Thursday, December 13, 2012

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade [1999] (alternate history, psychological thriller, action, drama) - REVISITED

Studio: Production I.G,
Director: Hiroyuki Okiura,
Screenplay: Mamoru Oshii,
Genre: Alt. History, Psychological Thriller, Action, Drama

This is a masterpiece of anime. It is an extremely polished movie with lots of ladders, snakes and risks included, with no weaknesses, no yaoi/kawaii bullshit, no sugary cutesy cuteness. Based on Mamoru Oshii's manga Kerberos Saga, with the screenplay written by the man himself, and directed by his longtime pal Hiroyuki Okiura (who has also participated in making of the phenomenal Ghost In The Shell), it's grim and unsettling, filled with usual Oshii trademarks and style, such as slow, hypnotic pace, trams, brooding atmosphere and gritty art style. To put it simple, it's depressive as hell, but that's exactly why it is so powerful.

If the police force has to wear those things, then the world must've gone really down the shitter.

The movie starts off with an epic introduction to alternate-historical Japan of the 1950s after the Nazis winning WWII. The country is engulfed up to the neck in crime, riots and social decay. What began as a series of spontaneous terrorist acts has evolved into centralized underground network called The Sect. This gang specializes in expressing their anti-globalism by starting mass hysteria, blowing shit up and struggling with the police. Their trademark units are so-called Little Red Riding Hoods, basically underage girls with explosive bags. To control all this chaos and rebellion, an elite police unit was created, called Special Armed Garrison, AKA Kerberos (= Cerberus) Panzer Corps AKA The Wolf Brigade. Wearing heavy armor (this is where the Helghast from Killzone came from) and carrying their MG-42s, they rule the dying streets of Tokyo with the iron hand... quite literally.

That's why this movie is awesome!

The main plot begins during a regular Kerberos unit operation, which concludes in a suicide terrorist girl blowing herself up before the operatives' eyes in attempt to resist the arrest. One of the cops, Constable Kazuki Fuse ('foo-seh'), is our protagonist. He survives the explosion despite being at the minimum safe distance, but the accident carves a deep psychological trauma inside him. Also, this failure stains the already unclean reputation of Kerberos unit itself, because it was performed illegally without the city authorities' permission. The unit's superiors react quickly and start developing a complicated conspiracy to save the Panzer Corps, with Fuse featured in their plans as the scapegoat. Meanwhile the latter gets acquainted with Kei, the Little Red Riding Hood's sister, and this results in a romantic subplot. Don't want to give anything away, but the payoff and conclusion shatter all hopes for a better tomorrow that both the characters and the viewer may have accumulated, and makes clear that a man who lives by the sound of gunfire and the leader's commands, will never be able to carry a peaceful life.

And that's why I don't like Miyazaki.

Story aside, Jin-Roh encompasses several genres - psychological thriller (the subplot of Fuse struggling with himself on whether to abandon his life as a 'wolf for the government's pack' or not), gritty action (Kerberos armor and machine guns are not just for decoration here), melodrama (Fuse and Kei's broken love story) complete with the string of Little Red Riding Hood references and metaphors scattered throughout the plot, and of course, the twisted, dark and painfully memorable nightmare scene. Everything is constructed in a very clever way, so the genres logically swap each other, intersect and morph, from the stylish opening narration to the suspenseful and shocking twist ending.

It does even have some touches of art-house cinema.

The last, but not the least are the artistic achievements. First of all, the animation is flawless. In contrast to the current outrage of kawaii drops and fan service, all the characters have realistic eyes, look rotoscoped and are moving on 24 frames per sec. As a result, it's easy to forget that you are watching an animated movie, but what's interesting - if it would've been a live-action film (those were The Red Spectacles and StrayDog, also based on the Kerberos manga, there's even an upcoming live-action remake of Jin-Roh itself, directed by Kim Ji-woon [RUSSIAN SITE]), the final effect would unlikely be so powerful. Obviously, there's also some CG, but it blends perfectly into the hand-drawn environments. Slow and dark ambient soundtrack, though not written by Kenji Kawai, doesn't hurt, too.

Whether you like this movie or not, with Mamoru Oshii you can be sure of two things: ass-kicking balls-to-the-wall action and dark drama that will make you want to kill yourself.

I fell in love with this movie at first sight, and it gets better and better every time I re-watch it. Wish you the same!