Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade

The art of the fairy tale is literally hundreds of years old. Thanks to Disney, we have sugarcoated animated versions of many of them, and hundreds of lesser knock-offs exist due to their popularity. In America, we've seen these stories homogenized into packages suitable for even the youngest children as morality plays. However, the original stories found within the tales of the Brothers Grimm and other storytellers were far darker and more tragic. Jin-Roh takes the story of Little Red Riding Hood and sets it on its ear, modernizing it and making it far richer and deeper, but the bleak core of the earliest incarnation of the legend remains.

Jin-Roh is set in a dystopian future where Japan never truly recovered economically from World War II. The government, threatened by underground movements determined to take control and unwilling to secede control to local authorities, organizes the Central Police Force. This group ultimately oversees a state of near martial law under the auspices of the country's leaders.

As we begin, we find ourselves in the middle of a riot. Constable Fuse, a member of the Central Police, catches up with a young girl carrying a satchel of explosives for The Sect, the city's primary resistance faction. For reasons even he can't quite explain, he cannot fire, and his unit takes the brunt of the blast when the girl pulls the cord and detonates herself along with her package. Fuse is sent back to the Academy for additional training for his failure, and he is haunted by images of the girl he saw slaughtered in front of him.

In an unusual set of circumstances, Fuse meets the girl's sister Kei, who looks uncannily like the woman in his dreams. They begin to see each other, and Fuse seems temporarily relieved by the turn of events in his life. However, when betrayals start to pile up and double-crosses come to light, Fuse must determine whether he is the hunter or the hunted, the Riding Hood or the Wolf.

Jin-Roh is an excellent film. It is also dark and dreary-looking by intent, and disturbing by its very nature. If you can see past that, there's a lot of intelligent material to feast on here. From a visual perspective, Jin-Roh is the rare anime that has characters that actually appear reasonably Asian. The detail and look are impeccable, and its presentation on DVD in its 1.85 ratio is beautiful. What's also interesting is that this is one of the few anime that could very easily have been a live-action film. The camera angles and lighting are just as you would expect in a real-world picture. It adds a sense of gravity to the proceedings.

What's more interesting to me personally is the way the story plays with our emotions towards the characters and their actions. We know Fuse is a soldier, a beast trained to fight and kill when ordered, and yet we relate to his reactions to the carnage surrounding him. As we follow his story further, which I won't describe for fear of spoilers, we react to his predicament in ways anime almost never evokes. Mamoru Oshii, director of Ghost in the Shell, Angel's Egg, and the Patlabor movies, wrote the original story and screenplay, and the political machinations and moral questions seen in those features are seen in full force here.

The films that Oshii directs himself tend to be a bit drawn out. At times, you can feel that influence here due to the screenplay. However, first time director Hiroyuki Okiura does a wonderful job at reigning in the story and keeping things flowing even during long sections of dialogue. Those who appreciate Oshii's films will love this in that Okiura has a better sense of editing, in my opinion, and makes Oshii's concepts take flight in ways that Oshii himself hasn't when he's been directing. Despite several violent action sequences, this is still a character-driven drama, but it keeps moving.

In a certain kind of way, Jin-Roh reminds me of a very different film, Grave of the Fireflies. Both are wonderful films that deserve a large audience, but both are films that cannot be watched often due to their content. Jin-Roh looks depressing, and it plays that way right through its conclusion. However, for the smart film fan that wants material to chew on and debate, that wants art along with the popcorn, Jin-Roh is it.

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade -- realistically graphic violence, disturbing themes -- A