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.