© 1999 Mamoru Oshii / Bandai Visual, Production I.G.
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
When propaganda for Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade began surfacing, I paid blissfully little attention to it. Through word-of-mouth, I heard the film was supposed to be quite good, although I had very little details of the actual content. I assumed that the often-depicted Jin-Roh figure dressed in fierce battle armor with glowing red eyes was some kind of Waffen-SS super-soldier. Images of fierce World War II battles began dancing through my head, as I prepared to watch this movie. I quickly learned, though, that my assumption was incorrect, but I was hardly disappointed. For in expecting one type of movie, I was ripe for a pleasant surprise by Jin-Roh's dark, but fascinating tale.
Set in Japan following World War II, Jin-Roh's version of history is slightly different than what our books record. Instead of U.S. occupation following the war, it seems Germany was the victor. It's been a decade or so since the war, and while the German occupation is over, there are plenty of signs that it took place. German-brand vehicles, including the ubiquitous Volkswagen Beetle are everywhere, and the police forces are well equipped with German-made weapons. During this period, Japan's social and political climate is rocky, with organized revolutionaries known as the "Sect" carrying out violent protests against the current political practices. To combat the rising civil unrest, a special police unit, the "Capital Police", is formed to suppress the terrorist activities by any means necessary.
Jin-Roh opens in the middle of an uprising, with the regular police confronted by dangerously armed protesters. While the uprising in the streets catches most of the public's attention, another battle is being secretly waged beneath the city. Sect members are using the sewers as a method of transporting weapons and explosives to rioters in the streets. The Capital Police are aware of this and dispatch their own heavily armed unit to deal with the problem. One of the special forces members is Kazuki Fuse, who encounters a young Sect member during the mission. Rather than give herself up, she detonates the explosives she is carrying, killing herself in the process.
The violent blast brings the activities of the Capital Police into the limelight. Requiring a scapegoat to cover up their mess, they demote Fuse for failing to prevent the explosion during the mission. Sent back to Academy training, Fuse is troubled by his encounter with the Sect bomber. With the help of a friend, he learns the identity of the girl and soon meets her sister, Kei Amamia. The two strike up a friendship and begin seeing each other on a regular basis. Their encounters are a little one-sided, with Kei often waxing philosophical about life and Fuse simply absorbing what she says. But while Fuse and Kei are enjoying each other's company, high-ranking members of the Capital Police and regular police are making political moves behind the scenes; moves that seem to directly involve the actions of Fuse and Kei.
At this point it becomes difficult to describe any more of Jin-Roh's plot without giving away too much, and this summary doesn't begin to do the film justice. Jin-Roh moves along at a methodical, deliberate pace, blending political intrigue, suspense, action and even romance into a wholly engrossing story. The line between the protagonists and antagonists is not clearly defined, and as the film progresses, it becomes harder to tell who is playing who. Most of the focus remains on Kei and Fuse's relationship, and they make an odd pairing; Kei's light-hearted cheerfulness contrasting Fuse's melancholy attitude.
Early in the story, Fuse is given a copy of "Rotkäppchen" from Kei. The book is a rather morbid version of "Little Red Riding Hood" and becomes an important metaphor in the film. As events unfold, passages from the book are narrated until both the film and the book reach their pivotal climaxes. Likewise, strong symbolism is evident, with both wolves and Red Riding Hood referenced numerous times.
The level of production in Jin-Roh is outstanding, and reminiscent of other great animated works like Ghost in the Shell, Blood and Perfect Blue. Colors are deliberately muted, giving the whole film an appropriately dreary look. Characters are rendered to look Japanese, and while minimum shading gives the art a flat look, they move in a fluid and realistic fashion. Backgrounds are exceptionally detailed, as are many of the various vehicles, weapons, and equipment used throughout the film. The background music is quite haunting, adding nicely to the atmosphere.
With a tense, gripping plot, superb attention to detail, and a powerful climax, I have no hesitation in recommending Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. Released as a both a standard DVD and special edition (the latter includes an extra disk of interviews, production art, and trailers), this film belongs firmly in any fan's collection.
The Verdict: * * * * * (excellent)
|last modified: 05-26-03||The Anime Critic and associated content © 1999-2003 Pete Harcoff. All rights reserved.|