Director: Shinsuke Sato
Cast: Okada Junichi, Eikura Nana, Fukushi Sota, Kuriyama Chiaki.
Runtime: 128 min
Official website: http://www.toshokan-sensou-movie.com/index.html (in Japanese)
Seen on a Thai Airways flight from London to Bangkok.
It is a film about guns and books – and if that seems like a bit of thin premise, it indeed is. In an alternate reality Japan, the so-called ‘Media Betterment Act’, first introduced in 1980, becomes a means of censoring any and every book. After a catastrophic and still mysteriously unresolved incident in 1999, which results in the total destruction of a large library and the death of dozens, a resistance group forms – the Library Defense Force, an army (literally) of book lovers that is willing to wield weapons to save their favourite novels, poetry anthologies and tomes of fairy tales. Skip forward to 2019, when book censorship is worse than ever. Kasahara Iku (Eikura Nana), a young, passionate girl, and her friend Shibasaki Asako (Kuriyama Chiaki), are new recruits, although not welcomed warmly. Particularly the headstrong Kasahara soon finds herself at odds with squad leader Dojo (Okada Junichi), whom she cannot stand, as well as with Tezuka Hikaru (Fukushi Sota), an elite member who was basically born into the Force thanks to his high-class family background.
As Kasahara becomes the first woman to join the armed section of Library Defense Force (which seems just rather incredible, given it has been twenty years in existence), her squabbles with Dojo and Tezuka form one part of the plot and are based mostly on the young woman not being as good as the rest of the recruits – although the film rather fails to convince viewers of her deficiencies. Sure, Tezuka is a better shot and faster runner (a good chunk of Toshokan Senso consists of various scenes of mostly uninspiring army training), but with all other soldiers remaining anonymous characters in the background, it is hard to be compelled that everyone else is truly superior to Kasahara in everything, especially with her I’ll-never-quit attitude. Tezuka constantly disparages Kasahara, while Dojo objects to her being in the squad, apparently, it eventually transpires, out of concern to keep the damsel-in-distress safe – characterisations being rather clichéd here. Unsurprisingly, Tezuka of course falls for the girl who may not wield guns all that well, but certainly has more guts than him. Kasahara however has a different romantic interest – her ‘ōji’ (prince), an unknown Library Defense member who five years back saved a book she had long coveted from the censors, the very act that motivated her to join the Force (you can guess who that ōji is in the first half hour of the film).
Toshokan Senso was originally a light novel of several volumes and a spin-off series (2006-2007), with a manga adaptation following in 2007, as well as two radio shows (2008), an anime (12 episodes, in 2008) and an anime film (2012) – in other words, it has been a popular tale. As a live-action film, however, it ultimately fails, the plot – squabbles between recruits and an extended gun battle over a few containers of books in the climax – being simply too lacklustre to create a real story. With characters painted in only the broadest brushstrokes (e.g. Fukushi’s Tezuka may make great eye-candy, but do we actually know anything more about him after 128 minutes?) and a setting – a future Japan under censorship – that is very superficially constructed, there just isn’t anything to get invested in.
Overall verdict: Unfortunately Toshokan Senso is as dull as its title. It comes with a rather lacklustre plot, flat and/or fairly stereotypical characters and a much too simplistic setting that seems to consist of only books and guns. The film tackles censorship, a valid and timely topic, but by limiting itself to scenes among bookshelves and the Library Defense Force’s training camp, it gives barely a glimpse into what could and should have been a nation gripped by totalitarianism – a world viewers might have actually cared about.
- Other reviews: The Hollywood Reporter, Twitch Film, Screen Daily.
- Why they only fight with guns in 2019 I have no idea. One of those illogical details in Toshokan Senso.