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Library Wars
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by Jay Seaver

"Fighting censorship with automatic weapons gives way to teen infatuation."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Not having read any of the books in Hiro Arikawa's "Toshokan Sens" series, I readily admit that this film adaptation of the first may give its fans exactly what they want (the manga adaptation looks as "shojo" as it possibly can). Still, that seems a bit of a shame: If you've got a concept as pointed as open warfare between heavily-armed librarians and the government censorship bureau, you might as well make "Battle Royale", and this movie is only on par with "The Hunger Games".

And, yes, "heavily-armed librarians". In this story's parallel universe, Japan passed the "Media Betterment Act" in 1989, a censorship law whose enforcement bureau eventually became militarized. This led to the opposing creation of the Library Defense Force in 2004. Now, in 2019, Iku Kasahara (Nana Eikura) and Satoshi Tezuka (Sota Fukushi) are Musashiro Library #1's newest recruits, although Kasahara confesses to her roommate Asako Shibasaki (Chiaki Kuriyama) that she joined in part due to a crush on an unknown Task Force officer. She and Tezuka are being trained by demanding squad leader Atsushi Dojo (Junichi Okada), who really seems to have it in for Kasahara. Meanwhile, the owner of the Museum of Information History lingers near death with instructions to hand its contents over to the Musashiro Library - although the Betterment Bureau has good reason to want that handover stopped.

The high concept is ludicrous, of course, but it's the kind of ludicrous that's useful because a writer can do interesting things with it. Maybe not particularly subtle, but illustrative, and if dressing the forces advocating censorship as the SS while librarians are the soldiers handing out humanitarian aid after the battle puts an image in the viewers' minds, well, mission accomplished. But while screenwriter Akiko Nogi occasionally uses the setting to make a comment of some sort, there's not much in the way of sharp satire; the main focus, actually, is on office romance.

Not exactly good office romance, mind you - it's about Kasahara holding out for the "prince" she's been dreaming of for five years and not seeing that the answer is right in front of her face despite the number of times what's going on is made quite clear to the audience. It's at least built so that she doesn't spend the whole movie looking particularly stupid, but it's also a lot of time spent on a prospective relationship where nothing actually happens. Sure, maybe this is the set-up for what happens in later episodes, and there's nothing really wrong with getting caught up in this sort of very strong but not harmful infatuation, but it's not a story as far as this movie which may not have a sequel goes, and marginalizes characters who might be able to contribute something.

And they probably could; it's a very likable cast. Nana Eikura is energetic and pleasing as Kasahara, genuinely funny doing embarrassment comedy, and makes the sudden outbursts of suddenly actually being good at her job surprising but not contradictory. Junichi Okada plays the tough training officer well but also does nice in being a big old softy when with his own peers or when he doesn't have to be quite so authoritarian with the newbies. Western fans may be a bit surprised that Chiaki Kuriyama's role is a best friend who is actually a lot closer to an actual librarian than a fighter, but she's enjoyable in that role. The actors playing the head of the library (Koji Ishizaka) and captain of the guard (Jun Hashimoto) make them more than stock characters, and Sota Fukushi at least gives the impression of a character who has potential.

The cast could probably use a well-defined villain, though, to add a little more juice to the action scenes. They're generally not bad for all that many of them are armies firing automatic weapons at each other without a whole lot of casualties; there are in-movie explanations and a formality to the encounters that make that sort of work. They're just rather anonymous, and it's actually a nice surprise when the scale become more personal and suddenly Shinsuke Sato's direction kicks into a higher gear: An assault on the library where Kasahara and Tezuka separate from the main group is not only more exciting, but turns into a nice character-through-action moment, and the cast (particularly Okada) showing some pretty good martial-arts chops in the finale revs things up considerably.

So all the pieces for a very good movie are there, and its young-adult target audience may well get a kick out of its combination of light satire, light romance, and occasional action. It would probably be a much harder movie to make if those qualifiers were removed, but to non-fans of the source material, it seems like a big missed opportunity.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25373&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/31/13 15:28:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Shinsuke Sato

Written by
  Akiko Nogi

  Jun'ichi Okada
  Nana Eikura
  Chiaki Kuriyama
  Kei Tanaka
  Sta Fukushi
  Kji Ishizaka

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