I sat down with Library Wars director Sato Shinsuke the morning after his film screened at Fantasia. We were already accustomed to each other as we had only parted ways six hours earlier after closing out the pub. Coffee was a necessity. And time was tight as I had to catch my train in a couple hours. What follows is an hour-long conversation I had with the director. My extended thanks to Hidetaka Yoneyama and his translating skills and Nicolas Archambault from Fantasia for arranging our time.
The novel Library Wars was based on came out ten years ago. When it came out was it a response to anything in Japanese culture? Is the author trying to get a message across about censorship; was it in response to anything that was happening culturally at that time?
I didn't ask the author directly. In Tokyo there was a movement to (limit) all major presentations of all sexual scenes and violence. A lot of people tried to limit this, was against them. I think that the period in the book was quite similar to that.
Are the novels considered fictional entertainment then? Or would Library Wars carry the same weight as say Orwell's 1984?
There are a lot of things in the books like that. But something that is very strong is the love/comedy story.
It is more of a context in which to talk about the love story and the relationship between your two leads. It wasn't a call against censorship but a backdrop to set up the relationship.
Of course they are talking about censorship- there are points that are serious- but it is a love/comedy.
I think that now more than ever, with the accessibly of information and how freely it flows, it may resonate more NOW than when the book came out because of just how things have escalated in the digital age and the flow of information and how I can pick this (phone) up and I can get whatever but if someone tries to control that... I don't want to make a mountain out of mole hill as far as censorship is concerned but I just wanted to know what its relevance was at the time and now. It probably resonates more now with culture now than it would have five/ten years ago.
In the film I didn't want too much internet content. The book talks about libraries and I wanted people to focus on the books. Its true that the internet is easier to control. There are people that think 'what about the internet?' and in the beginning there is a small internet scene. But I didn't want to focus too much on the internet.
That's fine. It (the context) establishes a good guy and a bad guy and now the story can happen.
If you think about it, there are little details about the laws, I didn't want to emphasize the law aspect. I wanted to remove that complication and put more the good and bad so its easier to watch.
What was your greatest challenge when making this film? Did you have any input into the scripting? Did you have any say on that? As far as a development standpoint (pause for garbage truck on the other side of the hedge to stop banging around) as the project went on, what was the greatest challenge in getting Library Wars from concept to film, and out?
The first challenge was, as it is a world that is in the imagination, it is a parallel world, and people are not used to that situation in Japan. They were also limited by the budget. The first challenge was how to introduce to direct the people naturally in those worlds. Not to think but to go naturally in this world.
Make it a world that you can accept and not have to try to wrap your head around it.
The story is about Kasahara that thinks about her memories, about the guy who...
The prince. Her prince.
The love story is the second step. But if you don't frame the first step of the world people would not be able to enter the second step. This was a big deal.
No one would be engaged if they struggled to get past the context in which the relationship happens.
Before the title appears, I wanted to put the story of the girl that was in the Library Defense Force. I wanted to put that in very clearly because there are a lot of people who read the story that thought it wouldn't be a good adaptation. I wanted to change this idea in the first ten minutes, to change their minds. For the people who haven't read the books, I have to explain what happened.
If you read the novels you would know there is a love story there and you would expect to see that then. 'I know what I am going to see. I am expecting a love story'.
For the people who read the books there are expectations, after the film (we hope) they would be more satisfied. This was the aim for people who read the books. The setting of the story is the library, beside them is the army. To show all those images was very important for us. We thought maybe not having CGI. We wanted to use a lot of sets. In the end we took two locations. We worked a lot on the locations. It was important.
Some of those locations are really cool looking. The exterior and interior of the library. The home of the gentlemen who had the archives in his basements and when he died he was handing them over to the defense force. That building was impressive as well. Location location location. Talk about how important that is. The interiors and exteriors gave a sort of quasi-futuristic look.; at least establishing a unique look of an alternative universe. The locations were excellent.
I think that putting it in the real location makes it more real. It was a good choice.
Choosing a cast is very important too. You have a very likeable cast. Your female lead, Eikura Nana, was what I call 'cute as a bug's ear'. She's adorable. She came across as the naive girl, who goes looking for her prince and finds, will find, her knight in shining armour. When you were choosing cast were there people in mind?
They have to have an image, its not just my idea but also people in the production as well. We chose people very quickly. It was at the step when they were planning to do this film. It was very important to choose them before they go to work. The two main characters were chosen very quickly.
Okada Junichi a very famous actor. He is quite small. Nana is taller than him. He doesn't sell himself as a small actor. This time it was very exceptional to see him as a small actor. It was okay for him to have this image because of course this is not... everyone would not except it, but he did. When the Japanese audience look at that, they know of him. The people that know him very well it is very funny. Usually he doesn't have this character.
Did any of your cast find any challenges in the physicality? Especially those that were in the action part of the story. Kasahara does judo and a fair amount of action. Dojo is the hero of the film... were there any challenges for them to transition from the rom-com elements to the action because there is some very demanding elements to the action that you have in your film.
As the main character, Kasahara is in the paramilitary, she is sometimes boyish, she has to do the training and judo. They didn't have so much time to train for the film because they are very busy. They selected for each cast (member) the training that was necessary to do that (role). The most difficult was for Eikura Nana. She never shot a gun. And she never done action movies so it was very demanding for her. It was a big challenge for her. But for Okada Junichi, he already did action, and he also has the license of jujitsu teacher. So he is very well trained. On the other hand, the action that they are showing is not real action. It is fake action. It is not reality. It is a little different. I gave Junichi the chance to change a little bit of the choreography.
You have a stunt director that you have worked with before. Shimomura Yûji. That must have made it easier to get your action moving ahead, you already have someone you have a working relationship with. You know how each other work. It must have been easier to have someone that you have worked with to help move that along. A good working relationship helps the production.
Yes. I was with Yûji... the first time was Princess Blade. He was just a stunt double. After we also made video game movies. I was used to working with him and his team. With Gantz it was the first time we were doing story content. Each time we got to know each other better. We would have discussions. You know the one time we did this, we could do that this time. I gave Yûji some freedom in my film to create the action.
About the expectation of the people who read the book. I wanted to put something that was not in the book, especially a bigger importance on the battle scene. I wanted people who read the book to be very surprised. Also, to have a good amount of fight scenes between the armies. The title is Library War so people expect to see wars. It was a very important part of it. After the battle, the Dojo fought without guns, that fight is not in the book. I added it. It was the icing on the cake, the cherry on the sundae. It was something to give more excitement. This was a joy and very satisfying for those people.
People who are going there expecting a war will see a war and will also be pleased with the amount of action that is in there. Also very pleased with the level of humour. The romance? (I make a funny face - laughter) Its cute. Its very funny. The action is very good. I was probably more surprised with the sort of the set up of fighting between sides. "By this law i can do this. Well by this law I can reject you. Okay well at 6 o'clock we'll fight". Its like a school rumble; after 3 o'clock we're going outside.
In the book when they act out the censorship, they have to announce the time. To fight, location is very limited, just in the library, those things. If you think about it. A lot of people ask "can in be true". To emphasize this, I put more of those scenes, the official papers, to insist the law was very strict. If they follow the law they can do everything. This very Japanese culture. If you follow the law you can do everything. I am reflecting Japanese culture.
I like that idea. Following the law and doing anything I want.
After that they have big fight, when they want to take the archives. The announce each other they put a lot of sandbags it is very protected and very aggressive. They announce they're going to fight. I like a lot of these scenes. It can be very violent, but very official. Also, it is funny.
There is some humour to it. A gentleman's approach to fighting.
Yesterday I was very glad to see people laughing at this moment
It also allows you a moment of build up and anticipation. Cause everybody is looking at their watch. Especially the final fight at the private collection and getting the helicopter in there. There is this really nice buildup with anticipation of what is going to happen. Everybody is watching their watch, even those who are outside, not even at the building, they're at the funeral. Tick tick tick. Waaaaugh. (machine gun noise)
I wanted to put something they could only do in the film. People looking at their watches was not in the book. It gives some excitement for the film. It is very proper to the film world. The clock part of the excitement is what we wanted to do from the beginning.
Its a very common device but it works. Especially already announcing at this time we'll start shooting. Okay now I know to expect that and here it comes, here it comes, here is comes 'Waaaaugh'. (laughter) You've ended your theatrical run in Japan. You mentioned that there are other books in the series. Does it continue the story of the couple?
Yeah the story of the couple does continue.
So, will there be a sequel?
I cannot say right now there are a lot of things that have to be solved...
But you want to...
Not not only me. But also the author, also the actors, the producers, there are a lot of fans. There are people who went a few times to see it at the cinema. There are people who went 20 or 30 times. So, there are a lot of fans. We created a new pool of fans. It would be very interesting to do. Everyone is waiting for this moment.
Everyone is willing. It is a matter of...
A matter of timing. I cannot promise but people would like to...
And next year, Okada Junichi's on television. Each year there is a series that lasts for one year, it is about history. He is already in this show. For one year he won't have anything on his schedule. He is very busy for one year.
Everybody wants to, its just a matter of all the pieces coming together. Then awesome, throw some money at it, get you going!