"Would you like to play a game?"
Many of you will recognize that. Some of you will now feel old. I would, except that the movie is older than me.
This isn't actually about old cold war era movies, though. This is about a much newer movie: Summer Wars. It's principally the work of Mamoru Hosoda and Madhouse, so you know it's going to be both fun and shiny.
The movie opens with some world-building. In the world of Summer Wars there is some kind of super-internet called "Oz". It's kind of Snow Crash-esque, without Hiro Protagonist, Da5id, or Black Sun running around. There are billions of personal users with avatars of wildly varying appearance. It's sort of an anime vision of Second Life, except that every company and every government worth mentioning apparently runs critical systems and communications over Oz. Apparently there is unlimited bandwidth and no lag in the future? Well, I'll forgive it for the sake of the story.
There are arguably two interlocking stories here, rather than one. One gets started almost immediately. This is the story of Kenji Koiso, high school math prodigy. He's hanging around with a friend of his, doing some systems maintenance on Oz as a part-time job. Then The Girl - Natsuki Shinohara - walks in, and her role is painfully obvious. Kenji and his friend are both desperate to spend time with the pretty girl, but Kenji gets the "summer job". I won't say what it is, but suffice to say there's a bit of false advertising on Natsuki's part. Off he goes with her to visit her grandmother for her birthday, along with the whole extended clan. Family hijinks and hilarious misunderstandings ensue.
About twenty-five minutes in, the other plot starts. Kenji gets a text that's nothing but a very long number. He (correctly) assumes it to be a code, and spends all night cracking it. The next day, all Hell has broken loose as something has gone all kinds of sideways in Oz. The code Kenji spent all night cracking was some kind of encrypted password, and now he's being blamed for all the bad things going on in Oz.
Apparently nobody knows anything about secure password hashing in the future. Anyway.
Turns out it's a rogue AI. Stop me if you've heard this one before. Rogue AI let loose on an unsuspecting internet. AI proceeds to rampage across the whole net, doing lots of damage and essentially taking control of everything it can along in pursuit of some obscure (and essentially irrelevant) goal. Now the rag-tag group of plucky heroes has to stop it.
Did I say plucky heroes? I meant Kenji, the little math genius. Along with his would-be girlfriend and her family, who prove improbably resourceful on very short notice. Hilarity ensues, a lesson on the importance of the family is learned by all, and boy gets girl. He only has to save the world to do it, more or less.
Despite all my ragging on it, I actually like Summer Wars. It's a fun and cute two hours, once I manage to overcome all my twitches of "networks don't work like that". The art and writing are uniformly good. The characters and their motivations are plausible. The humor is genuine and never feels forced. The movie really is a lot of fun and a visual treat to boot.
That said... Summer Wars reminds me of a hot spring pool. It's fun, but don't expect depth. Definitely worth watching.