By Matt Oakes
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is definitely an animated film, not a cartoon. Its screenplay resembles a regular live-action feature film. It assumes few of the stereotypical anime characteristics of overly-dramatized action sequences and senseless violence. Call it a psychological thriller, call it a voyage of self discovery or call it a twisted romance. Whatever it is, it’s not typical of the genre.
The plot begins on an alternate timeline. The setting is post-World War II Tokyo, only this time Nazi Germany has conquered Japan. After decades of occupation, the Nazis leave Japan to fend for itself in an era of political and economic unrest.
The movie opens with a riot between protesters and police. On one side, the protest originates from an underground faction known as "the Sect." On the other, the police are actually three independent organizations: the regular police, the Capital Police and the Wolf Brigade.
The Sect, bent on terrorism as a means to government leniency, uses new weapons to kill as many law enforcement officers as possible. Young women transport bombs across unsuspecting police security points. In the midst of the opening scene riot, a Wolf Brigade officer, Kazuki Fuse, corners one of the suicide bombers in an underground sewer. In a moment of indecision regarding whether or not he should shoot her, she detonates her bomb.
The film continues with Fuse attempting to come to terms with his experience in the sewer. Reprimanded by his superiors and in mourning, he meets the suicide bomber’s sister, Kei Amamiya. Fuse and Amamiya embark on a journey that calls into question their convictions and leaves the audience guessing as to what side of the conflict they are really on.
As the most recent effort by director Mamoru Oshii, who is best known for 1995’s Ghost in the Shell, the film excels in some areas and falls short in others. The animation is spectacular and the incredible attention to detail adds greatly to the overall experience. The translation is also seamless and easily understood.
Yet, at times the film moves very slowly. The action is scattered thinly amongst lengthy character development sequences. For example, throughout the course of the film the Amamiya and Fuse are frequently alone. During these times, she makes random observations that don’t present the audience with any true insight into her character. Furthermore, Fuse hardly speaks at all and leaves the audience guessing at the nature of his true feelings. It’s possible that some of the film’s content may have been lost in the translation.
Jin-Roh is a very politically-centered film that is indicative of Oshii’s style. Moviegoers will be entertained by the frequent plot twists and inter-factional conflict throughout the film. Jin-Roh may not be for everyone, but it is a must-see for anime enthusiasts.