Summer Wars – DVD review

Cyberspace anime that kicks Tron: Legacy’s butt

Release date: 28 March 2011
2009 * PG * 110 minutes * £17.99 (DVD)/£19.99 (Blu-ray)
Distributor: Manga Entertainment
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Nanami Sakuraba, Sumiko Fuji, Ayumu Saito, Mitsuki Tanamura

The best anime movies redefine SF and fantasy. Ghost In The Shell introduced a new kind of screen cyberpunk. Spirited Away transformed kids’ fantasy. The marvellous Summer Wars is, among other things, a cyberspace spectacle, but with the warmth and wonder we associate with Pixar or Ghibli. For anyone who’s seen director Mamoru Hosoda’s previous film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: the man’s still got it.

The witty story starts in teen romcom mode, though straight off there’s much more happening under the surface. Shy schoolboy (and maths prodigy) Kenji is dragged into the countryside by the fair Natsuki, a girl who wants him to – ahem – impersonate her fiancé. Home is a former samurai fortress, where Kenji meets Natsuki’s boisterous extended family, led by her knife-sharp great-granny. That night, Kenji unwinds by solving a maths puzzle sent to his phone, and things go cyber…

The film’s online world is the exact opposite of Tron: Legacy’s neon night. It’s a realm of soft pastels and shining white spaces, where cartoonily whimsical avatars zoom and soar like Pokemons from Krypton. As for the cyber-villain, it mutates throughout the film, from a sniggering Mickey Mouse-alike, to a macho kung-fu king, to a towering Godzilla.

Wisely, though, Summer Wars sets most of its action in the real world, where Natsuki’s clan is the most engaging cartoon family since the Incredibles. Summer Wars has the dramatic weight of that Pixar film; there’s a bold story turn that gives a real punch to the throw-in-everything fireworks finale. Calling Michael Bay! This is how you make a spectacular summer movie.


An interview with the director (13 mins), Nearly an hour of material from the Locarno International Film Festival, including interviews with the director (13 mins) and voice cast (25 mins), as well as trailers and TV spots.

Andrew Osmond

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