the science fiction
fantasy horror &
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (2001)
Director: Hiroyuki Okiura
review by Amy Harlib
The cult movie phenomenon that can give Disney a run for its money, Japanese anime features, produces consistently groundbreaking examples of animated storytelling with depth and themes of adult intricacy and sensibility. Another such exemplar, brought to us by the folks who made the 'instant' classics of the SF variations of this genre, Akira and Ghost In The Shell, was shown at the 2002 Big Apple Anime Festival, appeared in 'art house' distribution and is now available on video and DVD. Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade deserves to be another success for its daring to stretch the boundaries of the form with its bleak, grim, contextually appropriately violent, complex and realistic treatment of themes of life under fascistic oppression.
Also SF, the superbly crafted Jin-Roh takes place in an alternate history where Japan lost World War II to the Germans (rather than the Americans), in a detailed scenario that gets explained in a beautifully delivered narration over a series of handsome black and white stills. The story proper, set in a vaguely 1950s Tokyo, emerges from the opening with a sensationally animated nocturnal street riot in which the Capital Police's counter-terrorist arm, the Special Unit, fights civil unrest by masses of demonstrators and the fanatical underground of urban guerrillas who call themselves 'The Sect'. With grimmer than Grimm irony, Jin-Roh posits a mythology in which innocent-seeming uniformed schoolgirls dubbed 'red riding hoods', serve in the capacity of couriers for the guerrilla army, and one such riding-hood gets pursued by a member of the Special Unit's rogue element - the so-called Wolf Brigade (with its own secret agenda). Wearing full body armour and infrared goggles, these gun-heavy officers take on the appearance of sinister cyborgs.
Conceptualised by Mamoru Oshii, director of the gorgeously atmospheric Ghost In The Shell, and directed by his assistant on that film, Hiroyuki Okiura, Jin-Roh features an even more downbeat narrative in an intensely dystopian urban setting. The subtle, eerie, painterly animation effectively conveys this bleakness and gloom accentuated by Jin-Roh's action taking place mostly at night. Despite a mostly full moon, the never-less-than sombre palette makes grey, sooty, postwar Tokyo resemble a brick-walled concentration camp. The filmmakers, lavishing great attention on detailed building façades, by comparison, intentionally render the characters in a flatter style to make the people seem like shadows flitting through an overwhelming environment. Hajime Mizoguchi's dramatic score with jazz and pop stylisations also helps to complement the movie's moodiness.
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