Ink & Pixel: Summer Wars

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I’m always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. If you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature animated films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

As time marches on, [it seems that] we - as a society - have become rather trusting with regard to giving away our private information online. Unfortunately, a byproduct of this practice is a crime known to many as identity theft. In fact, according to statisticbrain.com there have been an estimated 11,571,900 cases of identity theft reported every year, resulting in the combined loss of billions of dollars for families all over the globe. Yet – despite the danger - it sometimes feels as if we're given no choice but to submit our personal and financial information, and are then left to hope for the protection of those in charge. Frightening stuff, right? When you get right down to the nitty gritty it all becomes a matter of trust. Isn't trust something that should be earned, though? Are the laws that have been set in place to protect you enough? Where am I going with all of this?

Well, what if I told you that an online infrastructure by the name of Oz promises not only to keep you safe, but to also invite you into a virtual world where you can socialize, shop, and share your most personal of interests and information with others, without ever having the fear of your exclusive information being shared with undesirables? Would that excite you? Would it put you at ease? Well, what if someone decided to take advantage of that system, and used it to remind you that your information - and that of all who trust and use the Oz interface - is never truly safe. How would you feel then? This is SUMMER WARS.

From Mamoru Hosoda - the quixotic director of the Japanese animated feature film THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME - comes the technologically charged science-fiction action romance SUMMER WARS. Released in 2009, this overwhelmingly beautiful and bombastic anime from Madhouse Animation Studios and Warner Bros. Entertainment, tells the fantastical tale of how Kenji Koiso, his gorgeous yet conniving “girlfriend” Natsuki Shinohara, and the many members of the Jinnouchi clan helped save the world from technological, financial, and physical destruction.

Welcome to Oz, a virtual world where people from across the globe can come together online to enjoy themselves. After creating your own unique avatar to be used in the land of Oz, your personal information will be protected thanks to the most advanced encryption system known to man. In Oz, all speech is translated in real time, allowing people from all over the globe to talk to each other. At present, there are 4 million communities. Oz offers you unparalleled access to features such as online sports and business connectivity. Pay your bills and register your important documents with the push of a button! A world of adventure awaits you! Travel to Oz today![paraphrased from the original animated film]

Oz sounds incredible, doesn't it? Unfortunately, Kenji, Natsuki, and the rest of Natsuki's very extended family - the Jinnouchi clan - are about to be placed right in the epicenter of a horrific act of cyber terrorism when an uber-powered avatar known as Love Machine gains control of the system. Love Machine uses its ability to absorb and ultimately corrupt the avatars of the Oz community; his aim is to prove to the users that no unified system is safe and, when placed in the wrong hands, can bring complete and utter destruction to all participants foolish enough to trust otherwise. Thankfully, Kenji, Natsuki, 80 members of the Jinnouchi family, and billions of Oz members all across the globe are ready and willing to fight for their identities, even if it means losing everything in the process.

For any of you reading this who have already seen the movie SUMMER WARS, I hope you rally with me in saying that this is visually one of the single best anime films of recent times. The land of Oz, inspired in part by a Japanese social networking service called Mixi, was executed by using a combination of both traditional hand-drawn animation and computer generated materials provided by a Japanese production company called Digital Frontier.

In fact, because there was such an overwhelming change in tone – with regard to pacing as well as animation – moving from the film's “real life” setting to that of the virtual land of Oz, several different directors of animation were asked to lend their specific expertise to the project. Some film buffs would argue that bringing too many visionaries onto one project could be a recipe for disaster, but in the case of SUMMER WARS, the results were a delicious feast for the eyes as well as the heart.

Thus far, I've touched mostly on the visual aspects of SUMMER WARS, but make no mistake, the film also carries with it an inspiring emphasis on family values. The Jinnouchi clan, based loosely upon the very real Sanada clan of the city of Ueda (a city located in the Nagano Prefecture of Japan), are the heart and soul of this film.The way this film resonates with its audience so much more than just another action-heavy anime is due in large part to this family and its dynamic. Through them, and Sakae Jinnouchi - the grandmother and monarch of the entire Jinnouchi clan - in particular, we learn to keep a level head when faced with certain doom. Sakae Jinnouchi teaches us about the game of Hanafuda: a Japanese flower card game that features heavily in the climax of the film, deciding the fate of all who participate in the land of Oz.

For those who are not aware of what the game of Hanafuda entails, allow me to elaborate. Courtesy of Hanafuda.com:

A traditional Hanafuda deck of cards has 48 cards divided into 12 suits – one for every month. The four cards from each month share a common Japanese nature-inspired theme, whether it's cherry blossoms in March or maple leaves in October. Modern deck makers have taken some liberties with the traditional illustrations, and these days contemporary Hanafuda decks use a wide variety of animation styles, and even incorporate non-traditional characters like Napoleon and Mario.

The object of virtually all Hanafuda games is to get more points than the other players. To do this players must capture and accumulate cards of the same suit or of a special combination by matching them based on their flower, or month.

Scoring varies slightly from one variant to the next. In some variants the hand winner takes all the points accumulated between themselves and their opponents. In other games, the winner claims only their own points, and in still other games there are special rules that allow players to deduct points from their opponents.

In the film, Natsuki Shinohara opts to engage the malevolent Love Machine by challenging him to a winner-take-all variant of Hanafuda using the rules of “Koi Koi”.

Koi Koi is a game of calculated risks. Because the key to winning is creating the largest combinations, players must decide if they will accept a smaller combination or test their luck by waiting for a larger one. If a player has a made combination but chooses to wait for a larger one, then they challenge their opponent by announcing “koi koi” or “come on.” If their opponent makes a combination before they do, then the challenger loses all points from that hand, but if the challenger achieves a second or larger combination first, then they not only win, but they may double the value of that combination. Players may elect to continue this challenge into third and fourth combinations, thereby tripling or even quadrupling their points.

I bring all of this to your attention because it is within the sequences featuring Hanafuda where the film achieves yet another level of visual excellence. I literally dropped my jaw and was dumbfounded by the beauty of the animation executed near the close of the film, during the scenes in which the game of Hanafuda is played.

In keeping with the Ink & Pixel attention to detail, a little financial data to round out our SUMMER WARS experience: all told, by the end of the film's theatrical run it managed to collect a worldwide total of $18,353,560.

Listen, I write about and recommend a lot of movies to you within the confines of this column, but take my word for it when I say that you must see SUMMER WARS. It is without a doubt one of my personal favorite animated films of all time and is not to be missed. Even if anime's not your thing, please, do yourself a favor and seek it out. Honestly, there have only been 3 animated films over the past several years that have inspired me to jump out of my skin with excitement and this is one of them – the others being THE ADVENTURES OF TIN TIN and Part One of EVANGELION 3.33 YOU CAN (NOT) REDO. Koi Koi!

Extra Tidbit: Did you know that the legendary Nintendo gaming company first opened its doors in 1889 for the purpose of manufacturing Hanafuda cards?! True story!



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