Jin-Roh at its core is a re-telling of the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Though this is not the sanitized and ‘child friendly’ (whatever that means) version that we see today; rather, it is an interpretation of the original Brothers Grimm story. Those not familiar with it might be surprised at just how much darker this story really is, and it sets off the film very well in terms of its atmosphere and setting.
The film is set in an alternate post-war and occupation Japan. Japanese society is going through a very turbulent period with frequent protests, riots and armed uprising against the government. With the police unable to respond to the increasing civil disorder, and the government unwilling to extend police powers and authority, a new agency is formed to deal with the rising anti-government sentiment. A heavily armed unit called the Capital Police.
The story centres on Kazuki Fuse, a member of the Capital Police Special Unit. Fuse and his team are called in to deal with armed militants who were in the process of aggravating an already out of control riot. Over the course of this mission, he encounters a girl used by the militants to ferry bombs between disparate groups, a so-called ‘Red Riding Hood’. Rather than be caught, the girl chooses to detonate her package in front of Fuse and his team. Fuse, during this whole time, is unable to react to shoot her.
Events move on. The regular police are continually upset with the actions and interference of the Special Forces unit. Fuse is forced to return to basic training for his inability to act when necessary, and to provide a sacrificial lamb for the botched operation. Through all this political manoeuvring, he is still unable to forget the girl, and what happened. Seeking out whatever details he can, he eventually comes across her sister Kei. Unusually, she doesn’t blame Fuse for her sister’s death, even after he tells her what happened that night. Fuse, seeking to understand the world they’re living in, draws closer to Kei, and gradually begins to fall in love with her.
But around both of them, events are taking shape that will force them to question where they ultimately stand in this dark world. As the pressure mounts upon them to make their choices, only one question will remain: Can the wolf ever become human?
Jin-Roh is a difficult film to give a synopsis to without spoiling the brilliantly written and directed storyline. The story works on many levels, as an allegory, a love story, a warning, and again, a re-interpretation of a classic story. Ultimately though, this is a character based film, and it’s fortunate that Jin-Roh has such a strong cast of characters. Unique, human and flawed, the portrayals of Fuse and Kei are uncompromising in their humanity. Where most films would make them soulless stereotypes, resigned to their choices and their fates by the end, Jin-Roh reflects upon just how difficult these choices really are for people to make and live with. I doubt the movie would be the same if it were made in Hollywood. But then, isn’t that what is so great about foreign films?
This is a very bleak film, and everything, from the imagery used, to the music, to the sound of the Capital Police weapons, is designed to give the events a palpable sense of reality. The imagery is stark, and very powerful, owing a lot to the realistic depictions of the characters and the setting. The animation quality and design is something that, if you’re familiar with their previous works (Patlabor II and Ghost in the Shell spring to mind), we have almost come to expect from Production I.G. This sense of reality extends to the portrayals of violence; death is depicted in brutal fashion, and whether it’s seeing bodies shredded under an unrelenting torrent of bullets, or solitary bloodstains on the wall, everything has its intended effect.
Given everything else, I feel that I hardly need to comment on the quality of the music. Suffice to say that like the rest of the film, it’s evocative, fitting, and powerful. The music melds with every scene, and just as effectively, the director knew when silence would be the best accompaniment. I’m listening to the soundtrack right now.
Jin-Roh is dark, complex, and violent. This film doesn’t shy away from depicting death and conflict in all its brutality. Aside from the actual physical violence, this film shows a lot of the darker aspects of human nature. Definitely not one for the kids. I’d say 15+ at least.
Jin-Roh truly is a modern classic of a film, animated or not. It stands right up there with Grave of the Fireflies and Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen as being a powerful and moving example of what the medium is capable of.
Don’t read the booklet that comes with the special edition of the film until after you’ve watched the movie. If you’re uncertain of some of the relationships afterwards, there’s a useful chart at the back of it that draws out the hierarchies and relationships involved, but this would spoil the plot if you saw it beforehand.