Be sure to return your books before the due date ...

Be sure to return your books before the due date …

I’m in grim London for a week, doing some work at Imperial College while the looming skies glower down on me. One great thing about flying ANA to London is you get to see Japanese-language movies with English subtitles, something that’s almost impossible if you live in Japan. Since my Japanese is not yet good enough to properly understand TV (except, strangely, Darwin ga kita), I like to take this opportunity to enjoy a movie I wouldn’t otherwise understand. This time around I stumbled on Library Wars: The Final Mission, a hilarious movie about librarians at war with the state that ultimately made no sense and was vaguely unsatisfactory.

The basic premise of Library Wars is that the government has set out to censor all published work through the Media Betterment Act, but after a violent battle in which 17 people died the Librarian association declared themselves implacably opposed to censorship and established a Library Defense Force that responds violently to attempts to censor books. Naturally in the ensuing years things have escalated, and now there is this kind of hyper-violent kabuki drama in which the Media Betterment Committee turn up to a library and declare that they will inspect it; then the Library Defense Force refuse on the grounds of the Libraries Freedom Act Clause 33; then the Media Betterment Committee tells them they will attack the library for a period of one hour; then they shoot each other for an hour; then everyone goes home[1].

How this makes any sense to anyone is a complete mystery to me, but that’s the background. The movie follows a junior member of the Library Defense Force (LDF), a girl called Kasahara san who is (secretly) in love with her instructor, Dojo san, and is also a klutz and a ditz in a very charming way. She is based in the main base of the LDF, at Musashino (which is near my home), along with Dojo and random other characters. They are charged with escorting the original copy of the librarian association’s statement of principles to an exhibition on freedom at Ibaraki prefectural museum, where they will guard the book at any cost. As they prepare for this mission we see that the older brother of one of the LDF members, Tezuka san, is involved in a cunning scheme in conjunction with the Ministries of Education and Justice to destroy the LDF and end librarians’ independence.

The first half of the movie sees this scheme played out, largely pointlessly, and involving Kasahara san in a random kind of weird plot. Then the second half is an extended battle between the LDF and the Media Betterment Committee soldiers at the Ibaraki Prefectural library. This extended battle is a bit boring since it largely involves lines of soldiers with shields shooting at each other but it’s also hilarious because it takes place in a massive library, so there’s lots of shooting of books and stuff. Also Dojo and Kasahara san end up behind enemy lines so there’s a bit of skullduggery and hand-to-hand violence. There is a surprising amount of brutal slaughter by the end of it, certainly sufficient to convince me that being a librarian is a tough job. To me the ending of the whole thing didn’t make any sense, but then I didn’t really expect it to because how can a story involving a war between librarians and the government have any resolution that makes any sense? It’s madness.

The movie has several good points: the acting is good, Kasahara’s character is really cool (though why she likes grim arsehole Dojo is a mystery to me) and the scheming older brother Tezuka is a good evil dude. Some of the battle scenes are entertaining for either their stupidity or their brutality. But overall the movie suffers from a completely incomprehensible justification, an increasing chain of implausibilities that inevitably get built on top of this background, and a few sections that are emotionally overwrought but probably make sense if you’re into the valour and self-sacrifice aspects of war movies (I’m not; I just keep thinking to myself “this shit is not worth dying for”). Also, the link between the plot to undermine the LDF in the first half and the big battle in the second half is tenuous and not really even attempted, so it’s like a movie with two unrelated stories squished together for no apparent reason.

Like almost every Japanese sci-fi I have ever seen that is set in Japan, the movie also suffers from the tired “Agency A is in conflict with Agency B and they’ll kill anyone to win” basic narrative hook. You see this all the time going as far back as Ghost in the Shell, and I think it’s really boring and often incomprehensible (later Ghost in the Shell instalments have so many mysterious and poorly-explained organizations competing with each other that I just can’t be bothered). I see this plotline, along with the inevitable sacrificial near-total destruction of the good guys that happens in so many Japanese sci-fi movies, as an unresolved trauma from World War 2, where the Japanese defeat was at least partly due to conflict between Army and Navy and the war probably wouldn’t even have started if the idiots in the army had been willing to work with their own government instead of trying to overtake it. I also find this plotline annoying, boring and often incomprehensible, so I’d like to see it just dumped and some other kind of idea take its place. Of course that’s not going to happen for a Library Wars movie, since the Librarians Militant need someone to fight against and it wouldn’t be cool if they were murdering people who return late books (although a spin-off assassin movie on this theme could be fun I suppose). I probably should have thought of this before I turned on the movie, but it was fun fluff for a 12 hour plane trip.

In summary, I don’t think it’s a great movie but some of the characters are nice, it’s smoothly done, and if you want a fun two hours that you don’t have to think about too much that involves a lot of killing and shooting, I can recommend it.

Also return your books on time, or Kasahara san will break your arms.

fn1: More background can be found in the description of the novels on which this movie is based.

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