Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (Anime Movie Classics)
Amy Harlib · February 5, 2007 | Re-released under Bandai's Anime Movie Classics brand, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade deserves the label for its daring to stretch the boundaries of the form with its bleak, grim, violent and complex treatment of life under fascistic oppression.

The superbly crafted Jin-Roh takes place in an alternate history where Japan lost World War II to the Germans rather than the Americans, a detailed background 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. 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.

Kazuki Fuse, one of these elite cops, corners his prey in the Tokyo sewers. There, the ambiguities of guerrilla warfare literally blow up in his face when he confronts her and hesitates to shoot. She detonates a powerful bomb in her book bag. Kazuki survives, shell-shocked, with his fitness to serve in doubt. He returns to the Police Academy for retraining. Obsessed by thoughts of the self-immolating, martyred girl, Kazuki tracks down her grave, where he meets the deceased's older sister, teen-aged Kei Amemiya, who uncannily resembles her sibling. Given this unsettling development, the morose couple soon keep company in the emptied-out, if not quite haunted, Tokyo. The plot, becoming increasingly paranoid amid hints of conspiracy and internecine conflict within the security police, eventually finds the pair hiding out in the Shinjuku district. Both pawns in some complicated intrigue, the protagonists return to the underworld sewers, the ultimate landscape of trauma, only to be pursued to a desolate spot in an outlying area to confront a tragic destiny.

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (Anime Movie Classics)
Directed by Hiroyuki Okiura
Animation production by Production I.G
Bandai Entertainment, 2007
Originally released theatrically in Japan in 1998
102 minutes

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Conceptualized 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-Rohs' 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 fašades, 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 its jazz and pop stylizations, also helps to complement the movie's moodiness.

Jin-Roh, haunted equally by Japanese post-WWII social history largely unfamiliar to most Westerners and by the fairy-tale images of wolves twisted into a grisly variation of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, may be the most dazzlingly noir anime ever made, if such melancholia can be considered dazzling. The film, by taking its dual themes of loss and despair very seriously, achieves a gut-wrenching emotional depth. Jin-Roh deserves to be seen by every anime aficionado, and would also be an excellent way to introduce a skeptical newbie to the form.

DVD Features: 16:9 aspect ratio; English and Japanese audio tracks; English subtitles; Region 1.

DVD Extras: Theatrical trailers.
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