A Summer Wars Birthday and the Greatest Love

My family and I have been tearing through anime films this summer, and by serendipity we watched one last night whose action takes place that night, July 31st, and concludes today, August 1st. Summer Wars, one of my favorite films, brings together the Jinnouchis in celebrating the matriarch’s 90th birthday. And that day is today. Happy birthday, Sakae!

The theme of family is at front and center in the film, but as with anything developed by Mamoru Hosoda, there are subtleties and complexities woven throughout. One story that helps develop the theme has to do with the black sheep of the family, Wabisuke, who arrives unexpectedly after a ten year absence and is received angrily by seemingly the entire clan, by everyone except Natsuki and the stern Sakae who calmly, if not warmly, accepts his presence. Still, we know that Wabisuke’s sin runs deep, and Sakae eventually explodes, quite literally and menacingly threatening his life.

Granny means business.

We discover in the course of the film what it is that Wabisuke has done to incur such wrath. His first sin is not of his own choice – he is the illegitimate child of Sakae’s deceased husband. The second has to do with something the Jinnouchis think he could have helped. Years prior, Wabisuke took his inheritance and sold it, using the proceeds to fund his education in America. This left the family aghast – how could this child, never really part of the family, take a portion of their precious remaining funds and use it for himself? Unforgivable!

It does sound unforgivable, especially for a family that is all about family. But it’s not an unfamiliar story, especially for Christians. Jesus tells the story of a young man who did something similar. Even while his dad remained alive, the man asked for his inheritance early and used it all in a land far away. Like Wabisuke, he created bitterness in his own family – how could he have treated his father like that, to trade selfless love for selfish desires?

As the brother was incensed at prodigal’s actions, the Jinnouchi family is irate with Wabisuke, and especially because a series of events further discredits him: the family discovers that Wabisuke is responsible for the creation of Love Machine, the A.I. wrecking havoc across the world. More personally, the A.I. indirectly causes Sakae’s death (though a slightly more direct cause may be the stress he himself put upon his grandmother the night before she passed). He not only has slighted the family, but he’s now caused the death of their beloved matriarch. Just as with the prodigal’s brother, the Jinnouchis are justified in their anger.

But Sakae’s response in death, through a letter she left behind, takes the clan by surprise:

…And grant me this, if Wabiske should ever make his way back home. He’s been gone 10 years and counting now so who’s to say that day will ever come. But if he does, I’m sure he’ll be hungry. He never kept proper care of himself and will probably won’t have been eating right so let him have as many vegatables from the fields as he wants. and the grapes and peaches too, he always loved those the best. I remember the day we first met, even now it’s clear as a bell. His little ears looked just like my husbands, definitely his fathers son. We walked through the field of morning glories and I told him he would be our child from that day forward. He didn’t say a single word but his hand wrapped all but tighter around my finger. I was so happy to be giving him the family that he needed. I liked to think he could feel happiness radiating off of me. Never turn your back on family even if they hurt you.

And he did. He hurt Sakae with his decisions in life, with how he treated her. And yet, her final words are a welcome home to him, just the same as the prodigal’s father, who runs to the son and yells for a fattened calf to be prepared for a meal. Like Sakae, he celebrates the homecoming with a feast to say “welcome home.”

I love how the final portrait shows Sakae’s heart

I’ve never caused havoc across the Internet* and I’m not the source of any drama in my family, but I have chosen my own route, putting faith in myself rather than in the one that loves me most of all. I’ve taken my inheritance and gone my own way, but my father welcomes us back. Yet he treated me like family even when I hurt him, even when I wasn’t his son, even though he had no responsibility for me.

We are illegitimate, defective, traitors. But with their final breaths, Sakae relates something so very important to Wabisuke and Jesus does the same for us. They say, “Welcome to the feast. You are adopted. Enjoy my riches – for you are family.”

2 thoughts on “A Summer Wars Birthday and the Greatest Love

  1. Summer Wars is a beautiful film, isn’t it? I love its meditation on family, and especially the emphasis it places on communal eating, what with Sakae’s insistence that the family always eat dinner together. In a way I’m reminded of the recent post about communion: just as Wabisuke joining the table signals his adoption into the Jinnouchi family, one of the signs that mark our adoption into God’s family is sharing a meal with other believers. It’s wonderful symbolism.

    Thanks for the great insight, as always!

    1. As I was writing this post, Dr. Steve’s article came to mind as well. No surprise, perhaps, that there’s such rich elements that connect to faith in a movie that’s all about family.

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