeah, I guess you could say that SUMMER WARS has crossover appeal. It's most certainly not horror, but every once in a while, you'd want to see something that warms the cockles of your cold, black heart rather than seeing gallons of arterial fluid spray out of a stump or neck. The message, despite being presented in a futuristic yet all-too plausible reality, is simple and charming, and able to reach a wider audience than you'd expect to see from a film involving videogame-esque characters. It might not be everyone's type of film, but it can certainly reach a wider audience than you'd expect.
Video: To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Don't get me wrong, the picture is certainly clean and colourful. The problem I found was that at times, the picture was fuzzy. Whether this was an artistic decision to represent OZ, I don't know. Also, the blacks and darker colours weren't quite dark enough. It might be the fact that I've become spoiled with high-def Blu-Rays, but I felt that on closer inspection, the transfer could've been better. Still, the main thing is that the transfer didn't detract from the viewing experience, which is what counts.
Audio: Armed with two audio tracks, an English 5.1 Dolby Surround and a Japanese 5.1 Dolby Surround with English subtitles, the audio fares better, but could've been given more attention. The English dub is competent and is consistent with the English subtitles, without any sort of technical hiccups. Dialogue is clean and clear, but doesn't have as much of a punch as it could have been. Surrounds aren't used much, and the lower end of the audio lacks the oomph it could've. Again, it didn't take away the enjoyment of the film, despite the opportunity to be better.
The first DVD is devoted to the film, but does include trailers for BLACK BUTLER, SOUL EATER, SPICE AND WOLF, FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST: BROTHERHOOD, DRAGON BALL Z KAI, RIDEBACK, HERO TALES and KENICHI.
The second disc contains Interviews with the Japanese Cast for starters, discussing their characters and impressions of the film. What's nice is that it's the Japanese cast being interviewed, not the English dub. It's nice that there's attention given to these folks, since they could have a different interpretation of the characters and the film than would the English cast.
Following that is an Interview with Director Mamoru Hosoda. His is the longest of the interviews, and rightfully so, since the guy provides a great discussion of the film.
Rounding up the extras are a collection of trailer, teasers and TV Spots for the film.
As for the packaging, the DVD comes with an embossed slipcase with the family's OZ avatars on the front, and inside the transparent keepcase are a set of cards featuring various OZ avatars belonging to the characters in the movie.
Overall, I'd say that the inclusion of the interviews of the Japanese cast are a plus, but there's still part of me that wants more, like a documentary, commentary or something of that nature. Again, I'm probably spoiled by the big-budget films and their plethora of extra, but this is still a great set to compliment the film.
Beneath SUMMER WARS' tale of online technology taken to the next level, there's still a story of family and overcoming obstacles as a family that reaches far beyond what you'd expect. Add to that the wonderful characters and gorgeous traditional animation visuals, it certainly deserves a viewing by everyone. The extras nicely compliment the film, even though some folks might be left wanting more. Still, many should be satisfied.
Those wanting a Blu-Ray upgrade for this film can get it here.