Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, Hiroyuki Okiura, 1999, digital projection, 102 mins
Jin-Roh is a 1999 anime film written by Oshii Mamoru and loosely adapted from a manga he wrote—called the Kerberos series or Kerberos saga after the multi-headed hound that guarded the gate of hell in Greek mythology—which ran from about 1988 to 2009. Though the series, meticulously illustrated by Fujiwara Kamui, spawned several live action films, Jin Roh is the only animated film based on the material, and the various arcs of the story are all set in a parallel universe where Germany, rather than the US, has asserted militaristic and cultural influence over Japan in the postwar era. The foundation of Jin Roh’s story then, as often in life, is the fight for domination, and separating the dogs from the wolves. Packs of hounds maneuver around each other throughout the film: the heavily armed paramilitary Capital Police, ostensibly formed for counterterrorism operations; their bureaucrat supervisors in the Public Security Division; a Special Unit within the police force that mainly combats a radical guerilla group called the Sect; and a rumored splinter cell within the Special Unit itself called Jin-Roh, translated as “Wolf Brigade.”
The distinct realism of the film in setting, animation, and design is a marked contrast with most anime, which is far more diverse in form than it is often given credit for, but tends to hew towards the fantastical and exaggerated. Little of Jin-Roh seems unlikely, regardless of its rewind of history. The standalone feature film is also less common in anime, and the grounded political drama of Jin-Roh is exceptional in its commitment to rendering a kind of solemn, sober, postwar aesthetic generally lacking in the hyped-up, afterschool drama and flamboyant posturing of other war-centric anime such as the Gundam series. There are no heroes here. Early on in Jin-Roh, an ordinary constable in the Special Unit, a loner named Fuse Kazuki, fails to follow orders to shoot and kill a young guerilla wearing red and serving as a bomb carrier—or “Little Red Riding Hood” as they’re called—for the Sect through the city’s sewers. His superiors ask later why he didn’t shoot her first before her bomb went off, inevitably killing her anyway. His official answer: “I don’t know.” This is often how people go down, and a dog that can’t follow orders might have to be put down. When another girl who looks just like the first shows up and says she was her sister, regardless of whether that’s true, we see that she, like the rebel underground, is another challenge to the soldier, another strange, unquantifiable interruption in the orderly flow of acts and executions that the society his organization purports to defend is premised on.
The latest trend in fear is the terrorism of a lone wolf, who, thinking they can do one better than dying like a dog, wages a private war. Fuse is the lone wolf here, but rather than exacting personal revenge for structural hells, he is, instead, just alone.
When I was thirteen I was obsessed with the moment at the grave vaults a half hour into Jin-Roh, a scene three minutes later is what thrills me now. The sound in Kei’s throat, as if she were suddenly remembering something, or acting like it, then the soft click of a purse when she takes out a German edition of the story of Red Riding Hood for Fuse, “I’ll give it to you instead.” It feels impossibly soft and simple because it is. I rewound the DVD then, I slide the playback bar now, I still can’t believe it, and that’s why I want to.
Both the writer and animation director of Jin-Roh, Oshii Mamoru and Kamiyama Kenji, have helmed iterations of the lauded Ghost in the Shell franchise—for Oshii it was the 1995 film that was an early crossover of anime to the West, and for Kamiyama the 2002-2005 Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex television series. And while Ghost has been consistently hailed for addressing the advent of digital consciousness, I can’t help but think that the central question of Jin-Roh is the evergreen one: What parts of you will be allowed to live, if you want to survive? A common man, sometimes a soldier, lives and dies by hierarchy—he is dumb enough to be trained to destroy that which would love him. He is tricked into snuffing out his own candle. In war, the men are often armored, and when they stockpile safety for themselves, the woman can rebel with little to lose except life itself. She steps in front of the heavy shield that would protect her, and into the line of sight. I see her, you see her, and then she’s gone.
Paige Katherine Bradley is an artist, arts editor for GARAGE, and a former associate editor at Artforum.
Tickets – $8, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.