JIN-ROH: THE WOLF
VOICES OF: Michael Dobson, Mike Kopsa, Paul Dobson, Scott
1998, 98 Minutes, Directed by: Hiroyuki Okiura
Written by Mamoru Oshii (the director of
the cult favorite Ghost in the Shell). Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is set in
a fictionalized version of the recent past, when a repressive Japanese
government is battling the Sect, a violent revolutionary organization that
uses adolescent girls they call "Red Riding Hoods" as couriers. During a
raid, Capitol Police Constable Kazuki Fuse (pronounced "foo-seh," voice by
Michael Dobson) balks at killing Nanami Agawa (Maggie Blue O'Hare), one of
the Red Riding Hoods. She commits suicide with a powerful bomb. While Fuse
undergoes retraining, he meets Nanami's older sister, Kei (Moneca Stori),
and initiates an odd romance. Soon both characters are caught in a web of
plots and counterplots that center on the possibility that Fuse may be a
"wolf," a member of a secret cabal within the Capitol Police. —
Jin-Roh is an animated movie set in an alternate universe in which
it is hinted that Japan lost WWII to Germany (weren't they allies?) - people
drive Volkswagen beetles, books are published in German and a coated Nazi
officer can be glimpsed in the opening narration. The movie features many
allegories to the original Red Riding Hood tale before it was cleaned up
for modern consumption. If you had seen The Company
of Wolves you'll know what I mean.
Jin-Roh is also a retelling of Hitchcock's Vertigo. If
you will recall, Vertigo is about a man's obsession with a woman
who closely resembles someone who he knew, but is dead now. In Jin-Roh
the man is a member of a special police unit created to deal with urban
unrest and the dead woman is a girl who detonated a bomb she was carrying,
killing herself in the process, rather than be arrested.
"A sci-fi retelling of Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf, directed by Bergman with a score by
Prokofiev . . ."
If graphic novels can be described as pretentious comic books, then I
suppose that Jin-Roh can be described as a graphic novel come to
life. No-one in Jin-Roh talks like anyone you know, instead they
sound like characters from an existentialist play by Sartre, sounding
more like philosophy majors hanging around in an arty coffee shop than
policemen, terrorists, whatever.
Imagine a science fiction retelling of Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf,
directed by Ingmar Bergman with a musical score by Prokofiev, then you'll
have a better idea of what Jin-Roh is like. If you recognize any
of the names I have mentioned here, then you just might have an easier
time with the movie's pretensions, but I suspect that is more a question
of taste than anything else. To be honest, I also think it depends on
the medium in question. Strangely what works here as an animated movie
wouldn't have worked as a live action film.
Even if you haven't caught any of the names I mentioned, then Jin-Roh
has lots to offer the more adult animation fan. (Make no mistake: this
is not a movie for kiddies!) While the animation is not as flashy
as that in let's say the relatively recent anime effort, Vampire
Hunter D: Bloodlust, it is still quite effective and moody. The artwork
also manages to avoid anime clichés such as those big western eyes
anime characters always seem to have. Seeming deceptively simple, the
film's look is its biggest asset.
The pace is laborious though and its central character remains underdeveloped.
At the end the movie springs some "surprise" twists on the audience.
None of these twists have any impact because, to be honest, one had a
tough time following some of the plot machinations until then. That the
screenplay is by Mamoru Oshii (the same person who directed Ghost
in the Shell) makes sense since both movies involve a lot of incomprehensible
infighting between various government bureaucracies, tinged with existentialist
ennui. Also, it simply serves to muddle some of the film's issues further.
Ultimately Jin-Roh is a decidedly "arty" effort that
will delight some and infuriate others. If you prefer brainless actioners
such as Jurassic Park 3 and The
One, then stay away. If you like graphic novels (as opposed to "comics")
and the occasional "foreign" (i.e. non-Hollywood) flick, then
check out Jin-Roh. I found myself somewhere between the two, craving
some plot clarity while enjoying its more cerebral leanings.