Eri SendaiTamio OhkiJapanese
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Hiroyuki Okiura
Writer: Mamoru Oshii
Keywords: anime, SF, dystopia
Actor: Eri Sendai, Hiroyuki Kinoshita, Kenji Nakagawa, Kousei Hirota, Ryuichi Horibe, Sumi Mutoh, Tamio Ohki, Yoshikatsu Fujiki, Yoshisada Sakaguchi, Yukihiro Yoshida, Yukio Hiroda
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 102 minutes
Website category: Anime early 00s
Review date: 9 January 2023
Jin Roh The Wolf Brigade
It's famous, since it was written by Mamoru Oshii and came out a few years after Ghost in the Shell. I found it boring.
Googling Oshii, I've found something that explains a lot. Apparently, he describes his approach as the opposite of what he calls the Hollywood formula, i.e. he thinks the visuals are the most important thing, followed by the story and then the characters come last. He also says that his main motivation in making films is to "create worlds different from our own."
This isn't what I'd do. (Incidentally, "Oshii" is a homonym for a Japanese word meaning "regrettable, disappointing, close but no cigar", etc.) I'll describe my personal, subjective experience with this film.
It starts with a mob throwing petrol bombs at the police. The film doesn't make any attempt whatsoever to turn this into a character-based story. It's like watching news footage, but animated. The violence is quite impressive and the rioters have access to some serious explosives, but it all ends in some hardcore rebels and/or terrorists going up against an elite police unit with scary head-to-toe body armour and absolutely enormous machine-guns.
There's a girl. You might experience a small flicker of interest, until she blows herself up.
Grumpy cops have mildly sinister meetings to argue about where to pin the blame. Some bloke called Fuse is left to carry the can, but that's okay because he has no personality. At all. I've seen more emotional stone walls. He walks and talks, but he'd fail a Turing test.
He meets a girl and starts hearing a creepy retelling of Red Riding Hood. This is the movie's thematic template, because one bunch of cops are like wolves. (The film's Japanese title is made from the kanji for "man" and "wolf". There's quite a lot of wolf imagery, plus girls in red cloaks.) Anyway, some cops don't like some other cops, but there might be a secret deep cover unit of elite cops hidden within that second group of cops. There's rivalry and power play between these police factions. Everyone's a bastard and it's unclear whether we're meant to be sympathising with the terrorists or not.
About halfway through, I started wondering whether or not to fast-forward. The fairy tale gets even creepier. I woke up for the last half hour, though, in which interesting things occasionally happened. Someone says, "If only we could have died together!"
This ends in what's theoretically a massive downer ending, but isn't because the whole thing's so grey and miserable that something like that had been a foregone conclusion.
As a narrative, it's a one-note exercise in being bleak and unhappy. It has memorable visuals, though. The Wolf Brigade look inhuman and sinister, even when they're not machine-gunning people. The riot's quite well done. (Oshii himself was involved in the Anpo protests against the US-Japan Security Treaty.) Also, Oshii wrote the original manga that this was adapted from (Kerberos Panzer Cop) and he'd already made two live-action Kerberos films when this came out.
This isn't a bad film, as such. It achieves its goals and it's clearly a work of art. It's beautiful (for a slow, dreary definition of beauty) and it's very Oshii. It's just that his goals have so little to do with my personal storytelling preferences that I'd almost sooner watch something straightforwardly bad.