EXPECTATIONS: An entertaining action film with just enough cheekiness to make it charming.
REVIEW: Now many stories in Japan have many premises that are realistic (earthquake disaster film) to inventive (a murder mystery revolving around social media) to just downright nuts (Yakuza and vampires together). But the premise of Library Wars: The Last Mission is surprisingly ridiculous and relevant. Quite an oxymoron, if you ask me. The premise of censorship and free speech used in totalitarian environment that involves literally burning books like the Nazis set in Japan is quite timely, especially considering the recent events of manga being banned in Japanese cities like Barefoot Gen (http://cbldf.org/2014/03/barefoot-gen-banned-in-japanese-city/). But mixing this within a romantic comedy, a war story, an underdog tale and a social commentary about the dangers of censorship, you got yourself an oddly entertaining and satisfying blockbuster. Now comes the highly awaited sequel, but does it deliver? Read on!
Set within dystopian Tokyo, the government has decided to propose The Media Betterment Act, which is to enforce stronger forces to side along censorship and banning freedoms of speech, run by the Betterment Corps. On the opposing side is the Library Defense Force (LDF), which resists all of what The Betterment act stands for by advocating the many freedoms of expression. Within the Library Defense is Kasahara (Nana Eikura), a rookie turned trooper who has deep feelings for his superior officer Dojo (Junichi Okada), who is her inspiration for her to join the LDF in the first place. They both know each other due to an event involving Dojo saving Kasahara from the Censorship Agency Troops in a bookstore. They are still in awkward terms in developing a rapport and while on a routine mission to guard a last known copy of “The Handbook of Library Law”, a book symbolizing freedom, it is later shown to be a trap and the Betterment Troops establish a blitzkrieg against the LDF and the biggest battle begins. Will Kasahara and Dojo work together in sync to survive? Will they get together at all?
What I really need to state is that you do not have to have seen the first Library Wars film to enjoy this one, since it establishes the relationship between Kasahara and Dojo whilst going off in its own story. Their awkward yet charming chemistry is still present and still delights. Nana Eikura is more confident and assured this time around and is more believable as a trooper. Her dramatic moments with Okada are the best moments in the film, particularly in the climax where it calls back to their earlier past in a touching manner. Junichi Okada is still the gruff, stern, short yet likable officer who becomes quite funny when he actually opens up about his feelings (if you could call it opening). His handling of the hand-to-hand fight scenes are still the best parts in the action scenes (as well as in the first film), that I couldn’t help but be disappointed because there weren’t more. The supporting cast still charm and delight with returning stars Chiaki Kuriyama, Sota Fukushi and Kei Tanaka. Newcomer Tori Matsuzaka also makes a good impression within his limited screen-time as the brother of Sota Fukushi’s character who starts off The Media Betterment Act. A scene between Nana Eikura and Matsuzaka is a highlight, as he commands the screen with his presence.
As for the themes present in the first film as well as this one, again, they are not the main thrust of the film. People unaccustomed with the light novel the film(s) are based on, the story is essentially an action-packed love story set within a dystopian backdrop and environments similar to Fahrenheit 451 or V For Vendetta. And on those terms, the film succeeds. I just wish that the film (as well as the previous one) could dwell in its themes a little bit more, like in terms of social commentary, so it can add some food-for-thought to the audience. As for the storytelling, the first half of the film establishes the plot, the relationships, the characters and how they fit into the plot whereas the second half is the “last mission” itself, filled with lots of gun-play and hand-to-hand combat. Though the storytelling approach could bore some people and the story could also be tightened up, it does give the second half (which is essentially, the climax) some much-needed punch. Most of the action scenes are thrilling to watch but some of it suffers from bad lighting, making it hard to see which characters are getting shot at or are firing at.
Fortunately, director Shinsuke Sato (director of Gantz films, The Princess Blade and All-Round Appraiser Q) again delivers an assured hand at mixing the many genres to good entertainment and retains the heart of what made the leads likable in the first place. If you’re wondering that this film is really the “Last Mission”, there is no sequel-bait ending so it definitely is the last one and it was quite a good conclusion.
The cast still charms and delights
The action scenes thrill and entertain
The dramatic scenes pay off, making the audience care for the characters
Doesn’t go into its themes deep enough
The pacing can drag quite a bit
A few action scenes are badly lit, making it hard to see
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Cast: Junichi Okada, Nana Eikura, Kei Tanaka, Sota Fukushi, Tao Tsuchiya, Tori Matsuzaka, Chiaki Kuriyama, Aoi Nakamura, Naomi Nishida, Jun Hashimoto, Koji Ishizaka
Director: Shinsuke Sato
Screenwriters: Akiko Nogi (based on the light novel “Toshokan Senso” by Hiro Arikawa)