It’s a peaceful library scene, where people of all ages are quietly leafing through manga, novels and magazines. There is a slight disturbance as men in black troop up the stairs but the visitors return back to the worlds where only books can take you. The men then pull on masks and start shooting at the shelves with heavy firearms. The library visitors run off in panic as one of the men pulls out a flamethrower and everything goes up in flames.
The battle for books begins.
Ten years prior to this incident in 1989, the Japanese government passed the Media Betterment Act which allowed any media deemed offensive or potentially harmful to be censored. Agents of the Media Betterment Committee are deployed to target any citizens or organisations who break this law, which mainly involves them pulling “offensive” books off the shelves at bookstores. However, libraries formed their own defense forces in order to oppose this new law.
Let’s fast forward to meet Iku Kasahara, a new recruit in the Library Defence Force based at Kantō Library. Alongside her friend who is quite popular with all the boys, Kasahara seems like a tomboy with her short hair and joining the defence force rather than becoming a staff member in the library, but in reality she is a romanticist at heart. Her reason for joining the defence force is to meet her prince, a man from Kantō Library who saved a book she was about to buy when the Media Betterment Committee raided the bookstore she was in. The book she had in her hands was the last of a teen adventure series which the Committee had decided to censor, so she tried hiding it from the agents but was harassed until the mystery man came to her rescue.
Training on the task force is physically demanding, especially since her drill instructorAtsushi Dojo seems to have it in for her, giving her punishment push-ups after a training exercise, despite being one the earliest finishers. It gets worse when he overhears Kasahara talking about him being an unfair instructor as well as making note of his shortness.
Although Kasahara has the stamina, she is also a bit reckless, putting herself in danger in several instances with Dojo rescuing and reprimanding her. At the recommendation of two other officers as well as Dojo, she joins the Library Task Force, an elite group which responds to situations when the library needs to be defended. Dojo’s recommendation is because he feels that he hasn’t given her adequate training and the task force can help whip her into shape, although one small part of him hopes the training is too rigorous for Kasahara and will make her drop out because he doesn’t want to think about watching out for her.
There is always tension between the Media Betterment Committee and the libraries in Japan, especially with the Kantō Library, as the director there was the sole survivor of the horrific fire witnessed in the film’s opening. A spark is caused when a murder occurs and the culprit’s home is found littered with violent novels as well as being a frequent member of the library. The Media Betterment Committee jumps on this chance to raid the library but are forcefully refused. As the library readies itself in defence, the team are reminded that their legacy is only to fight in defense and not to mortally wound the enemy, something the Media Betterment Committee doesn’t adhere to.
The story was inspired from the Statement on Intellectual Freedom in Libraries of the Japan Library Association that went into effect in Japan in 1954 and is based on a bestselling novel which has been made into a manga and anime.
The fairytale love inspired between the two main characters was really sweet but the issue of intellectual freedom and censorship can’t be done justice in a two hour slot. It’s definitely worth a watch by fans of the manga or novel to see the characters brought to life and their witty interactions, although many of the battle scenes seemed too overwhelming in the modern city setting.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 128 minutes (w/English Subtitles)
Library Wars screened as part of the 17th annual Japanese Film Festival, back in 2013, where it was originally reviewed.