Winning the Summer Wars
Mamoru Hosoda follows his successful The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) with the acclaimed Summer Wars, a cyber punk romance about technology, family and social networking, which has been shortlisted for an Oscar and has a year-end theatrical qualifying run. A timid high school student and math whiz cracks a digital math riddle and inadvertently causes global panic when an AI program uses the code to hack the mainframe of his virtual world (Oz), where millions of people and governments interact with their avatars. While this occurs, the student grows closer to a friend's influential family, which is in the midst of celebrating the matriarch's 90th birthday: a time for bringing the estranged members closer together. Produced by Madhouse, Summer Wars is distributed by GKids (The Secret of Kells). Bill Desowitz interviewed director Hosoda by email about the three-year production, longer than his previous film as a result of the large number of characters.
Bill Desowitz: What inspired you to make Summer Wars, and what influenced the Oz environment and the theme of family?
Mamoru Hosoda: I got the inspiration from new, expanded social networks such as Second Life or Facebook. Maybe in the near future, I thought those social networks could be like the Oz in the film, both visually and functionally. Regarding the theme of family, I got the inspiration from many films that I saw at film festivals all over the world, and also from my [recent] marriage [following the making of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time].
BD: What about the role of technology and social networking? Is this a cautionary tale about it getting out of hand? A replacement for true intimacy?
MH: The idea that as reliance on social networks grows, people begin to lack real communication and intimacy… I think this is just a one-sided view. I cannot deny the opinion, of course, but, originally, technology and digital social networks are something that make our lives easy and comfortable. There are many people that have found new relationships because of these new social networks, so I want to affirm both ways of communication that currently exist.
MH: I wanted to make Oz feel like something that men and women of all ages, millions of people all over the world, are using daily, so I've tried to keep the design simple. For the color and design of the Oz world, I actually had inspiration from Nintendo games, like the Wii.
BD: Why did you choose Ueda as the setting? Talk about the old fashioned designs utilized by Yoji Takeshige. You might say his Studio Ghibli influence is present.
MH: My wife's home is in the Ueda city of Nagano. Visiting there several times, I really liked the place. There is the impressive history of the Sanada clan, and also beautiful scenery of nature and old Japanese houses. I thought: there would be no one but Yoji who could draw this.