Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade

1999 / 102m - Japan
Thriller, Drama - Animation
Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade poster

The first time I tried to watch Jin Roh I didn't even make it till the end credits. Years later I gave the film a second chance and through subsequent viewings my appreciation for this film grew bigger. Nowadays (I watched it maybe five or six times) it's one of my all-time favorite films and I feel like there is still room for further growth. A superb example of adult animation and a film that deserves all the praise it can get.

screen capture of Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade [Jin-Ro]

When Okiura was asked to direct this film, he took on a pretty difficult job. Jin Roh is part of the Kerberos universe, initiated in 1986 by Mamoru Oshii and sporting offspring in several different media. Prior to this film there were already two live action adaptations, a manga series and even a radio drama involving the Kerberos police. Oshii also provided the script for Jin Roh, but Okiura clearly had no intention to play director for hire. He brought his own vision to the film (which makes for an amazing DVD extra, where Oshii openly criticizes some of Okiura's decisions) and effectively made the film his own.

Take away the minor fanboy-like vibes surrounding the Kerberos suits and what you have left is one of the most mature and serious animation films out there. There's no room for comedy, no quirky side characters or funny interludes. Jin Roh is a serious tale of politics, counter espionage and human nature. This may be a bit dry for most people (especially those expecting a lot of action), but the well-written script and strong direction make it very bearable indeed.

Fuse is a young recruit working for the SE, a special militant group who is used to battle terrorists. One day he finds himself eye to eye with a young female bomber and fails to shoot. Fuse is sent back to training school, where his talents are re-evaluated by his superiors. During that time he meets up with the bomber's sister and start a (Platonic) relationship with her, making him doubt his current role in the organization. Without realizing it though, the two of them become a prime target for people trying to overthrow the SE division.

screen capture of Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade [Jin-Ro]

Okiura's style doesn't impress with visual grandeur, instead it's the incredible attention to detail that underlines the man's talent. Characters can be a little static at times, but their movements are extremely precise and controlled. The color scheme is quite desaturated, which helps to set the somewhat depressing atmosphere that runs through the film. No big camera swoops or crazy special effects, but the animation still manages to impress. And if that doesn't do it for you, you can still ogle the magnificent suit designs.

The soundtrack is definitely another strong point of the film. Hajime Mizoguchi provides a very delicate and beautiful set of tracks that evoke a very melancholic and subdued atmosphere. The best is saved for last though, the song that runs underneath the end credits (a returning Jin Roh theme overlaid with ethereal vocals) is one of the most memorable and stunning musical pieces I've ever encountered in any film, Japanese animation or otherwise. As for the voice acting, there isn't that much to say besides that the Japanese voice actor don't have too much trouble with serious animation films. Top-notch quality, so make sure you watch the Japanese dub.

screen capture of Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade [Jin-Ro]

Jin Roh's political undertones are quite elaborate (and often result in long-winded, content-heavy conversations) while the execution of the drama is delicate, slow and brooding. This leaves very little time for action, which comes in short bursts spread throughout the film. While I think this is actually one of the things that makes Jin Roh great, it's known to trick people's expectations of this film. Jin Roh is a political thriller first and foremost, the Kerberos suits are just part of the setting rather than an excuse to create an action extravaganza.

Mixed with the story film is the original tale of Red Riding Hood, lending the film some extra depth. From the original story flow quite a few poignant wolf analogies that define the philosophical elements within the film. Again, people expecting some cool action scenes might not be bothered, but the bottom line of Jin Roh is definitely an interesting one and very well explained throughout the film.

Okiura's film is up there with the best Japanese animation has on offer. It's a very mature, accomplished and delicate film and it may take people a couple of viewings in order to fully grasp all the details, but there is plenty of beauty and wonder to return to. It's a shame Okiura took so long to complete his next film (which is being released this year), but even if this new film bombs we'll always have this one.