"Tales of beasts getting involved with humans always end badly."
Jin-Roh [人狼] (1999) literally meaning "Man-dog" (and called Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade here in America), is the third entry in Mamoru Oshii’s Kerberos trilogy. Though this film works entirely on it’s own and takes place entirely before the other two films: The Red Spectacles (1987) and StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1991). Unlike the other two this film is not actually directed by Mamoru Oshii. Oshii wrote the screenplay and had planed to shoot it as a live action film a couple years earlier but a project that Oshii couldn’t pass up came his way: Ghost in the Shell (1995). Oshii decided to let Hiroyuki Okiura (an animation supervisor whom Oshii had worked previously with on the Patlabor films and Ghost in the Shell) direct the film instead as an anime.
Jin-Roh is the story of Corporal Kazuki Fuse a member of the elite police force called “Kerberos.” One night during a riot in a city between civilian terrorists and Japanese police, the Kerberos troops are ordered into the sewers below the city to cut off the terrorists. Kazuki comes across a young girl and is ordered to shoot her because she’s with the terrorists. But Kazuki can’t do it, and the girl then blows herself up. Although Kazuki miraculously survives mostly unscathed, this leaves him with some deep emotional and psychological scars.
The story of Jin-Roh is actually really good. The intro is very gripping and though the middle is very slow (more on that later) the entire last part and ending really pays off and connects everything quite well. I really like how this film actually gives an introduction explaining the world of the Kerberos Trilogy, setting it up as a parallel universe where Germans took over Japan in World War II. I feel like this really aided the movie and helps to be a clean jumping point for anyone who hasn’t seen the previous two films and doesn't know what is going on with this world. This also works well if you were to watch these three films chronologically because the other two don’t explain how the world got that way. By the way, (if anyone cares) the other order I would recommend watching these films (besides by release date) would be Jin-Roh, The Red Spectacles and then StrayDog, not chronologically. This way you get a good introduction to the world and how it got messed up and then you can watch Koichi's story unfold in two parts after this world goes to hell.
This movie actually explains the “Red hooded girl” representing fate that guides Koichi in The Red Spectacles (1987). Which is interesting and I enjoyed, but I’m also torn about. Part of me wishes this was just a metaphor for fate that is in the film, and loosely followed by the mysterious “red balls” that constantly appear in StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1991). The physical explanation of this red hooded girl, in this film would make more sense if the main character of this film was actually Koichi from those previous two. Koichi would actually work perfectly in this story, but I understand the want to distance itsself from the other two and tell a unique story on it’s own. Plus any viewer who has seen the other two would point out differences in Kazuki’s attitude and I guess his poor emotional state would probably tarnish Koichi’s supposedly “badass” attitude that surrounds him in the other two films (for no reason, mind you.) I suppose that it’s possible that Koichi would have had a similar encounter with another “Little Red Riding Hood” terrorist during the time before the Kerberos were disbanded, because there are apparently many of them. This however seems like a long shot, and this is the part of me that just feels like we should have left the “Red hooded girl” from The Red Spectacles alone. No need to explain a metaphor with physical events/people, this just ends up being weird when you think about it too much.
This movie is REALLY slow in the middle. I was trying to figure out the reason for this and I think it’s a result of the movie trying to be too clever and leaving too much to reveal in the end so the middle is actually quite barren, story wise. In the middle Kazuki is seemingly scarred and lacking really any motivation and while this is fine and fits the story and what Kazuki's been through... it’s not interesting to watch! He’s teamed with Kei Amemiya who is hanging out with him, why? Well… just because she feels like it! Beyond loneliness (which I guess is a reason for the two to hang out, but once again… not interesting) there’s no real reason for these two to connect or even spend so much time with each other. Now in the end it’s revealed that both have more reason and purpose for hanging out but in the moment, while you're getting through it, it’s just really boring and slow! I think that if Mamoru Oshii directed this himself, this is where he would have slipped in some existential or psychological questions to keep me interested, but alas he did not.
Most of this film is quiet which really adds to mood of the film and Kazuki’s emotional state. It’s used very sparingly but the score is really beautiful when it does come in. The score is composed by cellist Hajime Mizoguchi, I've never heard his work before, but it turns out he is married to famous anime composer Yoko Kanno! Crazy.
This film is beautifully animated. It’s probably one of the most realistic anime films ever created, and the animation follows suite so its also is quite realistic. Which is something I don't actually like, but seems to work for this film considering it's very serious tone and the fact that it is a prequel to two other serious live action films.
I especially loved the effects animation in this film: blood splatters, rain drops in water and bullets ricocheting off armor are all beautifully rendered. Nowadays even in traditionally animated films, a lot of the effects animation is done in CG and this film is an example of why completely traditionally animated films are superior. Japan is one of the few places in the world left that actually understands this. No it’s not easier, but it is vastly superior.
Jin-Roh (1999) may be the most successful of the Kerberos Trilogy, but it tries to be too clever for it’s own good and therefore is very slow in the middle, but if you make it to the end you will be rewarded with a decent explanation and an ending that will stick with you. 3.5/5 Stars.
If you missed it be sure to go back and check out my review of the other films that make up the Kerberos Trilogy: The Red Spectacles (1987) and my review of it's sequel StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1991).
Or check out two other great animated films written by acclaimed anime director Mamoru Oshii: Ghost in the Shell (1995) and it's sequel Innocence (2004).
Like this blog? You can support it by buying this film through these links: