12/16/13

JIN-ROH: THE WOLF BRIGADE - REVIEW


Based on a manga by Mamoru Oshii (Ghost In The Shell, Patlabor), Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is set in an alternate universe Japan where Germany has conquered the country and things look bleak to say the least: the cops are scary as hell, women and children have turned to suicide bombing...

It's not looking good.

The film opens on a little girl nicknamed "Little Red Riding Hood", some member of a guerilla group called The Sect, who is running through the sewers trying to escape the Panzer Cops, a bunch of armed cops with elephant-style gas masks. One of them, Kazuki, finds himself facing the little girl who reveals a bomb strapped to her chest. He is ordered to shoot her but doesn't and she sets off the bomb. He somehow survives but an enquiry is made into why he didn't carry out his orders and he is made to go back to training. After visiting the little girl's grave, he meets her sister Kei and develops a sort of friendship/relationship with her. These meetings both characters have are intercut with Kazuki having weird brutal nightmares about what happened in the sewers when he didn't shoot the girl and about being devoured by wild wolves. Anyway, long story short, a lot of stuff is revealed, twists and turns agogo and by the end, if you're still awake, both Kazuki and Kei turn out to be not quite who you thought they were. Jin-Roh really feels like a novel more than it does an anime or even a film. It's mostly about character subtleties and the political set-up of this whole world. Frankly, I feel that, as a film, this needed to be much more visual and have much more impact. Yes we get the odd disturbing moment and you do get the sense that this version of Japan has gone to hell but you don't really get to see it all that much. Instead of steampunking the crap out of it and giving us a visually mismatched world where Japanese and German culture clash to create something both chaotic and uncanny, the film goes for a more realist approach, which is fair enough. Unfortunately this means a lot of dark sewers, grey streets and a thoroughly gloomy, passive tone overall.

Jin-Roh has a lot of good ideas and I could definitely see them working amazingly well under the right circumstances but the fact that the film boasted such a fascinating premise with such potential for insane-looking locations and messed-up set pieces but chose to not capitalise on them is both daring and, in my opinion, a mistake. As it stands, you really need to be deeply interested in the plot that's being slowly developed to enjoy the film. You can't just play the film in the background, occasionally glancing at it to check out something exciting that's happening on screen. No, Jin-Roh requires your undivided attention and for you to really listen to every boring conversation Kei and Kazuki are having. Otherwise, all the reveals which occur in the third act would fall completely flat. To be fair, there are clever twists and turns in this movie and the whole Red Riding Hood metaphor is an interesting one but I found the film was really hard to get into and almost impossible to care too much about its plot and its characters. This is a grim discussion about a world that could have been, about a broken system which parallels our own. It's a dense dystopian world where people are used to kill each other in increasingly subtle and sneaky ways. Like I said, lots of interesting ideas in this movie, you just need to not expect too much from it visually, though the animation throughout is more than solid. You can tell a lot of effort has gone into writing this movie and bringing it to the screen but it's also not surprising that it was originally meant to be a live-action effort rather than an animated one. As it turns out, the former idea would have probably worked a little better as having real people being put in these horrible situations would have probably been more arresting than drawn ones.

Overall, I'm not sure if I do recommend Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. The film has potential but never fully takes off and enjoys talking about its cool premise much more than showing its alternate world to us. I'd probably hunt down the manga and the two live-action films, The Red Spectacles and StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Corps, instead if I were you.

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