Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade

Mamoru Oshii has built up a magnificent library of anime films over time. He has had his hands in the Ghost in the Shell movies, Patlabor and Blood: The Last Vampire. In Jin-Roh, Mamoru Oshii writes a story of alternate history that begins straightforward but unravels into a large conspiracy of betrayals by the time the film is over. From a history standpoint, the movie takes the idea that Japan became a totalitarian state after World War II. To this end, the government has created a Special Unit of the Capitol Police Organization (CAPO) to deal with the Sect, an underground resistance to the military power.

The story begins with a riot that finds a squad of the Special Unit tracking down Sect members in the sewers. When what seems to be an average soldier by the name of Fuse falters in the line of duty, he is nearly killed by a young girl who blows herself up. Because of his faltering in battle, Fuse is sent back to training. He shows obvious signs of "shell shock" and can't seem to shake the face of the girl who killed herself. When he goes to visit her grave, he runs into her older sister, Kei, and from that point, they develop a relationship.

As the story rolls along, viewers will discover that the relationship is drawn about by a conspiracy to remove the Special Unit in a massive power struggle that sees everything that's built up to throughout the story dashed away at the end. By the time the end of the story plays out, everything you assumed about Fuse and the rest of the cast will be changed. The story makes great efforts to link itself to the Red Riding Hood fairy tale, even so much as to make an alternate rendition of the story that gets shared as Fuse and Kei as their relationship develops. The strong characterization of The Wolf Brigade creates a mentality that breeds a certain ferocity. This Red Riding Hood/Wolf balance in the characters is built up to lay out metaphysical questions that have become a trademark of Mamoru Oshii's works.

Visually, Jin-Roh is a high quality piece, especially without any use of CG. While not overtly lush or ornately detailed, the film has a grim reality to it that grounds the story and characters in a realistic world. The moments of psychological fancy also feel well established, as if the artists have had their own delusions to draw from. If anything, Jin-Roh goes down in history for making the iconic red-eyed soldier that has been used in videogames as of late (Killzone, Psi-Ops).

I can go on about the quality inherent in Jin-Roh, but I won't beat around the bush: the story pacing really hampers the film. It starts off with an excellent action piece that helps establish the movie's world, but then slows down to a crawl. The two main characters are pretty dry and a bit boring. Because of this, the time spent focusing on them feels like it takes forever and when the film does finally get to it's resolution, it feels like it draws from the same power that the opening did.

As a source of dramatic cinema, I think Jin-Roh works. It sufficiently tells a well-written story and introduces a few ideas for the viewer to think about. If the middle portion of the story had been paced a bit better, I think this film would have grabbed me better. Even with that said, I think most fans of Mamoru Oshii would do themselves a favor and check this out. It's still far better story-wise than most of the crap that gets green-lighted on this side of the world.

- - Vane

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