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How Summer Wars (2010) Explores the Dangers of A.I. and the Importance of Family

Summer Wars (2010) movie poster

It’s that time again where I review another one of Mamoru Hosoda’s films. Perhaps best known for his anime films centered on the unbreakable love shared among family and the miracle (and cesspool) that is social media, Hosoda has time and time again made masterpiece after masterpiece within the world of cinema. And with the rise of A.I. used in both art and vocal covers garnering the attention and concern of millions, it’s only appropriate that I take a look at one of his earliest films, Summer Wars!

Kenji Koiso (voiced by Michael Sinterniklass) is a high school senior who also works as a systems tester on the global super app OZ, due to his mathematical prowess. One day, the most popular girl in school, Natsuki Jinnouchi (voiced by Brina Palencia), drags him into pretending to be her fiancé at her grandma’s 90th birthday. After meeting her entire family (including the black sheep of the family and Natsuki’s uncle, Wabisuke), he comes across a strange message on his phone from an unknown source. Assuming it’s a random math problem, he solves it, not realizing that it was the code for OZ’s maintenance server. A malicious A.I. named Love Machine soon appears and takes over all of OZ, effectively gaining access to GPSs, cameras, traffic signals and even satellites.  

King Kazama from Summer Wars (2010)

I’ve been wanting to watch all of Mamoru Hosoda’s films ever since a certain retelling of Beauty and the Beast captivated me. So much so that when I heard he had another movie exploring the realm of the internet and social media, I just had to check it out. And I have to note just how similar both Summer Wars is to 2021’s Belle. The intro sequences for both films are so similar that you could almost believe Summer Wars was a direct relative of Belle! This shouldn’t be a surprise since Hosoda himself stated that he considered Belle a sequel to Summer Wars. And after watching the movie, I can see why he says that. Our heroine is from a small Japanese town (although Natsuki is born into a prestigious clan), the main setting is a virtual world that’s also a major social media platform (OZ in Summer Wars, U in Belle), a kid is the owner of the most powerful avatar on said social media platform and the third act involves the heroine bolstered by the love and support of her family and strangers around the world overcoming the villain. Hell, even several of the character designs for the virtual avatars appear to be recycled in Belle!

So what really differentiates the two films? The core message surrounding social media and the internet. Although both appear to be twin siblings, they couldn’t be more different. While Belle addresses how social media can be used as a medium for rediscovery and to help those in need, Summer Wars takes the exact opposite approach. Our main villain is not a human, but rather an A.I. that soon takes over not just OZ, but almost the entire world. Love Machine is a learning A.I. whose intended purpose by the U.S. Department of Defense was to be a valuable asset in warfare. However, as it continues to learn in the world of OZ, it becomes powerful enough to not only control users’ avatars, but also jam traffic by redirecting GPSs and radar, interrupt heart monitors and even hacks into the Japanese satellite Arawashi to direct its collision course to a nearby nuclear power plant. Despite A.I. in real life not being that dangerous (yet), it just goes on to show the sinister possibilities of an advanced A.I. if left completely unfettered. To me, Summer Wars almost feels like a prelude to James Cameron’s Terminator films more than the actual Terminator prequels do.

The Jinnouchi Clan in Summer Wars (2010)

But besides the dangers of what A.I. could lead to, I love how Summer Wars also balances this post-modern plot point with themes of traditionalism and familial love. Since the Jinnouchi family is a vassal of the Takeda Clan (who faced off against the Tokugawa Clan), they possess a strong samurai spirit. And no other embodies this samurai spirit more than Natsuki’s grandma, Sakae. Despite being 90 years old, she is usually seen giving a hard stare, never breaking eye contact. But if you thought that she only glares daggers at others who even consider crossing her, you’d be dead wrong. Upon learning that Wabisuke was the one who programmed Love Machine and sold it to the U.S. Dept. of Defense, she picks up a Naginata and nearly slices him to ribbons!   

Despite her tough exterior, she deeply cares about everyone in her family. When she plays one final game of Hanafuda with Kenji, she makes him swear to protect Natsuki at all costs. Even though Kenji admits his lack of self-confidence, she still believed that he will do what’s right in the end. Despite nearly taking off Wabisuke’s head after his confession, she still loved him deep down and wished that the entire family could welcome him back and have dinner together in her absence. And when Love Machine first began its reign of terror, she was wise and steadfast enough to catch on what it was planning and coordinated friends and family to smooth things along, showing what a capable and respected leader she was.

Natsuki in Summer Wars (2010)

All of this really impacts not only the family, but us the viewers when we witness Sakae’s passing. We see how the entire family is thrown into disarray whilst going through the stages of grief. Right after her passing, everyone’s faces are blurred out to mimic the numbness of a death of a central family member. Afterwards, we witness everyone processing their differently, from a majority of the Jinnouchis wanting revenge on Love Machine, while several other members express their grief by hanging onto the past. They tend to Sakae’s body as if it were alive while sorting through her personal belongings all while blaming Wabisuke. Grief takes such a hold over them that their samurai spirit begins to dissipate and makes them openly hostile towards the faction that is trying to stop Love Machine, viewing them as childish and irresponsible. Upon discovering Sakae’s final letter advising them to continue living their lives in happiness and forgive Wabisuke, they all collectively team up to help stop Love Machine once and for all.

While Sumer Wars may have come out in 2010, its subject matter surrounding A.I. has never become more relevant in today’s technological metropolis (or hell scape). In an age where A.I. is becoming increasingly prevalent in the art of filmmaking (and art in general), the growing concern for the limits of A.I. could not be more imperative. If Belle (2021) highlighted the beauty of the internet and social media, then Summer Wars represents the dark side of the internet and both the growing concerns and dark future of A.I. Combined with emotionally powerful themes of familial love and a deeply realistic take on personal grief, makes Summer Wars a movie you must watch at least twice in your lifetime!


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