Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Return to Oz: A Summer Wars Retrospective

Summer Wars is a 2009 animated film from director Mamoru Hosoda. It was his third feature and a spiritual and personal remake of his earlier Digimon film, Our War Game, which made up the second segment of Saban’s Digimon: The Movie. What makes Summer Wars still so spectacular over ten years later? Read on as I return to this classic anime film.

The film has two major settings: one within the virtual social network known as OZ and the other at the Jinnouchi estate where the massive, multi-generational family gathers to celebrate their matriarch’s 90th birthday. The scenes within OZ feature impressively designed visuals and animated fight scenes while the real world segments focus more on the family members’ relationships and their various interpersonal dramas.

Summer Wars was a rare impulse buy of mine, made after clicking on an ad on some news site back in college. Boy oh boy was I thoroughly blown away by a story about a big family I could relate too that was also somehow a near beat-for-beat remake of the Digimon movie. I don’t hear about this movie that often, so if I’d never clicked on that ad I probably never would’ve heard about it.

I think a lot of people are drawn in by the flashy fight scenes set in OZ, but the real story is what happens between the family members. There’s over 25 of them and they each have their own unique personalities and a role to play in the story.

There’s also a lot to be said about how the world of OZ, basically a souped up Facebook, is so integral to their society and yet the story involves such a large cast spending quality time together out in the country. You almost never see someone lounging about on their phone like you might in real life. 

I’ve seen a few comments about how this movie is two separate stories that would’ve been better on their own. That’s dumb. The two halves work perfectly as a whole and you know those comments were really about how some people prefer big dumb action and wouldn’t watch a multi-generational family drama anyway.

I’d certainly enjoy a film that took place entirely in a virtual world and, coming from a big family myself, I’d watch a movie about an old lady’s birthday. But Summer Wars wouldn’t work if you took one of those halves away.

Summer Wars is a sci-fi action movie full of cool virtual fights that Digimon fans love. But it’s also a very mature, coming of age story full of all kinds of family drama that Digimon fans also love. It’s both, and it shouldn’t be any other way.