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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Summer Wars is a 2009 anime from Japan about an 11th-grade math genius who unwittingly unleashes a form of artificial intelligence that is determined to wreak havoc in Oz (aka cyberspace), robbing millions of email-access and GPS systems and ultimately leading to the planet's potential destruction. There is some cartoonish violence -- especially in Oz, where the avatars of the characters do battle with this monstrous artificial intelligence that starts out looking like a somewhat scary balloon boy and morphs into something large and demonic. There is occasional mild profanity ("bulls--t," "ass") and some smoking and drinking. An uncle asks his niece and her assumed boyfriend whether they've "done it" yet and are in "the family way." When a child asks his uncle what he's looking at on his phone, he tells him, "Women with big boobs." On a positive note, unlike so many movies in which the elderly are portrayed as helpless and doddering, the 90-year-old matriarch of the family is sharp-witted and assertive, just as likely to come up with solutions to the crises at hand as the younger characters around her.
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What's the story?
In SUMMER WARS, Kenji is a teenage boy with a talent for solving complex math equations who works part time coding data for Oz, which is essentially the equivalent of the Internet and cyberspace. But his life changes when the most popular and beautiful girl in his school, Natsuki, asks him to help her with an unspecified summer job. He accompanies her to her family's country estate, where her family is celebrating the 90th birthday of her grandmother, and this is where Natsuki informs her grandmother that she is engaged to be married to Kenji, much to Kenji's shock and dismay. As they try to keep up appearances to her eccentric extended family, things take a devastating turn after Kenji solves a complex equation sent to his phone by an unknown source. By solving the equation, he has unwittingly unleashed an artificial intelligence monster (aka a virus) called Love Machine into Oz, and as it starts to wreak havoc with email addresses, GPS, and infrastructure, Kenji is believed to be the guilty culprit. Not only must Kenji prove his innocence, he must also work together with his best friend, Kenji's nephew, and her uncle, who, out of greed, created Love Machine for the U.S. Army to find a way to stop not only Oz from being destroyed but also the potential destruction of Earth itself.
Is it any good?
This is an engaging and beautifully rendered anime that is as much about love and family as it is about the ever-tightening grip technology has on daily lives. The surrealism of the cyberspace battle scenes among the different avatars alone makes Summer Wars a stylish and innovative movie, but for all its present-day sci-fi-esque reality conveyed through computers and smartphones, the importance of roots and tradition are held to just as high of a standard. This comes through most clearly in the matriarch of the movie, a 90-year-old grandmother who is firmly rooted in tradition without seeming like a relic and who is just as take-charge as anyone younger in the movie without seeming like she's trying to act younger than she actually is.
There are a few story holes, but they aren't glaring enough to distract, and this is more than offset by the beautiful detail of the animation -- animation that just as exquisitely conveys a traditional family dinner as it does a cyberspace battle royale. The story also manages to stay focused and simple, even to the point that even those who aren't especially interested in gaming, hacking, and any facet of the culture surrounding the Internet will still find this enjoyable and easy to understand.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about ageism. How are the elderly often portrayed in media, especially American media? How is the portrayal of a strong-willed, sharp-witted 90-year-old matriarch and grandmother in Summer Wars a divergence from the typical stereotypes? How is this perhaps a reflection of Japanese culture?
How are teenagers portrayed in this movie? How is this similar to and different from other portrayals, in anime and elsewhere?
The veneration of family -- despite and because of imperfections -- is shown and discussed in this movie. How is this similar to and different from how extended families are portrayed in other movies?
- On DVD or streaming: February 15, 2011
- Cast: Michael Sinterniklaas, Pam Doughtery, Brina Palencia
- Director: Mamoru Hosoda
- Studio: Funimation
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Friendship, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Courage, Integrity
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: Action violence, some suggestive content, language, mild thematic material and incidental smoking.
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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