A big, bad wolf faces the consequences of the life he’s chosen in Mamoru Oshii and Hiroyuki Okiura’s dystopian sci fi.
“No matter how much pain they have to endure, there are those who take comfort in living as a beast.”
Mamoru Oshii is probably best known as the director of the original adaptation of Ghost in the Shell; one of – if not the most well-known Japanese sci-fi film this side of Akira. But his contributions to dystopian neo nightmares go much further than that. As director he’s worked on classic sci fi like Dallos and Patlabor, but all those pale in scope compared to his life’s work, the multimedia dieselpunk franchise Kerebos Saga.
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is the third film in the series (though not a sequel), and the first to be animated, as the other two were live-action tokusatsu pieces. Set in an alternate 1950s Germany-occupied Japan (a detail I constantly found myself forgetting), the country’s aggressive approach to post-war economic growth has caused much of the population to fall into incredible poverty. In response, a group of violent anti-government militants calling themselves the Sect is formed, and in order to combat them, the government creates the Kerberos Panzer Corps.
Kazuki Fuse is a member of this counter-terrorism unit and while chasing down a group of Sect members, encounters a young girl in a red hood carrying a satchel bomb. He struggles to shoot her point blank, and though she sets off her bomb and dies, Fuse is uninjured. As his unit’s reputation is put under scrutiny, Fuse encounters Kei Amemiya, a woman claiming to the young girl’s sister and starts to re-examine his position within society.
My favourite aspect of the film is in how ultimately low-key the whole thing is, considering all the possibilities of the world that’s been created. Despite its science fiction setting and dystopian action promises, Jin-Roh plays more like a political thriller and drama, with many factions at play, including the Panzer Corps, the members of the Wolf Brigade, Public Security and the Sect but – vitally – only one or two members of each playing a major role.
This allows the story to feel much more real and personal. I really appreciate the way that Jin-Roh develops as a story, from establishing itself as a hard sci-fi epic before transforming into what it really is: a drama about post-traumatic stress disorder, horrors of war extending far beyond the treaties, and finding the humanity in those whose ideologies are wildly, even violently opposed to your own. Those looking for a richly-built world are going to leave the film a touch disappointed, however. Jin-Roh’s focus on Fuse and Kei means that its larger political ideas are left underdeveloped. This is fine, as the Kerebos Saga consists of more than just this film, but it does mean that those who are looking to explore the world a bit further will need to look at some of the other instalments in the franchise.
As a standalone film, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade works just fine, and will probably entice you to explore the world of Kerebos further. But if that doesn’t tempt you, then Jin-Roh is also excellent by itself. Boasting some stunning animation from a studio that’s been endlessly producing banger after banger, from Ghost in the Shell to Guilty Crown, Psycho-Pass, and even Haikyu!!, Jin-Roh is a sensory treat. Hiroyuki Okiura’s visual style meshes excellently with a killer score from Hajime Mizoguchi, giving us a film that, even in its few less-than-stellar moments of story is always dripping with atmosphere. True to its Greek origin, the Kerebos Saga is a multi-headed beast of a series that just might be worth venturing into underworld to check out.
Verdict: Bolstered by stellar production values, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade’s story is moody and gripping, if occasionally unfledged.
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Beast metaphors: 10/10
Red Riding Hood and the Iron Clothes: I can’t find any historical evidence of this version of the story. Please let me know if you have.
Fuse arc: Hey, he learnt how to shoot people!
This thing is like a wolf: Thus it is a thing to be banished
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999)
Also known as: 人狼,(lit. Werewolf)
Director: Hiroyuki Okiura
Writer: Mamoru Oshii
Yoshikatsu Fujiki – Kazuki Fuse
Sumi Mutoh – Kei Amemiya
Hiroyuki Kinoshita – Atsushi Henmi
Eri Sendai – Nanami Agawa
Kenji Nakagawa – Isao Aniya
Kousei Hirota – Bunmei Muroto
Ryuichi Horibe – Shiro Tatsumi
Yukihiro Yoshida – Hajime Handa
Tamio Oki – Capo
Yoshisada Sakaguchi – Tobe