The oddly titled blockbuster “Library Wars” really does offer just that, depicting the armed struggle between paramilitary librarians and fascist censors in Japan’s not too distant future. Based on a hugely popular series of light novels by Arikawa Hiro, the film was directed by Sato Shinsuke, who previously did a pretty good job of adapting “Gantz” for the big screen. Despite its wacky sounding premise, the film is actually a relatively straight faced and politically charged affair which attempts to combine sci fi, action, romance and more with serious philosophical statements.
Set in 2019 in a Japan where laws have been passed banning supposedly corrupting books, the film mainly revolves around Kasahara (Eikura Nana, “April Bride”), a young woman who joins the Library Defense Force to help fight back against the sinister Media Betterment Force. She’s also there to try and track down her beloved prince, a mysterious Library Force soldier who once shielded her when trying to protect a blacklisted book. Although she quickly earns the right to join the force’s elite task force, she comes up against tough instructor Dojo (former boy band member Okura Junichi), who seems determined to prove her incapable of serving on the front line. With the Media Betterment Force stepping up their campaign things soon get dangerous, and Kasahara and Dojo find themselves caught up in a conspiracy leading back to an infamous 1999 library massacre.
Though it doesn’t take itself too seriously, “Library Wars” is far more coherent and sensible than expected, Sato Shinsuke managing to generally suspend disbelief and to create a political future that’s semi-believable. “Fahrenheit 451” it might not be, but the film actually does have something to say about the freedom of expression, warning against the gradual erosion of civil liberties and personal privacy. While the film never goes into its themes in much depth, Sato balances them well with its more popcorn leanings, and the multi-genre blend is an effective and entertaining one – the action works well and is suitably bombastic, the Japanese embarrassment comedy is reasonably funny, and the romance between Kasahara and Dojo is amusingly daft in the way it develops, both of the main stars being on likeable and not too cutesy form. There’s always plenty going on, and even the subplots involving Kasahara’s best friend Asako (Kuriyama Chiaki, “Kill Bill”) and other suitor Tezuka (Fukushi Sota, “Kamen Rider”) never feel too much like unnecessary padding.
The film moves along at a decent pace as a result, and despite a long two hours plus running time, Sato holds the interest throughout, working in some reasonably spectacular set pieces along the way. The action scenes are well-handled and make good use of what must have been a generous budget, and the film certainly feels like a fully-fledged blockbuster, with some great sets and costumes helping make for the kind of convincing setting needed to pull off its outlandish central conceit. Though there’s nothing too brutal on show, the war sequences during the final act add an edge of sorts, and while the film would have benefitted from more of a central villain role, it at least does threaten to do away with some of the minor members of the supporting cast.
Perhaps inevitably the film does drag things out a little towards the very end, setting things up for further adventures of the Library Defense Force, though this doesn’t leave too sour a taste in the mouth, and more “Library Wars” would certainly be welcome. Sato Shinsuke again proves himself as one of the better directors when it comes to adapting cult fiction or manga, and the film is thoughtful without neglecting the all-important elements of fun and kinetic escapism.
Shinsuke Sato (director) / Hiro Arikawa (novel), Akiko Nogi (screenplay)
CAST: Jun’ichi Okada … Atsushi Dôjô
Nana Eikura … Iku Kasahara
Chiaki Kuriyama … Asako Shibasaki
Kei Tanaka … Mikihisa Komaki
Sôta Fukushi … Hikaru Tezuka
Kôji Ishizaka … Gen Nishina