Blissful. The fanciful and fantastic “Summer Wars” (Samâ wôzu, 2009) starts with a social network and swiftly moves to social breakdown, as a “virtual world on the internet,” Oz, goes mad, kind of like Second Life gone amok. Bright, bold and dense, this overstuffed entertainment by director Mamoru Hosoda—a protégé of Hayao Miyazaki and reportedly the original director of “Howl’s Moving Castle”—shuffles dozens of characters, a half-dozen themes, and myriad movie influences and references from “The Wizard of Oz” to “Tron,” from “A.I.” to “War Games.” (Yes, also “The Matrix” and “Speed Racer.”) He’s keen on depicting generational difference, from elders telling legends in their traditional houses to grandkids to the grandkids whose imagination pinwheels through dazzling visual scenarios, at computer screens but also in bustling cities and streets, in offices and on highways and traffic control centers to vast urban landscapes. (There’s a menacing tenor that Hosoda gets from his exteriors and landscapes that’s reminiscent of “Cure” and “Charisma”-era Kiyoshi Kurosawa.) There are a raft of characters, not limited to hackers and games-players, arrayed with delicacy and style. The sentimental scenes, atop everything else, may be the most effective. It’s anime, but it’s also simply awesome pop storytelling. The eclectic, effective rush of a score is by Akihiko Matsumoto. 114m. (Ray Pride)
“Summer Wars” opens Friday at Siskel. Some shows are subtitled in English; others are dubbed. The Japanese trailer is below.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.