Covering All Your Base Are Belong To Us
Summer Wars, a Japanese animated film recently making its way to American shores, is all movies ever made ever. If the Matrix ate the Netflix Instant Watch and coughed up the rinds, the end result would be this bizarre cacophony. It’s like taco dip stuffed inside lasagna stuffed inside a seven layer Neopolitan cake stuffed inside a dragon roll — and cinematically its like trying to take a bite of all four foods at once. The strangest part is that it’s an entertaining film, at least for me, because of both the goofy charm of the characters riding on this pinball train to hell through at least 73 different plot threads. Honest to God, it would be like falling asleep after the beginning of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and waking up during War Games and thinking it was the same Matthew Broderick movie. The film doesn’t work, on any level, it’s an ungodly mess, an overstuffed suitcase that’s going to be exploding with Kohl’s, and yet you just kind of go along for the ride, because it’s so insane. Even the name is a random happenstance, an off-hand comment that kind of makes sense but not really. Anime can be baffling, and I’m not saying that a giant mechanical shrimp-walrus does battle with a werewolf cyborg that shoots lightning from its scorpion tentacles. I’m just saying that it that COULD be in this bizarre swap meet of a film and it would still make as much sense as it does already. Like a juggler who just keeps adding balls, the film somehow manages to resolve all fourteenhundredthousand plot points by the end. And the flowers are still standing.
Kenji is a high school student who happens to be Japan’s number two mathlete and also a part-time code monkey for OZ. OZ is a virtual reality kind of social networking program that also includes all the basic codes and operations for various utilities, basic governmental functions, and other such ephemera. You can find out where everyone’s going for sushi and pay your taxes and ship flowers to your grandma while decapitating her in the virtual arena. Millions and billions of people have accounts in OZ.
Enter Natsuki, the girl all the nerd guys want. She hires Kenji for a mystery part-time job that involves a vacation at her family’s country estate, where the ancient Junnoichi clan is set to celebrate the 90th birthday of the clan matriarch. Kenji finds out when he arrives that he’s been brought in as Natsuki’s fake fiance: a college student at Tokyo U who traveled in America and comes from an ancient and well-connected family. Which is none of what Kenji is. So naturally, he’s in for a ribbing from Natsuki’s massive family of endless aunts and uncles and cousins and such. Including, a boisterous uncle who works for a seafood company, a policeman second cousin who’s sexually attracted to Natsuki, and a young prodigy who controls the OZ Avatar King Kazma: a rabbit decked out like otaku Travis Touchdown from the No More Heroes series.
If this were the film, it’d be a perfect vehicle for two tween Nickteen stars as a silly little summer rom-com. The stuff that all the Tiger Beat pin-ups endured. Somewhere, right now, someone’s penning something like this for Justin Bieber. But see, then it wouldn’t need to be an insane anime. In comes the black sheep of the family, a bastard son of the great-grandfather, who happens to be Natsuki’s secret crush and a computer programming engineer guy thing. There’s a lot of cousin-based incest in the plot, but when you make an omelette with everything in the kitchen, your bound to get a little tarragon in the baba ghanoush. He angers the grandmother who at one point pulls a spear on him and attacks him, telling him to die like a man. That’s right before Kenji wakes up in the middle of the night to a text message with a supposedly unbreakable algorithm which he solves in a half-daze. Solving the algorithm allows an AI program called Love Machine, which was unleashed by the US Government, to infiltrate OZ and start hacking profiles and basically taking over most of the world and setting off Superman III type shit.
So what starts off as a typical teen hijink rom-com has now devolved into a familial crisis, and is now about trying to stave off the destruction of the world by sentient computer virus. There’s also two tied in subplots about a high-school baseball championship and an orbiting satellite that manage to zing through. Chekhov talked about guns dropped in the first act being used in the third. Well, The Cherry Orchard just turned into the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Anything and everything that gets mentioned in the film somehow magically becomes a part of the plot. And so instead of falling in love, the family is bonding together to use the internet to save the world, which requires computer hacking, mathematics, a Japanese card game, and a kick-boxing rabbit. I don’t know what the fuck they are smoking, but I know you can’t make it without using a schoolbus in the desert.
Summer Wars blew my mind, and our audience was cackling with laughter, mostly because they just kept getting more and more off the rails before locking back in and somehow wrapping up as a fucking rom-com again. Much of the film is spent in the virtual world of OZ which is a huge benefit of the anime. A clear commentary on the importance of family as well as the overfocus on the electronica of our world — many of the little children are shown rattling away on Nintendo DS like devices — Summer Wars is a fascinating study in packing 15 pounds of heart into a 4 pound bag of shit. I’m still not sure what the hell I watched, and I cannot believe that they were able to rally all those loose threads by the end of the film, but it was an entertaining effort. I don’t think I liked the film itself so much as the daring of the filmmakers, but I keep finding myself trying to compare it to things to reconcile it in my head. If Cheaper By The Dozen involved their family competing in TRON’s grid to allow Piper Perabo to become a Coyote Ugly bartender to earn a singing career paycheck which goes to saving Thomas J.’s beestung corpse from dying of The Nothing, it might somehow come close. Not even.
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