Fantasia 2013 Review: LIBRARY WARS. Japanese Feel-Good Action Cinema
In the 1980s in an alternate Japan, a movement rose to control media and do away with material deemed offensive to Japanese culture. The Media Betterment Committee is little more than a police force that bans such offensive material. In opposition to this movement the Library Defense Force was formed to protect such books and publications. Anything they buy is protected by law and they move these publications to their libraries. The year is now 2019 and young Iku has joined the Library Defense Force. She has wanted to join the force ever since an officer from the LDF defended her during such a purge. She wants nothing more than to follow in his footsteps. Thing is, she does not actually know the identity of her 'prince'. She could not make out his face with the sunlight pouring in through the storefront. Will she ever meet her 'prince' again?
Turns out, Library Wars is basically a romantic comedy which takes breathers so folks can put on flak jackets and shoot and punch each other. Beneath it all there is the subplot of what is essentially a terrorist cell which backs the Betterment Act through acts of violence. But the stand-offs are primarily between the Library Defence Force and the Media Betterment Committee. The story focuses on the relationship between Kasahara Iku and her overbearing instructor, Atsushi Dôjô. Iku's tenacity has landed her in the defense force. She is the first female to do so. But she has also landed in his sights and with the precious contents of the libraries to defend everyone in his squad has to be at the top of their game.
As the story progresses a young man commits a series of murders and horror novels are found at his home. There is increased pressure for the LDF to turn over similar publications so that the Police may form a case. But the LDF believes the MBC is really behind this and so the LDF refuses because it would mean a loss of liberty and free choice. Meanwhile, an industrialist lies on his deathbed. He has documentation in his vault - which cannot be touched because it is privately owned apparently - that uncovers the illegalities of the Media Betterment Committee. They cannot be allowed to get their hands on these documents. Before he dies the industrialist bequeathed his collection to the LDF and they must safely transport it back to their library. The MBC mounts a massive attack on the industrialist's complex and the LDF desperately fights back. Iku escorts the LDF boss to the funeral where a surprise waits for them there.
I am glad that I had the opportunity to speak with Shinsuke Sato the following day because I was able to ask him about the novel series that this film is based on. Specifically I asked him about the context for the film, this alternate universe, where books are banned and burnt and the LDF defends the right of the citizens to read these controversial texts. Turns out it is meant to merely serve as the background to the love story that takes place between the two main characters Kasahara and Dojo. Their story continues into the next novels as I am told; so the central story is a romantic story. Those of you looking for deeper meaning or something like Orwell's 1984 will not get it from this film. Look at that Library Wars book cover on the left there. There is your answer. This is not heavy, thought provoking literature.
Before Library Wars Sato Shinsuke and stunt coordinator Shimomura Yuji worked together On Gantz: Perfect Answer. And Yuji-san's track record is very impressive. You can see his work in Deadball, Yakuza Weapon, Alive, Versus, Shinobi, and Alien vs. Ninja. And it is about time Yuji-san got back into a decently sized studio production because his work is impressive. In the scant melee sequences their work is excellent. It helps that Junichi is trained in Jujitsu. Eikura Nana has no formal training so she had the biggest learning curve of all the actors but she does a decent job. But a large majority of the action sequences involve lots and lots of automatic weapons (H&K MP5s for the MBC and Mini Uzis for the LDF if I recall correctly) and firepower.
Library Wars is thoroughly entertaining and funny. The action scenes provide some thrilling moments and set pieces. The romantic story is sweet and charming, or so I am told. It is Japanese popcorn cinema popped to near perfection. It was a big hit in Japan - some fans report seeing Sato's film 20 - 25 times - and it was a big hit with audience in Montreal that night!
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