Library Wars: The Last Mission | Review
LIBRARY WARS: THE LAST MISSION is a film we reviewed late last year for the 2015 Japanese Film Festival, it has been queued for posting for an eternity and has finally had its day. Kernel Morgan reviews this Japanese dystopian action romantic comedy movie that is the sequel to 2013s LIBRARY WARS. Both movies are based on the light novel TOSHOKAN SENSO by Hiro Arikawa (published February, 2006 by MediaWorks, Inc.). Apologies we did not get the review up prior to the festival, it is available through legal online channels and runs for 120mins. I also apologise that I cannot locate a trailer with English subs but if you have seen the first one you will want to see this one. Enjoy Morgan’s review and watch more foreign films!!! All the best…………..JK
BY MORGAN BELL
LIBRARY WARS: THE LAST MISSION is a slick Japanese-language action film with an interesting premise and some massive plot holes. It is a sequel to LIBRARY WARS, set 18 months after the events of the original film. Both films are based on the light novel series TOSHOKAN SENSŌ written by Hiro Arikawa and illustrated by Sukumo Adabana.
The stand-out character in this film is Satoshi Tezuka (Tori Matsuzaka), the charismatic evil older brother of Hikaru Tezuka (Sota Fukushi). Matsuzaka is devilishly delightful as the amoral propagandist trying to lure his idealist little brother, Hikaru, and our doll-faced protagonist, Iku, to the dark side. He places menacing phone calls, faceless and from the shadows, full of intriguing information (“Dad was Chairman of the National Library Association”), tapping long fingernails as he schemes. He commands the screen in a restaurant dining scene with two glasses of red wine and some well-written dialogue: “The taste of wine changes with its temperature and the shape of the glass. Even good wines don’t taste their best under the wrong conditions.”
It is initially hard to gauge the intended tone of the film, as the first act concentrates more on a blooming romance and Iku Kasahara (Nana Eikura) and her military superior Atsushi Dojo (Junichi Okada). Eikura plays the role with a dash of pantomime in the unrequited romance scenes, which undermines the seriousness of the civil rights abuses taking place in this dystopian Japan. Her physicality and trepidatious facial expressions are comical (perhaps unintentionally) in an otherwise dark and sombre film.
Director Shinsuke Sato (THE PRINCESS BLADE, LIBRARY WAR, OBLIVION ISLAND, ALL-ROUND APPRAISER Q) brings us a near future in Tokyo, in the age officially known as Change for the Better where the Media Betterment Act allows the Betterment Corps to suppress free speech and censor written publications. Local Government runs the libraries and library staff become militarised trying to enforce the Freedom of the Libraries Law. Librarians are trained to use weapons and become members of the Library Defence Force.
Iku is a rookie and the only female trooper on the Library Defence Force. Dojo is Iku’s inspiration to join the Library Defence Force. He is a man of morals and values and stern looks. The maguffin in the story in a highly valuable text, the Handbook of Library Law, of which there is only one copy. Wheelchair-bound Kanto library book base commander Iwao Nishina (Koji Ishizaka, giving his best impression of Roosevelt) instructs the Library Defence Force, led by Dojo, to guard and protect the Handbook of Library Law during a public exhibition.
The attempt to destroy this sole copy of this Handbook of Library Law turns out to be something of a trap. The troops of the Library Defence Force are lured to a single library branch in an effort to wipe them out in one giant raid. The second half of the film is almost entirely combat scenes. The lines of troopers behind riot shields is an impressive visual, like Roman centurions or the trench and bunker warfare of WW1. It is a reminder of how heavy-handed and militaristic modern civil enforcement is in the US and France. The military vehicles and weapons are evocative of the Gulf War and Iraq War.
I enjoyed the recurring symbolism of the chamomile flower, hard to grow but resilient once bloomed. There is also some moving dialogue around the concept of the old Heinrich Heine quote Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings, and a pertinent message that under government scrutiny everyone self-censors. Stylistically, long zoom-in sequences effectively build tension, and the colour palettes of the uniforms of Betterment Corps and Library Defence create unease with their resemblance to Nazi SS Officer uniforms and communist Soviet Officer uniforms respectively.
Japan has an interesting history when it comes to censorship. In the 1930s the government began providing guided reading lists for schools and libraries. During WW2, censorship officers from the Department of the Interior controlled the publishing industry. Library collections were checked and books were confiscated or censored. When the war ended in 1945, the US military occupied Japan, controlling and censoring books and publications, and Japan was deprived of its own military. In 1950 Japan enacted its Anti-Subversive Activities Law to mirror the US in combatting communism. The police became known as Self-Defense Force, and the body that enforced the Anti-Subversive Activities Law. In 1954 the All-Japan Librarians’ Conference of Japan Library Association adopted the Statement on Intellectual Freedom in Libraries.
LIBRARY WARS: THE LAST MISSION tries to mirror some of the censorship issues that occurred around war-time Japan without providing any of the historical context. On the face of it the Local Government is battling the Federal Government over freedom of information. This would make more sense if it was stated that the Federal Government was an occupying force, or we were given some rationale behind why the government would adopt two contrary pieces of legislation: the Media Betterment Act (aka Anti-Subversive Activities Law) vs the Freedom of the Libraries Law (aka the Statement on Intellectual Freedom in Libraries). This lacks internal logic.
There is also a problem with setting this dilemma in a near future from now, given current information technology. Having a single printed edition of a handbook is very unlikely in the age of ebooks, the internet, and global international information sharing. Even if Japan was under some draconian regime of media censorship, every publication would still exist outside of Japan. The scenario would only make sense in a world-wide post-apocalyptic backdrop, or in the past.
There are things to like in this film, and you could enjoy it if you are willing to suspend all belief in reality. I think the English title should be The Implausible Maguffin and the Paper Maiden Who Loved It.
Kernel Morgan is an author of short fiction, an anthology editor, and a technical writer. Her books include SNIGGERLESS BOUNDULATIONS and SPROUTLINGS. She enjoys scowling at children and bursting bubbles. She can be tweeted at @queenboxi
** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor/publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.