Insights & Art

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Tag: Japan

The Collapse of Tradition

“IS THE GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES AN ANTI-WAR FILM?”

Animation produces emotional effects not by reproducing reality, but by heightening and simplifying it.
                                                                                          – Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert famously hailed Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka) as one of the greatest anti-war films ever created. Since its initial release this animated classic, directed by Isao Takahata, has been associated with the dangers of militarism and the dehumanising effects of war. As Takahata and author Akiyuki Nosaka were both victims of American firebombings, there are certainly elements of pacifism which underscore the duration of the film. However it seems the real battlefield is the Japanese home front, and it is these rules and expectations which Seita and Setsuko have to navigate. The war is arguably just a trigger to explore the self-inflicted cannibalisation of Japanese society and the disintegration of ie.

Throughout many interviews Takahata has maintained that the target audience was the younger generation of the 1980s, and this film was often used as an educational video within schooling institutions. Importantly, this was also the first generation that the horrors of WWII were just figments of the past and not actual lived experiences. The importance of this shift in the public consciousness and why Takahata so outwardly addresses the youth in the film will be explained further on.

The audience is abruptly thrown into a narrative where Japan is at war, neither the enemy or the cause of this conflict is discussed. It is as if Takahata is suggesting that such details are irrelevant compared to the fact this simply forces Japanese society to change and adapt to such circumstances. Takahata does not portray the Americans as the antagonist and the Japanese as helpless casualties of foreign aggression; as most traditional anti-war films would. Paradoxically it seems it is the Japanese who are both the oppressors and the victims. The ideals of uchi and soto are dismantled as the traditional markers of Japanese identity and tribalism are abandoned in the name of self-preservation.

This is immediately highlighted in the introduction of the film, the suffering of Seita and other orphans are contrasted to the rest of Japanese society. Their decrepit statute and stationary positions accentuate the fanatic (and interestingly directionless) movement of their fellow Japanese. As if an entire generation and their memory was discarded when Japan rose to the economic powerhouse it was in the 1980s.

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However, the most obvious scene of social criticism appears near the end of the film when three Japanese girls return to their wealthy home, excitedly exclaiming “It’s so good to be home… It hasn’t changed a bit.” Whilst initially it can be seen as an optimistic comment about the future of Japan, that fact it immediately follows after the passing of Setsuko paints these adolescents as callous and ignorant.

It is clear that from their western attire and their association with western technology (phonograph) that these girls are supposed to be the representations of the Japanese youth in 1980s; opulent and painfully oblivious. The proximity of the house to the caves that Seita and Setsuko lived in, is a metaphor that underneath the economic boom of the decade lie the painful memories of loss and defeat. It is not the Allied soldiers who are presented as indifferent to the suffering of the Japanese, but rather the Japanese themselves.

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In a very eye opening interview Takahata states that one of his original goals was to ‘depict the boy as a contemporary boy, rather than a boy in that time.’ It is with this new found knowledge that one must address the film and see Seita’s actions as not just as personal decisions but rather a mirroring of the ideals and values held by the Japanese youth of the 1980s.

In one of the opening scenes of the film, Seita carries Setsuko upon his back trying to find his way to the bomb shelter. However, during this journey, Seita pauses and the camera spends an usually long time lingering upon a bucket, ladder and pool; tools used to fight fires. Torn between giri and ninjo, Seita chooses to flee towards safely. Almost immediately afterwards, as if an act of divine retribution, the houses around him explode into an uncontrollable blaze of fire and the skies immediately darken. Symbolically, it would seem the reason why the city of Kobe fell to the fire was not because of the American bombings, but rather an embrace of kojinshugi over ie.

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Seita’s fire brigade uniform, iconic of Japan’s fashion during WWII serves not only to connect him towards the school attire of his modern day contemporaries, but also as a constant reminder of his failure to fill his obligation. Throughout the film as Seita becomes ever more removed from ie and the community, his uniform begins to disintegrate off his body. Yet in death, Seita’s uniform is restored, serving as an ominous warning that he (and the audience) will never be able to shake off their responsibilities to the nation, invoking some of the more fatalistic elements of Bushido.

Noting how consumerism has weakened the pillars of Japanese tradition, Takahata continues his criticism by stating ‘[Seita] doesn’t bear with hardships. When the aunt threatens him by saying “Let’s have our meals separately” he is relieved’… As a result, his life becomes harder. Such is the feelings held by today’s kids.’

The consequences of isolation is juxtaposed to the prior scene of surprising optimism as Seita rummages through his destroyed home and symbolically bathes in water spouting from a burst pipe. In a traditional anti-war film, this scene of returning to a destroyed community would have been a moment of intense emotional pain, yet Seita seems almost unreactive to the destroyed infrastructure. Seita and Setsuko may have lost their mother but they were still on good terms with their auntie, and thus the family unit survived: Japanese society was still adhering to its traditions, even after experiencing such causalities.

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The question must be asked, why Takahata was so intensely focused on having his film connect with the Japanese youth of the baburu keiki. The 1970s and 80s, falls into what sociologist Osawa Masachi terms as ‘kyoko no jidai’ or roughly translated as the ‘age of fiction’, a period marked by a public shift on tradition. Whilst the 1960s and 70s (or riso no jidai; ‘age of idealism) aimed to change society from within established perimeters. The period of Kyoko no jidai, fuelled by an explosion of capitalism combined with the radicalisation of leftist politics saw a desire to reimagine society completely, without adherence to past traditions. It is from within this context of cultural change from which Grave of the Fireflies emerges.

“… But [the youth’s] often nihilistic attitude combined with an aggressive materialism stand in distinctive contrast to their parent’s values.”
                                                                                         – Susan Napier

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(Nakanishi, 2003)

The post war years of 1979 to 1993 saw a steep rise in crime rates of juveniles, simultaneously followed by a dramatic increase in juvenile arrests. And it this troubled generation of Japanese delinquents which was the target audience of Grave of the Fireflies. The desire to rein the youth is expressed in Takahata’s comments; “Just like today’s junior high students, a 14-years old looks unemotional or grumpy.” Such comments leave very little room when it comes to addressing the objective of this film.

This is not to say that Grave of the Fireflies completely neglects to condemn war , but instead that its main focus is a close inspection on the Japanese character in times of trial. One of the most powerful scenes condemning militarism occurs after the fire bombings have ended and both Seita and Setsuko were able to escape (not with the rest of society at the shelters but rather to a sewer reminiscent of their eventual ‘ukiyo’). A hellish montage of soldiers and civilians dying is followed by a lone male feverishly screaming “Long Live the Emperor”. Situated amongst the backdrop of a burning building; his overly zealous rhetoric is the fan which fuels the self-immolation of Japanese society.

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However, in the scene above, one could just as easily interpreted it as an anti-war message or as a cautionary warning against Japanese society being swept up by the tides of far right politics. Tellingly, both Seita and Setsuko die after WWII concludes, during a period where Americans had ‘officially’ become an ally, and peace had technically been reinstated. One must question if Grave of the Fireflies is at its core an anti-war film, as it spends so much time addressing the consequences of social decisions and not exploring the horrors of international war.

This criticism of the Japanese youth is reflected in two highly emotional scenes where both Seita and Setsuko break the fourth wall and communicate directly to the audience. In the scene directly after Seita and Setsuko’s last encounter with the fireflies and the pleasant idylls of nature, Seita walks outside the cave to see Setsuko crouching in the dirt. Setsuko starts crying as she begins to bury the fireflies and in a highly emotional moment asks “Why do fireflies have to die so soon?” It is important to not only note her words but the manner in which this dialogue is conveyed. The linear narrative of the story is broken and the camera shifts to a point of view shot of Setsuko’s teary face; positioning the audience as the recipient of her question.

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Analysing the exact definition of what fireflies symbolise in this piece of work is rather difficult as they cover such a large myriad of ideas. But by immediately injecting flashbacks of Seita’s and Setsuko’s mother being thrown into a ditch, combined with the previous mention that ‘[a kamikaze plane] looks like a firefly.’ I believe that Setsuko’s question forces audience to confront why they have forgotten the memories of the fallen victims, relegating their sacrifices to pointless events along the spectrum of Japanese history. Did their suffering have any meaning and if not, then why not?

This is reinforced by the following scene, which is arguably one of the most manipulative within the entire film. A wave of intrusive Japanese children carelessly trespass on the caves that Seita and Setsuko lived in. After such a powerfully emotional scene just moments prior, the audience cannot but see their ignorance as anything but problematic. Regarding the previous example of the Japanese girls returning to their house, it is highly telling that Takahata constantly uses ignorant children as the symbol of those untouched by war.

Arguably the cause of Seita and Setsuko’s demise isn’t the war as apart from the opening scenes of the film, the audience is never again shown the graphic consequences of conflict. Likewise, Takahata portrays Japanese society as still intact after its surrender at the concluding moments of the film. In the scenes when Seita tries to buy charcoal for his sister’s funeral, there is an unusual amount of sunlight present and the farmer seems oddly optimistic, noticeably different to the feelings of the Seita and the audience. As someone who previously advised Seita to return to his auntie, this farmer stands as the ideological opposite to Seita, someone who did not abandon his station, even during turmoil. Life as a Japanese farmer and as a cog in the Japanese system continues, even in the face of defeat.

Likewise, Seita’s compliance in the selling of his mother’s kimonos is also used as a metaphor for the self-cannibalisation of Japan from within. In complete disregard for his mother’s memory and filial piety, Seita trades in a symbol of Japanese femininity and motherhood for instant gratification. The camera then pans to the ghost of Seita covering his ears and horrified by this ultimately pointless decision, as the children die anyway, and paradoxically due to a lack of parental care. This act is symbolic because it marks the start of the pair’s divorce from any forms of familial relationship, their relationship with their auntie rapidly decays afterwards: Seita’s pride and Setsuko’s willingness to follow her brother have made them orphans both literally and spiritually.

The final scene of this film however is arguably the most insightful look into the intentions of Takahata’s when directing this film. Having failed to receive proper Buddhist or Shinto burial rites, both Seita and Setsuko return as spirits, they’re marginalised on the outskirts of the city; disconnected to the wealth of the city. As Setsuko lays her head on her brother’s lap and the main theme begins to crescendo, Seita breaks the fourth wall and gives the audience an accusatory stare.

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Slowly the camera pans upwards, and the fireflies; symbols of the kamikaze pilots, Seita’s mother and other countless forgotten Japanese victims are drowned out by the overwhelming lights of Kobe. As audiences, it is not hard to see this futuristic city as the stark contrast to the poverty and suffering of those caught in WWII. Once again the question is asked whether or not the stories of the older generation have been forgotten, and if so then why? Nosaka’s words captures this sense of tension and discomfort with the rapidly changing Japan; “… High-rise buildings and super-highways were once just futuristic dreams… [I] cannot help but see them amidst sunlit ruins,” echoing a real fear that Japan will forget its past.

Perhaps the most conclusive proof regarding the stance of Grave of the Fireflies is found in Takahata’s continued insistence that “[The film] is not at all an anti-war anime and contains no such message.” Whilst Takahata and Nosaka’s played large roles in shaping what this film eventually became, it is fair that audiences should have the right to interpret this film however they wish. Nor does this essay wish to diminish Roger Ebert’s remarks that this film “involves war, the results of war and two victims of war.”

However, to insist that the film Grave of the Fireflies was created with a strict anti-war theme at its heart is rather dubious. I see this film as an attempt to bridge the generational gap between those who experienced and those untouched by Japan’s darkest days. Grave of the Fireflies doesn’t so much push an anti-war message but rather one cautioning against the abandonment of communal values. The fact that this story starts and ends with the death of the protagonist suggest that bloodshed, like the defeat of Japan in 1945, is unchangeable. Yet it is how a culture remembers their past which demonstrates what direction they will take in the future.

Lost in Translation – Review & Analysis

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“I don’t want to leave.”
“So don’t. Stay here with me. We’ll start a jazz band.”

The title Lost in Translation captures more than just Bob Harris’ (Bill Murray) and Charlotte’s (Scarlett Johansson) confusion in an alien land with dizzying lights and lethargic frenzy. It alludes to what people have always wanted, simply, someone to understand and to be understood in return. Bob and Charlotte are two lost souls who find themselves wandering aimlessly around this neon playground, both entranced and uncomfortable with a country that seems incapable of rest; indifferent to the stragglers.

Bob is apathetic. As a declining movie star, he is in Japan selling whiskey to an audience he is completely disinterested in. He spends his time at the hotel bar, craving genuine human contact but too weary to start the conversation. Charlotte is young and intelligent but finds herself locked in a relationship which is already starting to disintegrate; she too, seems to be trapped in a web of pessimism. Yet their chemistry is immediate, their affection for each other is displayed through a string of subtle body language, the odd glance, the brush of the cheek, and the tenderness of their voices. Lost in Translation is a smart film because it uses nuance to communicate its ideas, the cliché of star-crossed lovers would be too easy, too obvious and Sofia Coppola is much too intelligent for that.

Most of Bob’s relationships have broken down; his wife calls him frequently to discuss everything but their relationship. She tries to put their children on the phone, yet they always seem to run away. After a string of biting sarcasm from both parties, she asks Bob if she “Needs to worry about him,” Bob responds with “Only if you want to…” and seconds later she hangs, stating that she has ‘urgent matters’ to attend to. Bob could be the life of the party, he could be cracking jokes but he is too jaded to entertain someone without getting something in return. At this point, he’s damaged goods and the years of wear have chipped away at his charismatic instincts.

Similarly, Charlotte tries to communicate with her husband but he seems too preoccupied in mingling with B-grade celebrities. He insists that she won’t enjoy coming along with him to his work and naively believes that a faxed sheet of paper with a hand-drawn heart can remedy their fracturing marriage. Later that night, Charlotte longingly flips through Polaroid photos of the pair in their younger days.

Both Bob and Charlotte are ‘lost in translation’. Somewhere in the past, both of them held their tongue, their partners reciprocated and their feelings got lost in a sea of comforting neglect. And it is these feelings of isolation that unite the two. Bob sees a beautiful, witty girl, who, like him, seems to have lost her way in life and Charlotte sees an older man who actually tries to understand how lonely she is. The most insightful moments are when the pair lie together and speak about cosmic themes in vague details, the absolutes don’t matter, only that they are next to each other; together. Charlotte asks about the difficulty of marriage and Bob attempts to pass all that he has learnt onto his younger student. The pair never have sex but they do something a lot more risky; they allow themselves to develop feelings for each other.

When we are spying upon their drunken adventures, there is a real sense of energy and enthusiasm. The night is forever young and each bend in the road offers the chance of another unforgettable experience. When the two are separate, the passion evaporates, a grey filter sets in and we divert our eyes, confused at why they are wasting their dwindling time on matters of little significance.

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“I just feel so alone, even when I’m surrounded by other people.”

But context is the sharp gust of reality ready to blow away this pink glazed dream. Bob is married with children, Charlotte is also married to another man and thirty years younger. The looming end of their impending separation accelerates the urgency of their unexpected friendship. Time is merciless, despite how perfect this pairing is, the audience and the characters know that it’s impossible. Charlotte has her path she must walk and so does Bob, yet for a brief, but powerful moment, their lives do cross. And this is why this film is such an understated masterpiece, it doesn’t pretend that Charlotte and Bob have solved all their problems by meeting each other, rarely does that happen in reality. I wouldn’t be surprised if Charlotte ended up dying from a drug overdose in five years, nor would I be surprised if she changes her mindset and allows her husband to share in her sadness. The same goes for Bob, maybe he divorces his wife and turns to alcoholism or maybe he returns home and holds her longingly; knowing that their relationship was once just like his and Charlotte’s.

That’s the beauty of this film, I don’t need answers. I am comfortable knowing that amongst the laughs, hugs and haunting stares of love, a genuine bond was forged in the most unexpected of locations.

Maybe one day, decades past, Charlotte will hear Bob’s name and then she’ll look down and crack a smile, or maybe even cry, or maybe not, because he is just a ghost in her past- And Bob will be on the other side of the world, attending to his own business, unaware that he had just entered the mind of a woman whom he loved, even if it was for a brief moment.

“I loved the moment near the end when Bob runs after Charlotte and says something in her ear, and we’re not allowed to hear it.

We shouldn’t be allowed to hear it. It’s between them, and by this point in the movie, they’ve become real enough to deserve their privacy. Maybe he gave her his phone number. Or said he loved her. Or said she was a good person. Or thanked her. Or whispered, “Had we but world enough, and time…” and left her to look up the rest of it.”

  • Roger Ebert, Lost in Translation Review, 2003

Genre: Romantic-Comedy
Certificate: R
USA Release Date: 3rd October 2003
Runtime: 141 minutes
Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi & Fumihiro Hayashi
Synopsis: A faded movie star and a neglected young woman form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo.

The Division in Australian Identity

This is going to be one of two essays that I will publish about Australian history and diplomacy in the years after British colonisation. This essay will not be as detailed as the following post, since it was a practice draft written by me for tomorrow’s one hour examination. Regardless, I will publish this because I want to memorise, which typing will allow, but also because I think it touches on enough topics which are different from my massive 3000 word essay on Australia, that it deserves a separate post.

Note, this is written completely in AUSTRALIAN English, so expect a very spelling differences, plus there are no references at all, since this was drafted for examination conditions.

Thank you for reading,
Down Under

“To what extent has the history of Australia’s defensive foreign policy since World War II reflected its European values in contrast to its Asian geography. Discuss this in the time period from 1970s to the present day.”

As a colonised nation located in the Asian sphere, Australia has long struggled with its identity. It has and still simultaneously looks at Great Britain as its cultural home whilst acknowledging Asia as its geographical home. Australia’s stance after the withdraw of Britain’s military and economic presence has been one of lukewarm friendship with Asia. This is reflected in its foreign policies towards Vietnam and Indonesia from the 1970s onward.

Australia’s entrance into the Vietnam War in 1962 was an obvious case of the nation’s apprehension towards the communist country. For the government, this was more than just a war of two hostile nations but rather a clash of identity and ideology. It was important to understand that Australia was spurred towards this armed conflict because of the decades of fear it had promoted and consumed in regards to the ‘near north’. The yellow fear had simply been transformed from the swarm of Chinese gold miners to the militaristic Japanese to the ‘red peril’. In many ways Australia’s decision to halt the domino effect could be seen as a further continuation of White Australia Policy.

Australia’s decision to fight in Vietnam also highlights another pivotal pillar of the Australian psyche; the need to find a paternal figure. Menzies’ act of courting and supporting American’s intervention in Vietnam was also reflected in Deakin’s attempts to woo the Great White Fleet in 1908. This act was similarly replicated by Gillard’s decision to establish a permanent American military base in Darwin due to continued military escalation in the South China sea. The constant reliance on western displays of power and solidarity to counter the rising might of Asian strength is indicative of Australia’s loyalties and inherent bias. It is telling that The Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) is seen as the pillar of Australia foreign policy, despite America continually shunning such their obligations in this relationship.Tellingly, both Keating and Whitlam, two of Australia’s more ‘pro-Asian’ prime ministers were unwilling to criticise or downplay the significance of ANZUS. Even if it could have potentially lead to a better relationship with some Asian states who were uncomfortable with the reach of America on Australia’s decision making.

Since the 1970s, there has been an attempt through politics, to alter Australia’s psyche to that of the ‘good neighbour’. This is reflected inWhitlam’s recognition of China, the exponential increase in Japanese trade and their softer foreign policies against Indonesia. Whilst Australia is unquestionably a western nation with western values, it has attempted to distance itself from its colonial past. This is reflected in Australia’s support for Papua New Guinea’s independence in 1975. Awkwardly this hand of independence was also extended to the Karkar Islands by Whitlam, to which they formally declined. This highlights how this topic of Asian independence has been turned into a political statement to benefit Australia’s image. Australian leaders have generally issued public comments of support for Asian independence in the post colonial era as a sign that they have moved away from their imperial roots. Historian Curran points out that Whitlam used this symbol of New Guinea casting off its imperial chains to galvanise Australia to do the same.

Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is a great example of Australia’s tension with its western values and Asian geography. Despite significant differences between Australia and Indonesia, politically, socially and religiously: Australia’s approach to Indonesia has generally being one of appeasement and anxiety. This relationship stems from the fear of Indonesian aggression, particularly since it is located so close to Australia’s borders. In order to maintain the status of the good neighbour, Whitlam turned a blind eye to Indonesia’s annexation of West Papua New Guinea and East Timor. This position of political pragmatism was adopted despite the abundance of human rights violations and condemnations from the United Nations. Interestingly, Whitlam was in favour of establishing economic sanctions of South Africa because of its Apartheid laws, highlighting the hypocrisy of his ‘progressive ideals’. Awkwardly however, it was the Fraser government which was left to deal with Whitlam’s approach to Indonesian hostility. Under intense scrutiny of the public and other western nations, Fraser came out and denounced Indonesia’s blatant violation of human rights in West Papua New Guinea; eventually falling inline with a lot of other western countries.

Despite these attempts at appeasement, Australia has yet to be fully acknowledged as an Asian nation. Keating’s comments of transforming Australia from the “odd man looking out to the odd man looking in” subconsciously highlights Australia’s sense of cultural displacement. Likewise Suharto’s rejection of Australia’s entrance into the East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC) is very telling of Australia’s image in the eyes of other ethnically Asian nations. This is especially symbolic as the EAEC was created specifically to counter the inclusion of western powers into the Asian-Pacific Economics Cooperation (APEC). Suharto denied Australia this opportunity since he believed that Australia’s values were just too western. This ironically resulted in Keating publicly attacking Suharto, actions which were deemed unprofessional and problematic through the lens of Confucian values.

The Vietnam War combined with Australia’s treatment of Indonesia reflects the uneasy transition of a proud British nation to one with ‘Asian history’. Ultimately when given a chance to stand with the west or embrace the role of the good neighbour. Australia, under Howard’s leadership, choose to intervene and lead a United Nations expedition force into East Timor after Indonesia’s tactical withdraw. Likewise Australia’s western allegiance was also repeated when it choose to join America and the United Kingdoms in the invasion of Iraq, evoking ANZUS after 9/11. These two actions were performed despite fully understanding the repercussions it could possibly hold for Australia. Unsurprisingly, Indonesia’s frustrations at American and the Portuguese were now transferred onto Australia and the two nations have entered a period of a lukewarm relationship.

Howard’s slogan of ‘Asia first, but not Asia only’ is indicative of Australia’s split identity. There has been a real attempt to forge a sense of Asian identity after the collapse of the British Empire, this move has been inspired by economic necessity but it also touches back on Australia’s reliance upon greater powers. However, at the heart of Australian identity there lingers a powerful tension between its allegiance to its colonial and western past and a desire to fully immerse itself into the Asian community.

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5 Centimeters Per Second – Review & Analysis. (Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru)

63060 “They say it is 5 centimetres per second”
“Huh? What is?”
“The speed of falling cherry blossom petals is 5 centimetres per second”

The world is chaotic and cruel, threatening to consume us in the unstoppable waves of time, sweeping us with reckless abandon from location to location, from job to job, from family to family. Makoto Shinkai’s film 5 Centimeters Per Second (2007) explores how time and the outside pressures can alter even the purest of romances, resulting in a mature, emotional and realistic depiction of humanity and our attempts to overcome loneliness.

Shinkai develops one of the most visually stunning pieces of animation ever, using soft but vibrant colours to mesmerise the audiences. Sadly, the breath taking images has come to define this film and the other aspects of the story are often neglected or forgotten. The end result is a powerful texts with many flaws, but a text which explores the themes of isolation, communication and relationships in a sophisticated manner. Personally, as someone who believes that life is and should be completely about forging relationships, this film’s messages really resonated with me and I will acknowledge that in many sense I am predisposed to connecting with film. I would still recommend this film for all who want a text to maturely explore not only the highs but the lows and the pain which can stem as a byproduct of love, a message which is often ignored. Too often narratives opt to follow the cliche romantic formula substituting predictability for creativity, 5 Centimeters Per Seconds definitely has a sorrowful ending, yet in some aspects, the ending was surprising uplifting and… human.

“The overwhelming weight of our lives to come and the uncertainty of time hung over us, but soon, all my fears began to melt away, leaving only Akari’s soft lips on mine.”

5 Centimeters Per Second spans three different story arcs, consisting of Part One “Cherry Blossoms”, Part Two “Cosmonaut” and Part Three, each narrative details the life of Tataki Tono, his journey from an innocent child to a weary and lonely adult. This film explores how the two protagonist Tataki and Akari Shinohara attempt to maintain their relationship despite the widening physical and emotional gap between the pair. “Cherry Blossoms” shows the two school children bonded over common interests, gradually developing unspoken feelings for each other, which both of them struggled to understand. The following two chapters focuses primarily upon Tataki and the repercussions of falling in love, his inability to meaningfully communicate and reveal his feelings to Akari starts to eat away at his innocence and brightness. Whilst this is ultimately a simple narrative, Shinkai’s non-linear story telling combined with his ability to embed meaning and significance in ‘trivial’ every day moments means whilst 5 Centimeters Per Second can be rather slow, this was a calculated decision to highlight the realistic journey embarked by Tataki and Akari.*

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Animation style and the accompanying soundtrack are two critical components to creating an emotional and engaging text, thus I often feel the best way to present readers with the general vibe of the film is to simply provide both. There are limits to what words from a distant stranger can convey, thankfully music and these still images have the ability to conquer such boundaries. As previously stated the animation in this film is truly stunning and breath taking, under Shinkai’s genius, all images were subtly infused with a pleasant tenderness and softness. Japanese animation is home to a few masters such as Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Hosoda and of course the great Miyazaki, but no other director can manipulate light, shadows and colours the way Shinkai can. The end product is a film where the images feel alive, where blades of grass rustle when kissed by a gentle breeze, where people and objects move independently mimicking the hurried existence of the 21st century.

Part of Shinaki’s mastery is the fact that he is willing to take artistic liberties, outlining certain characters and objects in white to give them an angelic look, something which becomes even more prominent in his latest work Garden of Words (2013). Likewise even objects in the distance are not blurry and undefined, instead they are sharp and clear creating a dreamy world, one which doesn’t completely mimic reality, but a stage so similar that it threatens to swallow the audiences, never allowing them leave this melancholy paradise.

The music composed by Tenmon (Atsushi Shirakawa) was elegant, beautiful and sincere, never dominating or imposing its will upon the film but always present to help convey the haunting emotions to the audience. As previously stated in my previous articles, music has always been a subject which I feel words can not comprehend so instead of clumsily summarising my feelings on Tenmon’s works, I will embed these pieces at the end of my article for the audience to form their own judgments.

[SPOILERS]

A simple story can be engaging if the director is able to infuse meaning into the simplicity, 5 Centimeters Per Second is a work where symbolism flourishes, revealing the unspoken truths about humanity. Love is a dangerous game, it’s a journey paved with many pit falls and dead ends, but it’s the only game worth playing. Through out this film trains are featured prominently, being the bridge that both connects Takaki and Akari but also paradoxically serving as a reminder to the vast distance between them. Likewise the trains are reflections for the main protagonist, forever set upon their lonely path predetermined by the outside world, unable to change their course because their self determination had been stripped away. The train boarded by Takaki being immobilised by the cold weather represents more than just a stagnant vehicle, it foreshadows a stagnant future paralysed by the snow (snowflakes are constantly said to be the mirror of cherry blossoms).

Whilst the two protagonist have many similarities, their approach to their past romances highlights the fickle nature of love, Akari was able to forge new connections, replace her lost love with the presence of others. Takaki; whose past defines him, scars him and leaves him unable and unwilling to create new relationships due to a nostalgic desire to preserve the past, is currently sitting in a hole of self regret. I believe that’s one of the themes of 5 Centimeters Per Second, people change, relationships change, best friends and lovers become strangers, it’s a cycle which constantly repeats, but it’s important to rebuild new connections to stop one from sinking into a pit of despair.

Time has a strange habit of dulling passions which once burnt bright and despite the fact that relationships like cherry blossoms will slowly drift apart (at a rate of 5 centimeters per second), it is important to acknowledge the influences that people have had on your life. We’re like a blank piece of canvas with every friend, event and lover lending their own brush upon the white fabric, our life story will be an accumulation of not only our personal decisions but the decisions of our friends and family.

5 Centimeters Per Second‘s mature approach to such melancholy (but strangely endearing) themes meant I really connected with this film, even more than some Ghibli films. Topics of family, relationships and love have always spoken to me deeply, echoing the life which I strive towards. But besides the film’s thematic elements, there was a lot of substance to the story with some haunting images and scenes which have left an imprint on me. As Takaki finally arrived at his destination, hours later due to the dangerous weather conditions, he sees Akari slumped against a seat, visibly shaken by sorrow and weariness. Takaki approaches slowly and anxiously, upon seeing him, Akari reaches out and grabs his hand, the pair emotionally break down, their sobs echoing in the air as words are just inadequate to express their emotions.

Akari had waited at the station for an extra four hours, hoping desperately that Takaki would show up, that their friendship couldn’t be halted by trivial matters like weather, time or distance. Akari’s relief floods over her, she’s so happy that she can’t even make eye contact with him. Takaki tries to desperately compose himself, but his feelings of inadequacy rise to the top, he is unable to protect the person he loves the most, he silently cries, reunited with Akari at long last. It’s a haunting scene, a display of pure humanity, the need to love and be loved.

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“I became unbearable sad, sad because I didn’t know what to do with her warmth against me, or what to do with that soul, or how long I should hold onto them. I also came to the realisation, we would not be able to stay together.”

Communication is the heart beat of relationships. Friendship and love are fragile bonds and they nurtured with shared experiences and moments. That’s another theme which gets addressed in 5 Centimeters Per Second, how vital expressing one’s emotion is, if we are to maintain healthy connections. The two protagonist were always physically and emotionally isolated, their inability to converse with others meant the audience never really saw Takaki or Akari bond with others. Takaki’s letter which he originally wanted to give to Akari is swept away by a sudden breeze, foreshadowing their decaying relationship and reinforcing how outside events and situations had and will and had always impede upon their relationship. Likewise when Akari fails to give her letter to Takaki, the couple’s fate is sealed, as much as they wanted to remain by each other’s side, the cruel hand of fate had coldly predetermined their future already.

Takaki’s inability to express his emotions drives away Kanae, another classmate and a potential girlfriend as he is too absorbed in the past to live in the present. Unable to form meaningful friendships in Kagoshima, Takaki develops the telling habit of writing text messages, recounting his feelings and then deleting them, too afraid to send them to Akari, in case she reacts negatively or worse, aloof. In the third chapter, Takaki and Akari have both moved back to Tokyo, physically they are as close as ever, but the emotional silence has crippled the once passionate relationship, the lack of communication has sadly stifled their chances of love. Takaki and Akari’s bonds can symbolise two completely different things depending upon one’s attitude and situation. Either Shinkai is emphasising the fragility of love or this is a harsh reminder that long distance relationships will not survive, as letters, emails and text messages will never be sufficient substitutes for physical touch and smiles. ** 321784 5 Centimeters Per Second was an enjoyable film, filled with sophisticated commentary about love and the repercussions for such passionate emotions, it still had flaws which prevents it from reaching the level of a Princess Mononoke (1997) or Cowboy Bepop (1998). The characters failed to develop beyond their initial concepts as the film was not able to expand on their defining characteristics, instead Takaki and Akari felt rather bland and forgettable. Honestly there is not a single trait that either Takaki or Akari had which I could elaborate upon, the episodic nature of the film also didn’t help in this regard as after every time skip I felt like I was dealing with an entirely different character.

It is important to note the emotional heart beat of Shinkai’s work stems from the fact that the situations that Takaki and Akari find themselves in is inherently sad and not because they were memorable or relatable characters. This is especially true for Kanae, a supporting character who features in part two “Cosmonaut”, with her only defining trait being her feelings for Takaki. She barely changes throughout her screen time and her inability to break out of her character archetype combined with the fact the audience fully knew that a relationship with Takaki would be impossible meant Cosmonaut was rather stagnant and dull.

Whilst weak characters are a sign of poor writing and possibly a director who believed the visuals took priority, the undefined personality of Takaki and Akari means the audience can easily substitute themselves in place of the two protagonists. One could argue that the lack of strong and memorable characters was a calculated decision, further allowing the audience to implant their memories and experiences into the film. Whilst I personally see credit behind this argument, I still believe that the film would of been much more enjoyable if characters showed genuine signs of evolution or maturity, and overall I still consider the characters the weakest aspect of 5 Centimeters Per Second. 110127 Takaki’s  love for Akari starts to numb him, unable to cope with these emotions, he chooses to distance himself from society, creating a cycle of misery which seeps into his personal life, his home and his body language. He enters a local shop, flips through a few magazines and then suddenly it begins to snow, not only for him but also for Akari who is silently waiting at a train station miles away. The two protagonists were not able to conquer the physical and emotional distance which separated them, they were not able to enjoy cherry blossoms together, but even now their lives are still connected as their memories with each other transcends the physical world. At that exact moment, it starts snowing for the two protagonists, not cherry blossoms but snow flakes, a reminder of the night they spent together as youth, a night where the pair realised their love for each other but simultaneously that their eventual separation was inevitable.

Near the conclusion of the film, an adult Takaki walks down through the familiar streets, reliving the distant memories of his time with Akari, it seems that after a decade, he is finally willing to confront the past that had temporarily withered away his dreams and his chance at a future… The cherry blossoms begin to fall. Slowly, Takaki approaches the train tracks from his youth and unknowingly Akari crosses from the other side and in a split second, both the protagonists subconsciously recognise each other. Both begin to turn around, just as their view is blocked off by two incoming trains, our hearts soar for a few moments at the prospect of the pair uniting… But when the trains have sped away, Akari has walked off.

As dearly as I wanted Takaki and Akari to rekindle their past love, Shinkai’s decision to keep their separate means the film was not only more emotional but more plausible. We all walk down a lonely road and our paths will occasionally intersect with others, but for our protagonist, life had stubbornly separated their journeys, only embers of their passion remained.*** Takaki turns around, a sad, nostaglic smile fixed on his face, he marches forward, signalling his decision to embrace a future not tainted by self regret and not defined by a love that never came to fruition. 295942

Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters Per Second, stands as a reminder, a reminder to the tenderness of human passion, a reminder of this chaotic and unexpected road we all walk called life and the importance of constant communication; the life blood of relationships. This film’s connections to Romeo and Juliet (1597) are numerous, from two star crossed lovers born into difficult situations to a text which explores the negative consequences sparked by uncontrolled love. The combination of spectacular animation combined with a gentle soundtrack creates a rich world for the audience to dive into. 5 Centimeters Per Second stands as one of my favourite pieces of animation, with themes and messages that resonate with me so much, I quite literally feel like Shinkai’s work was produced specifically with myself in mind.

What we are left with is a film, a film which bravely attempts to tackle the unspoken negative consequences of love without the glamour and glitz of portrayed in popular media. Is love worth so much suffering? Is love synonymous with suffering? Despite the many flaws in Shinkai’s work, it still stands as one of my favourite animated works, the pains of unrequited love is one of the hardest emotions to deal and 5 Centimeters Per Second hauntingly shows how a romance so pure can be withered away by reality.The film reflects Shinkai’s mature story telling and his dedication to crafting a realistic environment which mirrored our own.

Whoever you are, where ever you, I wish you all the best and that love never, ever falters you.

Genre: Anime, Romance Film, Animation, Japanese Movies, Drama
Certificate: G
USA Release Date: 3rd March 2007
Runtime: 63 minutes
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Writer: Makoto Shinkai
Starring: Johnny Yong Bosh, David Matranga, Hiliary Haag, Erika Lenhart, Tara Platt, Kira Buckland, Julie Ann Taylor Synopsis: Takaki and Akari fall in love at a young age, the pair try to understand and maintain their feeling despite the widening physical and emotional distance.

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* It is the small decisions that lead to the significant and important events, the moments where Takaki and Akari would spend time at the library, running around the playground or patting a stray cat could be considered slow and uneventful… But personally, it reflects the reality of life, most people don’t meet their loved ones by saving them from a burning building, love usually doesn’t announce itself to the world, instead it is something which most be worked upon by two people, slowly, but surely.

** This theme is furthered emphasised by Takaki’s description of his most recent relationship with a nameless girl. “We must of exchanged emails a thousand times, but I doubt our hearts got closer by even a centimeter.”

*** I love cyclical stories, it gives the impression that all the events were significant and that the story did follow an over arching plot. 5 Centimeters Per Second begins with Akari running across the train line whilst Takaki is held up on the opposing side, likewise the same scene is reenacted with the same characters but at a much older age. Originally, Akari waited for Takaki, their constant communication and their common interests meant that Takaki was important to her. Sadly, as the pair grew older and further apart, Akari chooses not to wait for Takaki anymore and unfortunately, he is no longer a part of her life. It was moments like this where the film really shone, Shinkai has the ability to embed so many emotions in such a simple action.

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Summer Wars – Review

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[AS SPOILER FREE AS POSSIBLE FOR A REVIEW]

[KOI-KOI MOTHER FUCKERS]
(however you play that game…)

If there is one picture that could sum up this film it would be this picture; the typical family, a single unit with its many quirks and personalities, all with unique character traits, imperfections and values that is found every time a large number of people unite. Summer Wars, directed by Mamoru Hosada and animated by Madhouse is one of my favourite animated films, whilst I can hardly be quoted as an authoritative source on Japanese animation, Summer Wars‘ heart warming message and plot ensures an entertaining watch for basically all demographics. If reading long articles is something you struggle with, then let me briefly give you my thoughts on this film; watch it. Watch it if you want a casual tale embedded with genuine warmth and sincerity, watch it if you want to explore a loving family whose connection to each other will touch you deeply.

The film starts with Natsuki asking our typical goofy, socially awkward high school student Kenji to accompany her to her elderly grandmother’s (Sakae Jinnouchi) 90th birthday; Kenji whilst reluctant at first eventually decides to accompany her and that’s when the chaos ensues. When the pair finally arrives, Natsuki informs Kenji that his mission is to pretend to be her boyfriend, Kenji is very hesitant and only after some pleading, does he accept. Following this he’s introduced to Natsuki’s family members, the Jinnouchi family equipped with the family staples… The drunk uncle that tends to discuss ‘taboo’ subjects after six drinks, the motherly aunties and the awkward younger cousin who just began his teenage internet rebellion phase, opting for online over physical communication. Kenji who repeatedly tells the audience that his only skill is mathematics receives an anonymous encryption during the middle of the night… And like any sane person, he decides to spend the next few hours deciphering it. From then on madness accumulates like a rolling snowball, as a mysterious virus ironically and ‘threateningly’ named ‘Love Machine’ begins to destroy the digital world which is heavily intertwined to the physical. Not only does Kenji have to juggle the complicated web of family affairs, his sense of guilt compels him to combat this deadly virus who threatens the social fabric of modern Japan.

Whilst I may of given this away in my previous paragraphs, the most endearing and likable aspect of this film was the family, it felt realistic and fluid and every time I saw little children screaming in unison or the mothers giggling amongst themselves it instantly triggered a deeply buried memory in my head. Audiences may point to the lack of a protagonist as a key flaw within this story and I will admit, I really wanted the story to focus upon the budding relationship between Natsuki and Kenji, especially since the times the film did it was usually executed with heart and passion. Surprising Kazuma, a thirteen year old cousin of Natsuki received a large amount of screen time, especially near the end, despite the fact that his character was largely undeveloped and his icy demeanour made me instantly dislike him. For the most part the box art and introduction of the film gives the impression that Natsuki and Kenji are the protagonist but both fail to develop beyond their stereotypical and cliche constructs. Kenji is the shy and timid ‘nerd’, who lacks confidence in himself and the will to widen his comfort zone, whilst Natsuki fits the ‘pretty face and bold personality’ archetype. Sadly both characters won’t given the necessary screen time to fully expand beyond their initial defining traits.

Whilst these are all legitimate flaws and in most other films I would find myself emotionally disconnected or bored of the story in Summer Wars it is somewhat and strangely forgivable. The main reason was because the entire family felt like a single unit or a single character, Kenji didn’t only need acceptance from Natsuki’s grandmother, he needed to be embraced by the whole family for his relationship with Natsuki to work. In this sense, the overall lack of protagonist or the lack of development to major and minor characters was forgiven because the audience immediately substituted their own experiences and memories into the said family members. I think for the most part Hosada purposely tried to ‘limit’ the unique traits of different family members. The story was never really about individualism, if anything the ending is an example how relationships and the will of a community will always triumph individualistic pursuits or goals. This is why I honestly didn’t mind the fact that the characters excluding the grand mother were rather simplistic they were all pieces to a puzzle, pieces to a single family, Hosada had a purpose in mind with the execution and to a large extent, Summer Wars achieved it.

I can’t talk about the family any longer without mentioning the grand mother or her English voice actor; Pam Dougherty, who simultaneously embedded the character with strength, kindness and a motherly touch. Out of all the characters, she shines the brightest and her resilience and courage serve as the pillar of the proud Jinnouchi family. Honestly watching her was quite sad as my grandmother also had a few of her traits, maybe she wasn’t as strong or clever, but she was the eldest and in an Asian household, she was the most respected for her age and knowledge. Unfortunately Amnesia withered away my grandmother’s independence and personality and her bright talkative spark is now replaced with a quiet, sad obedience. The presence of any strong female character is especially welcome in a genre where females are generally sidelined as weak or unimportant (Naruto, Bleach, Death Note) Descended from a proud samurai family, responsible for moulding her fierce personality, the grandmother’s leadership and enthusiasm is responsible for some heavy moments later on; centred around forgiveness, the importance of family and the joys of simple living.

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Apart from the familiar characteristics of the family members, the attention to detail subtly breathed life into the rather simplistic story, like Kenji lagging behind Natsuki when he first enters the Jinnouchi residence, or the slightly disgruntled family member amongst the wave of smiles, hugs and laughter. The animation created an environment which felt like it was lived in, the walls were stained with age and the character designs were realistic and believable. On top of this the background was vibrant, fluid and alive with characters and objects independently moving, once again drawing the audience into a plausible world which similarly mirrors our own.

You may be wondering why I’ve neglected to mention the digital aspects of this film in particular the world of Oz until half way into this review? I really enjoyed this film and I felt that it was important to start this review off with a positive note because generally the strengths outweighed the negatives (a first impression is a lasting impression). But my main gripe with this story how disconnected I felt from the digital scenes in contrast to the scenes with the family, honestly I didn’t care for Kazuma very much and I cared even less about his presence on the digital world. I will praise Madhouse for giving those scenes a wonderfully unique art style and simultaneously blending a minimalist 3D animation look with the traditional forms of Japanese animation, to exaggerate the barriers between the physical and the cyber world. It was very effective and the actions scenes in Oz were smooth, fluid and was basically sexual intercourse for the eyes. However this doesn’t cover up the fact, I wasn’t fully engaged during those scenes and for the most part I wished the plot had simple followed the ‘dysfunctionally-functional’ Jinnouchi family, the Oz scenes served more as a distraction. It was hard to be emotionally invested in the world wide destruction caused by Love Machine when the story was so localised and the intricate inner family relations were so much more interesting. Ironically the strength of the family unit might of been the weakness of Summer Wars as I would of much rather watched the Jinnouchis eat dinner and reminisce about the past together than a cartoon rabbit defeat a mysterious virus to protect nameless and faceless individuals.

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If Oz becomes a real internet application, I want my avatar to look like that rabbit.

[Some spoilers, though to be honest, the information I will be discussing is really, really obvious, but if you want to avoid all spoilers, I would advise you to skip the next two paragraphs and go straight to my conclusion.]

Apart from the digital aspects of the film, there were only a few other instances which I was disengaged from Summer Wars, now I will admit that most of these issues maybe the result of cultural differences, but regardless I feel like it’s necessary to lightly address them. Animation is a powerful tool allowing the creators to create a ‘realistic’ world where rules can be bent to fit the narrative, that’s why we don’t really question the alchemy in Full Metal Alchemist, nor do we frown when a single punch from Ichigo rivals the power of an atomic bomb. However there were a few times the film’s use of animation served as a detriment, one particular scene jumps to mind which involves Watisube rushing home. However the audience quickly receives flashbacks to World War II at the amount of destruction caused by Watisube parking the car. Whilst this was semi-believable, evoking a humourous atmosphere during such an emotional scene was definitely counter productive.

Likewise the final scene involving Natsuki and Kenji was also quite anti-climatic, though I will once again acknowledge that Japan’s stance on public displays of affection or sex seems rather ‘prudish’ in contrast to my western upbringing. But the fact that Kenji was not comfortable or confident enough to properly and serious confess his feelings for Natsuki was rather disappointing as those two traits were aspects to Kenji’s character that should of developed during Summer Wars. Ironically it did feel like Kenji had grown, his uplifting leadership during the final conflict validated his position within the family and honestly Kenji not returning Natsuki’s kiss was just contradictory to what growth he had experienced. I understand that Kenji was more of a concept (shy, nerdy, introverted) rather than a actual strong character, but that doesn’t erase how disappointed I was, since I honestly wanted the two of them to become a couple, surrounded by such warm family members. If the camera (or animation) had zoomed up on Kenji’s face as he seriously expressed his feelings, it would have fit the themes of communication emphasised by this film and established Kenji as a more memorable character.

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Those pesky aunties… You gotta’ love em’.

Just as I feel it is important to start a review of an entertaining text on a positive note,the same logic can be applied to the conclusion as I want you to leave this review with a desire to watch this film. The music directed Akihiko Matsumoto was superb with certain tracks like Summer Wars, Happy End, 150 Million Miracles and Everyone’s Courage standing out on such a strong album. Despite the obvious Hisaishi influence on Matsumoto’s music which included a lot of uplifting songs with light and bouncy melodies, this is an album I would definitely listen to in my spare time. Honestly describing music is one of the more difficult task, music is a language, one which communicates through feelings, memories and emotions instead of words. So instead of doing Matsumoto’s works a great injustice, I will simply embedded said pieces at the bottom of this review for the audience to personally enjoy.

In many ways, Summer Wars could be classified as a slice of life anime but without the cliche cringe worthy moments and thankfully Hosada executed this project with more soul than most other films could dream about. At its heart, this is a film which highlights the importance of family, of opening communication lines and the responsibility we have to other family members during times of opulence and meagerness. Unlike Inception or Grave of the Fire Flies, this was a film where the story served as a springboard to explore the characters and whilst the plot was rather cliche, this is forgivable as the story was ultimately a tool to unite the Jinnouchi family. During its worst moments, this film can be slightly disengaging, particularly the scenes involving Oz, but at its best, Summer Wars leaves an imprint on the audience, gently reminding the audience to value family without the message being overly intrusive.

A box of tissues is highly recommended for viewing.

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“And you always eat together as a family, even during difficult times, because being hungry and being all alone are the worst things that can happen to anyone.” 

[KOI-KOI MOTHER FUCKERS]

Genre: Anime, Romance Film, Animation, Comedy, Science Fiction, Adventure Film, Drama, Action Film,
Certificate: PG-13
USA Release Date: 1st August 2009
Runtime: 116 minutes
Director: Mamoru Hosada
Writer: Satoko Okudera
Starring: Michael Sinterniklaas, Brina Palencia, Maxey Whitehead, Pam Dougherty, J Michael Tatum.
Synopsis: Kenji accompanies Natsuki to her grand mother’s birthday party, as chaos beings to affect the physical and cyber world.

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PS: [SPOILER] There was one scene in this film that made me clap out loud with joy, the scene where the Jinnouchi brothers lightly remind the over protective Shota Jinnouchi that he is not Natsuki’s boyfriend. The voice acting combined with the animation created such a memorable moments, the family is truly the best aspect of this film.

PSS: [SPOILER] I have heard many people confirm that Summer Wars is a more sophisticated and enjoyable version of Hosada’s other film; Digimon the Movie (1999). Whilst there are key similarities in plot and animation style, I am not too fused by this because… Firstly I never watched said Digimon film and secondly, it’s not exactly plagiarism since Hosada essentially copied his own ideas, though you could take points away for a lack of creativity.