Have you ever done math so hard that your nose bled? Summer Wars, a Japanese animated film, is about a young boy who goes on vacation to meet his friend’s family and finds himself accidentally enabling an evil AI to overtake the internet. This boy, Kenji Koiso, is a math prodigy, and, as with most young geniuses, is shy and nervous around girls. He receives a message on his cell phone that is a string of digits. He manages to decrypt it in a single night, thinking it is an amusing puzzle. In so doing, he inadvertently allows an AI to take over not only his account, but a variety of other online functions. To take back the internet from this AI before disaster hits, Kenji must use pure math to decrypt numerical sequences at break-neck pace, hence causing a nosebleed.
The internet in Summer Wars, called Oz, is basically an ultra facebook on which people store all their information, conduct their business, and run their jobs. This means that not only is credit card information on the internet, but also launch codes to nuclear missiles and global positioning systems for satellites. So, if a hacker with bad intentions were to access this site, he could disrupt all aspects of life, from traffic signals to medical information to defense. Which of course happens.
Oz is a wildly colorful, neon pastel-on-white wonderland of wacky animal avatars. The entire space is reminiscent of Takashi Murakami‘s work, blending cuteness, commercialism, and manga to create a coherent alternate reality. In it any function that one would ever conceive to do online can be done. This includes martial arts sparring, which ends up being a venue for attempting to take down the evil AI that overtakes people’s accounts. A note about this AI: it was created at “a robotics school in Pittsburgh,” and bought by the US government. It was never meant to be evil, it just got out of hand.
Luckily, by visiting his friend’s family’s house in the countryside, Kenji coincidentally is in the same house with the creator of the AI and the coolest fighting rabbit avatar owner that Oz has to offer. Said owner is about 11 years old, but can type really quickly.
The film does not entirely center around Oz, it mainly centers around the family, which has come together to celebrate the 90th birthday of its matriarch. The family consists of men who are vocal but passive, and women who are assertive, yet spend much of their time and energy in the kitchen. While the women remain unaware of the imminent devise of the Earth, the men find a way to get a supercomputer into their house, and play video games in such a way as to save the world.
This outside world, although visually not as fantastic as Oz, is nonetheless more compelling for its ability to
contain stories, conflict, depth and food. The film does not explore people’s actual lives getting taken over by the internet, but rather their virtual lives, namely, the information over which they have power. All the numbers and codes with which a person is associated, from his bank account to, say, the access codes to the city sewer authority computers, if one is the head of the sewer authority, are all kept in Oz. Although a person’s identity can’t be overtaken, his function can be assumed and abused. The repercussions reverberate in the actual world. This abuse is made visual by having the AI, whose avatar is a tattooed warrior, knock around the pieces of graphs, topple dominoes with points of data, and rearrange plates containing the commands to traffic signals. Luckily, there are young math geniuses and computer gurus to save the day.
Summer Wars is playing at the Harris Theater through January 19th.