I saw a commercial on TV advertising Microsoft Cloud. The idea is that no matter the device or software, be it on your phone or laptop or XBOX, those devices will be able to easily link and share information under the Microsoft banner. With many devices being wireless and many networks aided by satellites, it's not silly to think of all that information-sharing occurring in the actual clouds. Given that, the look and design of the computer-generated, virtual world in Summer Wars makes a whole lot of sense.
Japanese filmmaker Mamoru Hosoda has made his virtual world very much like living in a cloud. Built upon the back of the Internet, Hosoda's artificial environment is called Oz, and its appearance is basically an animated vision of George Lucas' major set piece at the end of The Empire Strikes Back (1980). It's a pure, bright, white background with the occasional ripple line to indicate clouds. Floating within are platforms where people work and play. Those platforms encircle each other. Occupying those platforms are cute, little avatars, which represent millions of users.
It seems to represent not only the millions of users in Japan, but perhaps millions if not billions more around the globe. Whether a user wants to surf the web, check email or even make a phone call, that user has to log into Oz. Once logged into it, an avatar represents the user, and yes that avatar is usually a small, cute, cartoonish figure. Those figures move about in Oz like fish in an aquarium.
Thinking of Oz as an adorable, colorful fish tank, the plot follows what happens when the guppies face a fierce shark dropped in the water. That shark is an artificially-intelligent, computer virus named Love Machine. With the various references to Disney resorts, Love Machine's initial appearance is that of a taller, demented Mickey Mouse. Initially, Love Machine's intentions are unknown. What it does is hack into user accounts and steal them. Love Machine becomes guilty of identity theft and fraud.
While this is a bad thing, it doesn't feel important or all together relevant, especially when pitted against the lives, the real lives of the guppies about which Hosoda wants us to care. The news about Love Machine and the news about its cyber attacks are relegated to the level of background noise and don't seem to rise to any level of importance until the end of the film. Thanks to Hosoda's direction, Love Machine seems no more threatening than a buzzing housefly.
Instead, Hosoda focuses on a Japanese family that rallies at an estate in the countryside. The estate is headed by the family's grandmother who is celebrating her 90th birthday. Despite her age, the granny is whipsmart, funny and very good with the marital arts. For her 90th, her granddaughter Natsuki decides to introduce her fiance, a computer programmer and math olympian named Kenji. The various and abundant family members weigh-in on Natsuki and Kenji's surprise engagement in typical, Japanese anime, exuberant ways.
It's exuberant and crazy and very much silly until the character of Wabiske enters the picture. Once he does, the whole dynamic changes. Things turn more serious, but there is no relevance or sense of connection to this Oz creation nor to Love Machine. The relevance does come at the end and then quickly shoots into the absurd.
All of this would have been fine if the finale didn't hinge on a card game that I didn't understand. I'm not sure if most Americans would. I suppose that all we needed was a signal every few seconds of who was winning and who was losing, which is what we got, but the whole thing washed over me.
Yet, that doesn't matter. Hosoda's film floats due to the crazy and colorful characters. It's utter ridiculousness in its plot that at times makes no sense, but the characters are funny and silly enough that it's enjoyable.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for some action, suggestive and thematic material, and smoking.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 54 mins.