Mamoru Hosoda's "Summer Wars," an official entry for the animated feature Oscar, imagines an online community known as Oz, a virtual world so vast that it has become a marketplace, a social media site and a gaming enterprise — in short, the engine that drives the electronic universe.
The film certainly functions as a cautionary tale about humanity's increasing reliance on technology, but it's also a superb example of Japanese anime, balancing science fiction fantasy with a paean to the timeless value of family life.
The story begins with pretty Natsuki inviting shy teen Kenji to accompany her to her great-grandmother's birthday party. But there's little time for contentment for computer nerd Kenji, who spends all night cracking a lengthy numerical code, only to have his solution stolen from his cellphone by an artificial intelligence intent on using the virtual reality of Oz to create real-world chaos.
Satoko Okudera's screenplay, adapted expertly by John Burgmeier for voicing in English, anchors potential apocalypse with a well-drawn portrait of a large family reunion set in a magnificent period estate, albeit one fitted out with plenty of modern conveniences.
Visually, "Summer Wars" is awesome in its detailed depiction of Oz, which floats in space with an array of satellites, and earthly cityscapes visited by calamities.
Hosoda, who directed the cult film "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time," has made a sophisticated yet poignant family entertainment with an appeal beyond Japanese animation buffs.
"Summer Wars." Rated PG for action violence, some suggestive content, language, mild thematic material and incidental smoking. Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.