Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Pluralism Of Summer Wars

A week later, and I still am hard-pressed to be convinced that Mamoru Hosoda's Summer Wars isn't a bold socio-techno allegory. The film has had me thinking about it quite a bit since my first viewing. And since my review was posted on Anime Diet, it never felt as if I could completely examine its effects in a mere review format, so what we'll have here are hopefully some near-cohesive thoughts that arise to mind, even as I've seen it a second time already. The effects remain similar, SW is a funny and thrilling feature film that while an expanded, revised version of the second Dejimon movie, thrives off of notions of cyberpunk, but implements them in the most seemingly mundane of settings, within the confines of a domestic comedy. It also intelligently places multiple generations of thought center stage for a battle of mind & will against a technologically superior threat.

The setting of the film, which is mostly within the countryside of Ueda has implications that this film is instantly meant to take us away from the often-overused sprawl of a concrete jungle as symbol for a dystopically overpopulated ubernet that plagues most virtual world laden storylines. Up until now, the operative emotion placed towards the interweaving globalization of electronic networks have been that of largely fear. The most commonplace concern being that of the ensuing disconnect that comes from thousands to millions logging on and possibly tuning out the very social nature that has led us toward this road. Any film that often centers on the proliferation of networks such as these tends to approach them with a balance of true to life observation.

While it is true that the baby steps of a mainstream internet has in fact brought out some less than flattering aspects of ourselves. (as a matter of fact, this sad story just came up this morning that functions well as further proof) It seems all too overwhelming to many that we've come to such a strange sociological branching point. Naturally, some growing pains would appear and persist. And as much as I love the films of Miyazaki, and even understand and agree with the notions Kiyoshi Kurosawa shared in Kairo (2001), it also does stand to reason that there are indeed some positive points to the advent of an interconnected world. Whether it be the breakout of Twitter posts during the Iranian election, and ensuing uprising of students, as well as the growing ability to create from multiple locations in real time. But where we can see such disconnection fears as valid, can we also see the possibilities inherent in a world where multiple generations utilize multiple methods of communication in order to sustain balance in life matters. In Summer Wars' immense virtual network of OZ, not only are participants able to meet and mingle with others across all nations, but are completely able to run businesses, pay taxes, and shop in what looks to be a very real destination point. It also cautiously proposes the problems that naturally come with such an intricate system. The more the abilities, the higher the stakes are in regards to personal well being and security. As eyepopping, and impressive as OZ feels, it also presents the natural hazards in a very convincing fashion.

And yet, we spend most of our time with the Jinnouchi clan as their matriarch's 90th birthday approaches. We are thrust into what can ostensibly be nothing more than a family comedy as Kenji is put upon to play boyfriend by his classmate, Natsuki, who's concerns are clearly and simply immature. So his current identity as a successful student from a rich family and heir to be flaunted around the already prestigious clan, the ruse is clumsily laid out as the family welcomes him with open arms, only to come crashing down when he is implicated for a network hacking of immensely damaging proportions. His identity revealed, all poor Kenji can do is watch as not merely Japan, but the world is thrown into a panic as network-dependent services and machinations are thrown into disarray by Love Machine, a rogue AI with nothing but information and damage as its goals. Placing our attentions on the humanity of these diverse and funny characters makes for not only a relatable moviegoing experience, but also gives us a solid visual take on just how distant we really are in contrast to whatever deus ex machina thinking would like us to believe. With the grandmother's stern test of Kenji's faithfulness at the start of the film, it is simplicity defined. These fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, aunts and uncles, are our first true network. And it is a feeling of community surging throughout the entire piece, Hosoda's film grants us a vision where not only we are more connected than we had ever imagined, we are granted a great deal more responsibility & personality with it.

Culminating with the extended "mission" climax of the film, we are also granted some encouraging notions regarding a move beyond the technophobia we see so often in other films. One very notable one being the assistance of the thirtysomething year-old firefigher brothers who have grown up playing video games cooperating together in order to stop the digital menace. For me, the implications of this are profound in that it isn't so much that the technology is to be feared, but rather our collective upbringing with it around leads to inevitably missteps and stumbles. And somehow, all aspects of growing up around evolving technology is to be seen with a much more critical eye, as there are both benefits and hazards to be met with each new step. It is an optimistic view to be honest, but it does stand to reason that we are now able to grasp concepts that would otherwise have been unfathomable twenty years ago.

So many films outright decrying computerization tend to omit the very elements of resilience and adaptibility from the mix, as if organic thought processes would up and stop someday. Even as the world seems to be in crisis over the stopping of the gargantuan cyberwheel, the notion of just up and talking with another to work things through is seen as a still all powerful option. While the threat of this is always an extreme possibility, one of Summer Wars's greatest assets is that it embraces the community, rather than merely the neo, which is quite encouraging. The idea that everyone has a stake, as well as talent to contribute is something to be cherished, and it's great to see an animated film grasp this.

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