summer wars review outtakes (with spoilers)

Bonus post for Summer Wars review. This one has spoilers.

I don’t really get a chance to write review posts. I write up thoughts about episodes mostly, and that’s what fits blogging best. I find it silly for people to “review” single episodes… is life that micromanaged and microparceled that we need reviews for single episodes? And it’s way too hard to wait a full season to write a review– it’ll be so dated by then! I have readers claiming that Hidamari Sketch *** is the best series evar and demanding posts already!

That’s what’s great about movies. I can actually write reviews where I don’t need to give spoilers and still have a sorta meaty post… but… there’s a problem… there’s so few goddamn good animated movies these days. When I wrote my rough draft of the original review, I started it off with “Summer Wars is the best animated movie since Princess Mononoke. Hollywood can’t make anything except wisecracking zoo animals in weirder and weirder locales, like Ice Age 5: Mars!, and Japan seems risk adverse, with only really boring stuff from Ghibli and a lot of TV series turned movies.” (I cut it from the review, since I felt it distracted too much from Summer Wars itself, but I think it’s valid that grand film making is something lost in the animated world.) Princess Mononoke was a 90s movie! And we’re quickly approaching the 10s! There’s maybe a handful of good anime cinema, and, no, I’m not counting money grab remakes of fifteen year old anime series.


Yes, there’s the occasional gems like Mononoke and Totoro, but animated equals kiddie for too many people. If the only decent “animated” movies in the last decade have come from Pixar, something is wrong. I like Cars and Wall-E as much as the next guy, but they don’t have the same kind of complexity or maturity that Summer Wars has. (Other reviewers have said that Summer Wars is great for the whole family, I disagree. There’s enough technobauble that little kids will get lost in, there’s a lot of meaningful dialogue without fart jokes, and there’s the issue of violence and death. And punching family members in the face. And that gay cowboy sex scene.) Just when it’s done right, animated movies can create worlds that can’t be done in live action. Sure, there’s CGI effects, but they’ll all look cheap or showy or be a train wreck like 2012 or Poseidon. With animated movies, everything blends together in one world, masking the CGI disconnect that happens in a live action movie.

What I’m hopeful for is that we get more and better animated movies from Japan. It’s really the only hope of trying to convince the world that animated doesn’t have to equal kiddie fare. I think Miyazaki did a fine job in introducing movies that made us think and appreciate the story behind the animation, but it’s up to people like Hosoda to finish the job.

I did mention that I felt like people dismissing Miyazaki by separating him into earlier and present forms to be a backhanded compliment. So what if his recent movies haven’t been the same caliber as Nausicaa or Totoro? We forget that he had some clunkers back then too (I Can Hear The Sea, anyone?) But his works… for the most part, have been great, and I want him to continue trying for greatness. Maybe the worst thing that did happen to him was the exposure from the big budget Mononoke and Chihiro— he couldn’t retire into obscurity– and fade like Oscar Robertson and Julius Erving.


Also for the review, I didn’t want to reveal Obasan’s death. I felt like it was a big part of the plot and something expected yet something unexpected. I think it’s best that people discover this naturally. I also didn’t want to reveal just how big of a fucking coincidence that everything just happens involves people in Natsuki’s family. Her family not only has people in high places in every aspect of Japanese culture and government, it also houses the world’s greatest hacker and the world’s greatest Tekken player. Who knew? (And the world’s greatest hibiscus gardener.)

The thing about her… was that she really did unite the family. They finally brought down the rogue AI after they put aside their differences… and worked together as a family. Though I liked how Kenji ended up embodying what Obasan stood far at the end, earning him the respect (and admiration) of the family. Definitely his final code cracking was up in gar land.


I liked the fat fisherman uncle. He was awesome. Liked how he dropped his boat into the koi pond. Loved how he keeps going on about the family’s past military exploits. Liked how his OZ avatar is a ninja squid. Every family needs an uncle like him. And is that Taki’s dog back there?

I did want the movie to go into Natsuki’s and Kenji’s stories a bit more– a little backstory would be nice. But you knew from the moment she asked him to pretend to be his boyfriend, it would turn out exactly like a shitty Dane Cook romantic comedy that you’re half watching on a long flight. And it did. For the first hour, I was trying to figure out Natsuki’s role in all of this… and I decided to (subliminally?) give it away with my choice of the front image for the review post. Ah, screw it. Though I did resist the urge to write about how Natsuki lost her hanafuda match against Wabisuke earlier! Why did the family pick her to play? But it did lead to the best scene of the movie, where people start giving her their accounts– but predictable.

Plus, I’m still shaking my head at how anyone can decipher 2,048-bit encryption keys– in their head! Trust me, the American military would probably be more interested in that than a computer hacking bot. Though if he can crack the key with his head, why not copy and paste into Matlab? Obviously, that’s one weak encryption scheme. Though I liked how he talked about modular math earlier, which is a skill good for encryption. I also like how they implied that the American president’s OZ avatar could launch nuclear missiles… I was thinking, “Sarah Palin won in 2012. Fuck.”

(And, yes, Sarah Palin is as polarizing to the political world as Haruhi Suzumiya 2009 is to the Haruhi fanboy community. Needless to say, bunny girls always lead to trouble.)

Another tech plot hole would be that there’s no way they could have redirected the satellite with so little time left. It’s destination is already more or less set by the time it enters the atmosphere. Plus, there’s a communication blackout region when the satellite enters the ionosphere– it won’t be able to pick up GPS signals. Oh well, small nerd quibbles. I didn’t mention these in the main review since I didn’t felt they were major issues, and they gave away spoilers.


But I really did enjoy this movie. Most of the time, when I’m done watching a movie, I’m off to do something else. But this time, I felt like writing a post. That’s probably the biggest compliment I can give an anime– it made me want to type about it immediately afterward. You’ll enjoy it too. Go watch Summer Wars. Andohbytheway… koi koi!

15 Responses to “summer wars review outtakes (with spoilers)”

  1. Well, what about Kon movies? Sennen joyû was a masterpiece, while TG and Paprika were pretty good. I can even think of Mind Game, Metropolis, or Shinkai and Otomo last projects (maybe not that amazing but at least visually stunning). There still are worthy titles now and then – I sadly agree on the superiority of past decades though.

  2. give us back the real jason,

    we want our alien traps, symmetrical docking espers and meido time travelers

  3. Hayao Miyazaki didn’t direct I Can Hear The Sea, though, but Tomomi Mochizuki. Studio Ghibli doesn’t mean All Miyazaki All The Time.

    Other than that, great article, and I agree with a lot of it.

  4. I immediately downloaded Summer Wars after seeing your review, and while I did enjoy it,
    I am not as enthused about it. The family scenes were great and the characters were very
    fun, but I just couldn’t take the virtual world or the conflict seriously. It had no buildup for
    me. Things just kind of happened and I watched. Whereas, The Girl that Leapt Through Time left me with a lump in my throat near the climax of the movie. I don’t think the lead male in SummerWars had enough screen time to show as much growth as TGTLTT’s Makoto. Totoro, PrincessMononoke, SpiritedAway, and TGTLTT etc are all movies I would easily recommend to anyone but I would hesitate with SummerWars. In conclusion: I liked but I didn’t love.

  5. You are just as enthusiastic about as I was when I finished watching Summer Wars!
    Coincidence too, since I watched it like, 2 days before you did :)

    Great movie, I agree, but I DO wish they could’ve delved deeper into Natsuki’s and Kenji’s stories a bit more – they were such great characters :)

    Loved the scene with the german boy.

    Very touching.

  6. @alice: what the heck’s TGTLTT?

  7. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time?

  8. Haha, from experience, I can agree that MatLab would’ve been of awesome use in the movie. And while what you brought up does kinda make the movie seem less er… practical (for lack of a better word) that doesn’t make me like the story less. Also, totally agree on the lack of buildup between Kenji and Natsuki, but getting to see each of her family members and how they all function on a regular basis more than made up for it (besides, I could watch a cheesy romanticomedy whenever I want). Looking into Hosoda’s other works now, I think I should (finally) get to seeing “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.” Seems like quite the dude based on this, as well as his other works.

  9. I enjoyed Summer Wars tons, thanks for your original review calling my attention to its availability. I think it has the best-realized cyberspace representation I’ve seen on film.

    But…. it seems to me that Satoshi Kon has made several animated features in the time between Princess Mononoke and Summer Wars almost all of which at least rival Summer Wars. And, as Alice points out, Hosoda’s other film was pretty good, too. Plus maybe one of Shinkai’s features, and then there’s Jin Roh (I’ll give you a pass on not liking Ghost in the Shell: Innocence). I also liked Gotham Knight.

    And that’s just Japan. I think you can add to them Tim Burton’s animated works — neither Pixar nor Disney (I don’t think).

    (I can hear the sea wasn’t done by Miyazaki — it was a made-for-TV thing done by the Ghibli junior staff.)

  10. You guys are right about I Can Hear the Sea… it’s been a long time since I’ve watched it.
    @dm: I think Burton’s works are an acquired taste. You either like it, or don’t, but they don’t have the same mass market appeal that Ghibli in Japan or Pixar worldwide has. I didn’t like Jin Roh… definitely a case of more flash than substance. I think animated movies are tricky… it’s not easy making a good one.
    @StepTb: I only like Paranoia Agent from Satoshi Kon… and that’s not a movie. I’m not into trippy movies for the sake of being trippy. I like movies that evoke some sort of drama, comedy, or empathy… or hopefully all three. I guess this is why I’m looking forward to the Gundam 00 movies… one way or another, we’re getting drama, comedy, or empathy.
    One thing that I thought of after I wrote this post was that if you came up with a software program that could translate one language into another in real time, how would you go about monetizing it? Would you license the technology? Would you sell software? Or would you build it into something like Second Life such that people would have to pay $15 a month to access said technology. It would be a game changer. Imagine if FF14 had this ability… wouldn’t that be the killer app (and not gameplay or graphics) for that game? That’s one thing I think this movie got right… the right way to monetize a translation service is through a virtual environment.

  11. Speaking of relatively recent movies, I did enjoy Steamboy quite a bit. But it scores big points on my personal scale for being steampunk, so YMMV.

  12. Jason, what about Tokyo Godfathers? Kon’s only non-trippy movie was very good IMHO.
    What about the Kara no Kyoukai series? The quality goes up and down but I generally enjoyed them and I’m eagerly waiting for the last installment.

  13. The entire point of the movie (IMO) is how we take for granted our family obligations and relationships until the very last minute, especially due to our modern, digital lives. Natsuki lied about having a boyfriend only after her grandmother collapses (an event that precedes the movie but is mentioned prominently upon her introduction), Wabisuke sells much of the family estate to raise capital for his AI project, and Kazuma’s OZ addiction, while practically forgotten about by everyone, means that he hardly interacts with the rest of the family. Of course, Kenji almost doesn’t go with Natsuki because of his part-time OZ code monkeying.

    Also, very importantly, Kenji states that his mother and father, who are both part of the working class with no old family prestige or estate, are never home to celebrate the way that Natsuki’s family does. His saying this pretty much allowed him to return and be more or less accepted as part of the family and part of the solution.

    So while more character depth is always of benefit in order to draw viewer attention, I didn’t feel like the movie would have benefited from it enough that the extra time would be worth it. It may have even detracted from the flow of the movie overall. The developing character was the ensemble cast as metaphor for the core values of Japanese family. While Natsuki and Kenji are the so-called main characters, they’re mainly our eyes into the family, and eventually, their getting together is the justified reward of the family’s unity.

    Ensemble movies like this are always far more difficult to make, as having a large cast for a two hour movie doesn’t allow much for character development. It works better with an episodic format.

    Finally, I think this movie is actually perfectly suitable for family viewing. The core message is a familial one, and the techno-jargon is accompanied well enough with visual storytelling so that anyone can get the gist of what’s going on. Plus, I don’t believe in dumbing down or censoring for the sake of kids, at least when it comes to the levels of “mature subject matter” in a movie like this.

  14. So, some math nerdery. Cryptography isn’t really that magical. Most of it is reliant on the fact that numbers are really hard to factor unless you know the factors already, making it trivial to verify, but really, really hard to break. IIRC, the number that Kenji factored was 2056 decimal digits, not 2048 bits. Of course, that’s according to the subs, so that could be a translation issue, but there’s a huge difference in the number of digits. The largest RSA number is 2048 bits, but that’s only 617 digits and it hasn’t been factored yet. Assuming that OZ is using RSA and since this apparently is set in 2010, I’d say that a number of that length is plenty secure for a while. Tying essential services to Second Life is the bigger problem here. Of course, that makes the fact that he factored a bunch of those things in a few minutes even more hilarious.

  15. I would also like to point out that the code that that one math dood was cracking was only numeric, meaning that only the numbers 0-9 were used, which means that the code is a lot weaker. 10^2056 – 36^2056 is 5.72^3199 combinations difference. Even smarter people might notice that he seems to know the math behind the encryption which means that the maintenance people apparently know the public/private key encryption which is the only explanation why he can do the math on paper and get it right. However, this itself is another flaw because that would mean that you could simply use social engineering or just threaten a person who knows the key with death and then you could hack the system anyway.

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