Thursday, 19 September 2013

Library Wars (図書館戦争) (2013)

Good science fiction takes a single aspect of what we recognise in current society and refracts it through a prism of an alternate setting in order to question what we take for granted as natural in the social order.

So just like with comedies, sci-fi films work best if they have a good gimmick and a better twist. Library Wars takes the bleeding heart liberal premise of Fahrenheit-451 (censorship is evil and fascist) and marries it to the conservative impulse: freedoms worth defending must be defended by force of arms. Hilarity ensues when the jackbooted methods of Japan’s heavily armed censorship board provokes the national library board to create its own paramilitary force to protect itself, its holdings, and in extension, the freedom of information in wider society.

The result is as absurd as it is engaging. In a stroke of mad genius, Library Wars marries the weighty philosophical pinnings of its premise with high entertainment. Unlike most scifi films, Library Wars doesn’t do regime-changing revolution as much as fulfil your annual quota for silly imagery. Ever wondered what kind of paramilitary force librarians would put together, how a boot camp movie with librarians would feel, or what a war film would look like if the battleground was your state library? This movie has the answers to all those questions that might have plagued you years ago in that brief moment when you drifted in between restfulness and sleep.

As a film, Library Wars is an all over the place mix-and-match of incongruous genres. It’s a comedy (the protagonist is a klutz with only one good skill), a sci-fi thriller, a boot camp drama, a war movie, and a romcom (the protagonist has something going for a mystery paramilitary librarian who turns out to be the boot camp instructor from hell). It plays its various genres competently but it’s the audacious marriage between its liberal gimmick and its conservative twist that will stick with you. What’s weak though is the film’s worldbuilding, which hardly fleshes out the wider social implications of its premise.

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