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Jin-Roh, The Wolf Brigade
Jin-Roh, The Wolf Brigade
Jin-Roh, The Wolf Brigade
Jin-Roh, The Wolf Brigade
"Jin-Roh, The Wolf Brigade"
Reviewed July, 2001 by Mark Vallen, Jeannine Thorpe, and John Lentini . Screen shots generously provided by John Lentini.

(Comments by Mark Vallen) From the first breathtaking scenes of a popular revolt in the streets where thousands of people are engaged in violent street fighting with the army and police... to the very last bitter sweet frames of this 101 minute political thriller, Jin-Roh (The Wolf Brigade) is a masterpiece of modern animation. While American studios continue to crank out silly animated feature films meant for 5 year olds... Japan offers the world this mind bending work of great philosophical, political, and artistic sophistication.

Based on the story and screenplay by Mamoru Oshii (whose Ghost in the Shell anime is legendary), and directed by Hiroyuki Okiura, Jin-Roh plays very much like a live action drama. Produced by Production I.G. Animation Studios (who also created the anime Patlabor), this spectacular movie was three years in the making, and for sheer realism and hard hitting story telling it's difficult to beat.

The story is set in an alternative past, where martial law grips a Tokyo devastated by war and military occupation. The masses are in open revolt against the authorities and guerilla war is breaking out. The government uses the Capitol Police Organization (CAPO) as an instrument of repression, especially relying on it's heavily armed Wolf Brigade to annihilate the freedom fighters. Kazuki Fuse, a member of the brigade (and lead protagonist in the movie), is traumatized when a young girl associated with the people's movement kills herself in front of him in order to prevent herself from being captured by the state.

All of this sets the stage for the complex intrigue and multiple plot twists that are to follow. Jin-Roh is a highly intellectual and provocative animation that has more in common with the live action classic political films of Costa-Gavras like State of Siege, or Missing, than it does with other animated features. However, this animation's serious political content is tempered by being presented as science fiction. The director of the film decided not to use CGI except for some minimal camera work, so the great majority of the movie's production relied upon the traditional method of hand painting cels.

The high degree of realism achieved in this anime is truly startling. By "realism" I don't mean the cold, technically perfect images created by computers (as in the Final Fantasy movie), I mean a naturalism so convincing that at times you forget you are watching an animation. Repeatedly throughout the movie I found myself thinking, "How did they do that?" The use of light, shadows, and reflections in this animation is unlike anything I've ever seen. Purely in terms of aesthetics and artistry, Jin-Roh is an animator's animation.

(Comments by Jeannine Thorpe) Many North Americans first began to pay serious attention to anime when Ghost in the Shell had its limited theatrical release, and hopefully the limited theatrical release of Jin-Roh will also introduce the joy of animation as art to a new crop of movie-goers. You'll find no pink haired girls, cute mascots, or giant monsters in this film, and that makes it a wonderful ambassador to the general American public who should learn that anime is not just for children. Jin-Roh is just as deserving of attention as any live action Hollywood film... perhaps more so.

One of the things that I've always loved about anime is the fact that so many stories are completely off the map for what most non-Japanese would consider "cartoon" material, and that in Japan animation is made for people of all ages, not just for children. Now, with the rapid improvements in animation because of digital technology, we have truly reached a point where some anime have both the look and feel of live action... and Jin-Roh shines among the anime in this category. Although others have tried, the character designs of Jin-Roh are the first I've seen to really achieve a look of true portraiture and individualism, and not just repeated copies of a generic "anime-style" face.

One can easily trace the history of anime films providing breathtaking realism (Ghost in the Shell, Perfect Blue, Blood), and sci-fi anime being used to express psychological angst and emotional introspection of its characters (Wings of Honneamise, Memories, Neon Genesis Evangelion)... Jin-Roh brings both threads together, and it does so masterfully. Kazuki's tough emotional armor is shattered by the young girl's heroism, and suddenly his entire perception of himself, the world, and his position in it, is called into question. Wonderful camera angles and visual symbolism help the viewer down this path of self-exploration. The overall feeling you get is that trying to create the illusion of realism is much more work and takes much more visual acuity than actually filming a scene in live action.

(Comments by John Lentini) Continuing with the darker side of anime, with our last review being Blood: The Last Vampire, we now come at you with another live action type anime feature equally as good as any theatrical release you may see. It's hard to believe that Jin-Roh was on the shelf for almost two years. However, I have to ask anime fans to open their minds again, this isn't your normal run of the mill anime series. Oshii Mamoru, who you may remember as the director of Ghost in the Shell, did an excellent job while writing Jin-Roh. The symbolism in this feature really blew me off my feet, second perhaps only to the Utena movie. Oshii-san not only wrote a well flowing story, but also made you feel for his two main characters, trooper Kazuki Fuse and the story's female lead, Kei Amemiya.

Not to be over looked while enjoying this chapter in anime history is the subtle, yet powerful soundtrack by Mizoguchi Hajime. Mizoguchi-san also has on his list of credits the sountrack for Please Save My Earth. If that doesn't impress you enough, than also know that he worked with the great Kanno Yoko on Macross Plus and Vision of Escaflowne... and those are some of the most memorable anime oundtracks around! It may not be long before we'll be mentioning Mizoguchi Hajime and Kanno Yoko in the same breath, but until that time, enjoy Jin-Roh!

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