Food and family play an important role in the playful but heartfelt “Summer Wars,” a 2009 Japanese science fiction romance animation that won a Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year (2010). Currently playing at the Laemmle Sunset 5, the film was directed by Mamoru Hosoda (“The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”) on whose story Satoko Okudera’s script is based. Under the distribution of Warner Bros., the film is dubbed in English.
Set in Ueda (literally meaning upper rice field), the film is about a shy math geek, Kenji Koiso (Ryunosuke Kamiki/Michael Sinterniklaas), who finished second in a national prestigious math competition. Kenji has been working part-time on the security of a virtual world called Oz along with his friend, Takashi Sakuma (Takahiro Yokokawa/Todd Haberkorn). The high school junior is asked by senior Natsuki Shinohara (Nanami Sakuraba/Brina Palencia) to accompany her to a four-day 90th-birthday celebration of her great-grandmother, Sakae Jinnouchi (Sumiko Fuji/Pam Dougherty), and, he find out later on, to pretend to be her boyfriend.
While there, Kenji answers a random math question sent to him via his cell phone. The answer turns out to be the code for unlocking Oz to an artificial intelligence program called Love Machine. Love Machine doesn’t have that loving feeling and quickly takes over the Oz universe which controls everything from traffic light synchronization, home and business alarm systems, GPS, bank and store accounts and online gaming.
The complicated weekend also involves a satellite falling out of its programmed orbit, the disgraced illegitimate child of Sakae’s husband, Wabisuke, returning after a decade abroad and Natsuki’s 13-year-old cousin Kazuma being revealed as a heroic warrior in the land of Oz. There’s no Dorothy or Toto and no sign of a green-faced witch.
To understand this movie better, you need to know a few things. One is that Japanese–girls, boys, men and women aren’t afraid of cute. That means cute toys, cute logos and clothes with cute logos.
It also helps to understand, how beloved rabbits are in Japan. Rabbits are supposed to be on the moon making mochi and there is already a rabbit samurai comic strip (“Samurai Usagi”), so why not a martial art rabbit hero avatar?
Tokyo University, or Todai (short for Tokyo Daigaku), is considered the most prestigious university in Japan and extremely hard to get into. Typically, however, academic positions in Japan are limited, and to do your own research, you would have to study abroad.
Ueda is a real city in Japan, located in the Nagano prefecture. It’s a relatively new city, being formed in 2006 when the old city of Ueda, the nearby towns of Maruko, Sanada and Takeshi merged. The original city of Ueda was formed in 1819. Ueda about 123 miles northwest of Tokyo, three hours by car or two and a half hours by train.
Sanada is the name of a historical clan that ruled the Matsushiro Domain in the old Shinano Province in what is now Nagano. The head of the Sanada clan was a daimyo until 1871. The head of the clan became a count in 1891, but the aristocracy was dismantled in 1947 after World War II during the American Occupation. The family at the center of this story was based on the Sanada clan.
Seasons are also important because the card game Hanafuda has 12 suits representing months. The months are each represented by a flower. Asagao (morning face) or morning glory isn’t one of the flowers represented in Hanafuda. Now I wonder what the winning hand in the movie was and if it was significant and if people watching this movie in Japan wouldn’t also think of “The Tale of Genji” because of the motif of morning glories?
“Summer Wars” references “Star Wars” in the title and visually, particularly in some moments in the beginning. But summer also refers to the girl, Natsuki. Her name literally means summer hope. One could interpret the title to mean the war for Natsuki’s affection or Natsuki’s wars as well.
The names of some of the characters seem to have significance and Japanese literature is known for puns. Choice of the Chinese characters used can often have significant meanings. Except for Kenji, the main characters have unusual names.
小磯 健二, Koiso Kenji:
- Koiso means small shore or beach.
- Ken means health, strength and can mean courage (Kenage). The ji stands for two which most likely means Kenji is the second son.
篠原 夏希, Shinohara Natsuki
- Shino means small bamboo. Hara means field. Bamboo is considered the model of how one should be: flexible but strong.
- Natsu means summer. Ki means hope or desire.
- Natsuku (different character) is a verb meaning to become familiar with or to come to love.
池沢 佳主馬, Ikezawa Kazuma
- Ike means pond. Sawa (here pronounced zawa) means swamp or marsh.
- Ka means good or beautiful. Zu means lord or master. Ma means horse. The last two characters together mean equerry and would be pronounced shume normally. An equerry is an officer who was responsible for horses of a person of rank.
- Kazumu is a verb using a different character that means to be vague or misty.
陣内 栄, Jinnouchi Sakae
- Jin means battle array, camp or position while uchi means inside.
- Sakae means glory, splendor or prosperity.
陣内 侘助, Jinnouchi Wabisuke
- See above for meaning of Jinnouchi.
- Wabi can be a verb (wabiru) which means to be worried, or to pine for. Wabi means subdued taste or as an adjective, wabishii means comfortless or lonesome. Wabibito is a lonesome unwanted person.
- Suke means assistance. As a verb sukeru means to help.
- Wabiru as a verb can also mean to apologize or express regret.
Wabi is also consider an aesthetic, describing a taste for the simple and quiet and closely related to sabi (taste for elegant simplicity).
In the end, the message of the movie is that families should take time to sit down, eat together and work together. This applies to the nuclear family as well as the larger community units of towns, countries and the electronic worlds and communities created by social networks that may cross borders. Here the world is saved by everyone working together.
Laemmle Sunset 5
- 8000 Sunset Blvd.,
- Los Angeles, CA
- 1:20 4:10 7:00 9:40 p.m.