Title: Jin-Roh / Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
Length: 1 x 102 minute movie
Genre: Drama, police, thriller
Year of release: 2000
Jin-Roh, compared to normal anime, has only about 5 episodes of runtime to work with, and has to dedicate a lot of that to table-setting its alternative history world. In Jin-Roh, a police-state is at war with freedom-fighting terrorists, and due to the changing times, both the more fascistic police-force and the organised anarchists are working underground. This stuff is explained in an opening exposition sequence before an extremely poignant and gorgeously filmed night of a protest, where the two factions battle in a sewer. This culminates in our acting protagonist, Fuse, having a moment of humanity, failing to shoot a child terrorist before his comrades influence her to self-detonate. As Fuse deals with the shell-shock of this event, he meets the sister of the terrorist, the story unfurls as a political thriller of burgeoning parties trying to handle the policing of terrorists in an evolving dystopia with a little bit of star crossed lover-ism on the side.
It’s all a bit bloated, frankly. Even looking at this synopsis, it’s easy to see how a time-limited property like this movie might struggle to deal with all its various elements. The otherworldly scenes, of a gate that Fuse cannot pass and of literal wolves atop a snowy mountain, are an effective way of portraying Fuse’s PTSD, but neither him nor Kei (the sister of the suicide bomber) get effective characterisation – and the bonding between them is often extremely stiff. I’ve seen other places go insofar as calling Jin-Roh a ‘romance’, but these soppy leads aren’t given a wide enough emotional palette to call their relationship ‘romantic’. The lack of time spent developing these two is put into moody montages of them hanging out, or trying to setup politics (and related twists), and their dialogue rarely rises above the surface-level discussion on metaphors or symbolism.
There’s some grand plotting, but due to the lack of associated faces to the names and organisations, the movie doesn’t really have much political intrigue. The way that this entire plot-line is developed via fairly vague ‘oh so you know’-style exposition dumps, trading places between not-too-differently designed middle-aged men of the grit variety, is something that doesn’t help its case either. I’m willing to forgive some of this since Jin-Roh is technically related to a live-action movie franchise that I’m unfamiliar with (is the outsourcing?), but as a stand-alone it’s a bit of a mess.
But what the movie does have is some effective twists that shake the story to its core. Well, there’s still the aspect that the backlines are undeveloped that it doesn’t have much punch, but it’s still reassuring that the film can still flip its vague conflict on its head in such a big way – several times! The movie bookends its weak middle with viscerality, and it’s extremely effective to hook you in and out of the bland middle. If you’re into violent mind blowers with some avant-garde montages, Jin-Roh is probably a good hour and a half… but otherwise, this dystopian thriller falls short.