Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
December 28th, 2011
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is the subject of the 18th episode of Anime Abandon, hosted by Bennett The Sage. The review was originally posted to That Guy With The Glasses on December 28th, 2011. The review has yet to be posted to YouTube.
In this episode, coming off the horrors of The Love Hina Christmas Special, we get something with markedly less holiday cheer, but is related to it. Bennett takes a critical look at his favorite anime film of all time, and one of his favorite films in any genre or medium.
Before the Anime Abandon opening, there is a disclaimer:
WARNING This particular episode of Anime Abandon includes scenes of actual assassination footage. Viewer discretion is advised.
(Anime Abandon Opening)
Sage: On occasion, I’ve showcased some pretty good films here on Anime Abandon, and while some of them are in my top 10, I think it’s high time I showed you my number one. Bar none, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is my favorite anime film—and one of my favorite overall films—of all time.
(Cut to footage from the film)
Sage (VO): It’s really hard for me to pin down exactly why I love this film so much. It has a methodical, almost dragging and deliberate pace, the voice acting is low-key and a bit uneven, and there are moments where the plot is hard to follow. Needless to say, it’s a film that makes itself hard to like.
(Cut back to Sage)
Sage: But with all of that said, I love the film’s atmosphere, it’s story, it’s setting, it’s score. Most everything I love about film, I love about Jin-Roh.
(Cut to Ken Burns shots of the manga and some statuettes of the Special Unit in their Protect Gear)
Sage (VO): For the uninitiated, Jin-Roh is a film based off of writer Mamoru Oshii’s Kerberos Saga, a franchise that has spawned radio dramas, visual novels, manga, and live action films since 1987. A handful of comics and the live action films have had a U.S. release, but Jin-Roh is definitely the most well-known entry in the franchise.
(Cut to the film)
Sage (VO): The saga is set in an alternate universe where the Germans had occupied Japan instead of the Americans during World War II, thus sculpting the political and cultural landscape with Germanic influence.
Specifically—but not exclusively—these stories center around a paramilitary organization that calls itself the “Special Unit,” which act as the de facto armed force that governs public order. This Japan is one of constant struggle: economic disarray and social unrest. Armed rebellion remain a constant threat against the government, and violence is commonplace.
(Cut back to Sage)
Sage: The setting, I think, really sells the kind of story that anime just isn’t known for: political thrillers set in a no-nonsense alternate timeline. That concept alone sold me on buying this movie. And ten years later, not a day goes by that I don’t think it was one of the wisest purchases I’ve ever made.
(Cut to the film)
Sage (VO): While the setting is front and center in Jin-Roh, the focus is actually on Kazuki Fuse, a member of the Special Unit. He is haunted by the memories of a young girl, a member of the rebels that call themselves The Sect—and how she blew herself up in front of him when he couldn’t bring himself to use deadly force to stop her.
Director: And who did you encounter as you were making your way there?
(Fuse lowers his head as the traumatic memory comes back to him, replete with gunfire. Fuse has the girl backed up against a wall in an alleyway. She slowly pulls a cord on her satchel—which we know now has a bomb in it, and gently shakes her head as if to say “no.”)
(The girl finishes pulling the ignition cord, and she disappears in a blinding flash of light. As we hear the explosion, the camera whips around to the council that is interviewing Fuse, eventually stopping on a medium shot of Fuse himself, then we fade to a shot of the entire room with seven men at two desks, Fuse standing all alone in the room.)
Director: Why didn’t you shoot?
(After a beat, Fuse finally looks back up with a stoic look in his eyes and says…)
Fuse: …I don’t know.
Sage: True story here: when I first watched this film and I got to this point, I literally told myself that I would never watch a better film than this. Now, keep in mind, I was 13 at the time and fairly inexperienced with film, but I am taken aback on my feelings about Jin-Roh are this strong, even nearly a decade after the fact.
(Cut back to the film)
Sage (VO): Fuse takes the fall for allowing the terrorist girl to blow herself up and knock out power to a major section of the city. After being sent back to training, he contacts his old comrade Henmi, who wasn’t able to pass the course of training and become a member of the Special Unit like Fuse. Henmi has since joined with Public Security, who are at odds with the Special Unit.
(Cut to Sage)
Sage: This is another recurring conflict in the entire Kerberos Saga: not only the conflict between the Special Unit and the rebels, but also between the Special Unit and the other branches of police and armed forces. This acrimony can be construed as a historical parallel between Japan’s real-world political turmoil during the ‘50s and early ‘60s.
(Cut to a Ken Burns of a Japanese protest circa 1950’s)
Sage (VO): Japan, during the time taken place in Jin-Roh, was in a fairly volatile state, not unlike the film. Many left-wing students were protesting the U.S.-Japan security treaty which placed thousands of armed U.S. forces on Japanese soil.
(Cut to footage of Inejiro Asanuma’s assassination in 1960)
Further, the Socialist Party leader, Inejiro Asanuma—infamous for his support of the Chinese Communist Party—was assassinated during a live televised rally.
(Cut to a Ken Burns of former Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi)
Even the Prime Minister at the time, Nobusuke Kishi, resigned from office after prolonged protests over the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation. Not to mention the fact that this was also during the Cold War, and knowing the horrors of nuclear war firsthand, Japan was very wary of being within striking distance of the superpower Russia.
Sage: Keep in mind, I didn’t know any of this when I first saw Jin-Roh, but understanding Japan’s actual recent history adds a new layer of depth to this film that I was never privy to. And it helps to decipher a hidden metaphor within the film that I’ll go into later.
(Cut to the film)
Sage (VO): After receiving information about the identity of the girl from Henmi, Fuse decides to visit her grave on the outside chance it can give him peace of mind. However, he comes across a young woman who is praying at the girl’s grave.
(Fuse checks a piece of paper, seeing if he’s in the right place. There is a girl in the background wearing a red hooded shawl who is praying at the grave. Fuse approaches her and gasps when she turns to face him, seeing that she looks like the girl who killed herself in front of Fuse.)
Sage (VO): The woman introduces herself as Kei Amemiya, the sister of the girl who killed herself in front of Fuse. The two forge an unlikely friendship.
Fuse: How come you don’t blame me? Kei: Hmm. You were both doing your jobs. It wasn’t your fault. Besides, they say you had the chance, but you didn’t shoot.
(Both Fuse and Kei start walking down the street)
Kei: It’s not that I’m not sad about it. I suppose it just hasn’t sunk in yet.
(Cut back to Sage)
Sage: One of the most obvious themes in Jin-Roh is the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, and the film is not being subtle about it. From Kei and her sister wearing red-hooded cloaks to the title of the film being The Wolf Brigade, I mean, Kei might as well hand Fuse the book right now.
(Cut to the film, where we see Fuse opening a package. You guessed it, it’s Little Red Riding Hood, under its German name, Rotkäppkchen. Cut back to Sage, who is looking a little squirmy in his seat.)
Sage: Which she does! Rotkäppkchen is the German retelling of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Remember: in this film, Japan was occupied by the Germans.
(Cut back to the film)
Sage (VO): The Riding Hood allegory is a bit forced here, and that I will fully admit. Though it’s not much of a stretch to liken Fuse to a wolf in a fairy tale sense (a beast that preys upon the lost babe in the woods). Hell, his Protect Gear, which looks suspiciously like what the Helghan wear in Killzone, covers up every bit of flesh on him, leaving him looking less like a man and more like a beast. However, when the film takes these long periods that are dedicated to the characters reciting the tale verbatim, it just comes off clunky.
(Cut to a scene in the film where Fuse opens up and reads Rotkäppkchen)
Kei (VO): Once upon a time, there was a little girl who hadn’t seen her mother in seven years. She was forced to dress in iron clothes, and was told, “When you wear out those clothes, I’m sure you will be able to go back to your mother.” The girl rubbed her clothes on the wall, trying desperately to tear them.
(Fade to the Special Unit in their Protect Gear walking towards the camera, then we cut to Sage)
Sage (sarcastically): Hmm. I wonder what that’s supposed to be about?
(Cut back to the film)
Sage (VO): Later, during a training exercise, Fuse continues to be haunted by the young terrorist girl. All the while, Rotkäppkchen—one of the earliest versions of Little Red Riding Hood known—is narrated.
(Fuse sees the terrorist girl run by, dressed the same and carrying her explosive satchel)
Kei (VO): “Milk and bread, and a little cheese and butter.” She answered. When the wolf asked for some, the girl said “no,” adding that, it was a present for her mother.
(Fuse continues to fixate on the girl, but is snapped out of it by one of his comrades tapping his shoulder)
Sage (VO): Only making matters worse is his newly-stricken friendship with her sister, and the uncanny resemblance between the two girls.
(Fuse breaks through a wooden wall, and cocks his gun to shoot, but instead, he sees Kei and fails to pull the trigger. His enemy pops a bunch of rubber bullets into Fuse, who falls over.)
Sage (VO): But it comes to a head at the halfway point when Fuse’s out on a sort-of-date with Kei. Kei wistfully fantasizes about leaving the city and starting a new life, but Fuse’s fantasy is decidedly more dark.
(Kei runs over to help up a child who has tripped and fallen)
Kei: Are you OK, little boy?
(The boy, as he is being helped up, loses the handle on his balloon)
Kei: Aww, there it goes. Are you hurt?
(Fuse begins to hallucinate about Kei, seeing her torn asunder by high-caliber gunfire. He gasps, seemingly snapping out of it, but instead he’s back in the same alleyway that is haunting him.)
Kei: You can’t come.
Sage (VO): I’ll spoil the proceedings and say that this is all a nightmare, but unlike most films that pull this cheap shot, the nightmare is important to that underlying theme I alluded to earlier. Fuse chases the terrorist girl through the sewers, and along the way, a pack of wolves follow him.
He is cut off from reaching her, but she turns towards him and reveals herself to be Kei. The wolves catch up to her and tear her to shreds, and Fuse is powerless to stop them. Interspersed with pictures of him sitting with a pack of wolves in the snow, and firing round after round of bullets into Kei without his mask or helmet on.
Sage: It’s a lot to take in at one time, but this scene is essential to—
(Sage is violently interrupted by an unwelcome guest. He is about college age, dressed in a brown suit and black tie. He puts his book down to insert himself into the proceedings. It’s Kyle Kallgren, aka Oancitizen)
Man: Sage! What are you doing?
Sage: Oh. Umm…Oancitizen of Brows Held High, everyone.
Kyle: Charmed. But seriously, what do you think you’re doing?!
Sage: I was—uh—I was just gonna talk about about the underlying theme of the— Kyle: Underlying?! Sage, I haven’t spent months on the site, trying to expound on the nuances of trash humpers to let you feign profundity and indulge in sophomoric metaphors!
(Sage is taken aback and a bit befuddled by the unnecessary eloquence of Kyle’s scolding)
Kyle: There is nothing underlying this theme whatsoever.
(Cut to the film, this time with Kyle’s voiceover instead)
Kyle (VO): The whole dream sequence is an allegory—and an elementary one at that—of the Red Riding Hood story. Both Kei and her sister are clad in read cloaks and carrying satchels, wolves follow Fuse as he pursues both of them, and hell, the film bashes the viewer over the head with direct lines from the actual fairy tale! How much more obvious can you get?!
Kyle: There is no subtext here that warrants any further examination. This scene couldn’t be any more on the nose than if it was literally beating you over the head with a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Sage (looking a little bored): …are you done?
Kyle (catching his breath a bit): Yeah. Yeah, I’m—I’m through.
Sage: Good. Because I wanted to say that you may have just fell into the film’s trap.
Kyle (Raises a finger and then stops himself): …What?
Sage (VO): I’ve said before that the Red Riding Hood allegory is very hard to miss. But the constant narration of the story and all the obvious imagery is less about intent than it is about obfuscating. Yeah, it may just be that Red Riding Hood here is a red herring.
(Sage awkwardly giggles while Kyle looks unamused and a little angry at the bad pun)
Sage (VO): If we let go for a moment the fairy tale aspect and focus on the wolf theme, we can extrapolate that Fuse is a member of a pack: a tightly-knit group of like minds. As part of the Special Unit, he has to destroy all that seeks to threaten and destabilize society—or the pack. In other words, those that seek to change it.
The terrorist girl and Kei represent the need for change in society, violent and destructive as it may be for the betterment of all. Kei even wistfully says how nice it would be to uproot and relocate someplace, far away from the established.
Kei: When I stand here like this, I start thinking that someday, I’ll be able to get out of this city and never come back. I’ll go to where no one knows me…and I can be someone else.
Fuse: Someone else?
Sage (VO): While Fuse on the other hand, represents Japan’s society as a whole—conformist by nature, unwilling to break from the pack because of the security it offers, and the feeling of belonging—and strike down all that threaten to change that.
Kei: So why did you join the Special Unit?
(Fuse takes a moment to gather his thoughts while Kei looks at him)
Fuse: It’s hard for me to explain, but it was like…I finally found a place where I belong.
Kei: An important place?
Fuse: I think so.
(Cut to a Ken Burns of Japanese and Western dignitaries)
Sage (VO): During the time this film was released, the main political party in Japan—the Liberal Democratic Party—had held power mainly unopposed since 1955. Perhaps Fuse’s inability to break away from the Special Unit, and embrace the change that Kei offers, is a criticism of Japanese society, disguised as an obvious allegory for a children’s fairy tale. And the dream sequence is a reflection of Fuse’s internal conflict between the need to belong, and the allure of change.
Sage: I’m not saying this was Mamoru Oshii’s true intent, but I’m just offering this as another example of how to think about the film. And isn’t intellectual consideration one of the core precepts of film analysis?
Kyle: Wow, um…I guess I was…quick to judge.
Sage: Don’t worry about it, Oan. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted, was once eccentric.
Kyle: Ah yes, Bertrand Russell, if I’m correct.
(Kyle takes a sip from his mug, and we cut back to Sage doing the same with a pink mug of tea while classical music plays)
Sage: Mmm. Yes, you are.
Kyle: But of course I am!
(Both break out in joyous, intellectual laughter)
Sage: Oh, it’s so great to be smarter than everyone else!
(Cut back to the film after the smug-off)
Sage (VO): While Fuse and Kei become closer, other forces within the government are starting to converge and scheme against the Special Unit. It seems that select individuals from all branches of police and Japanese federal agencies are attempting to create a scandal that would formally dissolve the Unit, and allow them to converge into a single operating force that will take the Special Unit’s place in governing public order.
It’s revealed that Kei is not who she says she is. She has no relation to the girl who blew herself up, and is in fact a member of the terrorists herself, and was coaxed by the conspirators to attract Fuse into a relationship, thus exposing a member of the Unit having fraternized with a public menace. Further, it’s revealed that Henmi—Fuse’s friend in Public Security who vicariously guided Fuse to Kei in the first place—was in on this operation the entire time.
Henmi: A forbidden romance…between a terrorist and a member of the Special Unit. My division chief isn’t very subtle, is he? Should be a good scandal, though. It’ll do the job. (To Kei) What are you thinking? In every fairy tale that he appears in, the wolf has always been the villain. Now you’re not betraying a…human being.
(Cut to Sage)
Sage: Back when I first saw this film, this was the part that always lost me. Being 13, I didn’t put too much thought into the political machinations of the story, and it just flew right over my head. But on subsequent viewings, the plot began to make much more sense, even with all of the heavy metaphorical dialogue and the political terminology.
(Cut to the film)
Sage (VO): Forced into cooperation, Kei knowingly acts as the bait for a trap for Fuse, calling him up and saying that she’s been followed by suspicious-looking men. Fuse, however, manages to power his way through the trap and escape with Kei. They share a moment together, with Kei begging Fuse once again to run away with her. But Fuse declines, and tells her there’s something he must do.
It’s then revealed that Fuse had known about the trap, and he’s part of a counter-intelligence agency that calls itself “The Wolf Brigade.”
Agent: We’ve kept Fuse under surveillance…ever since he faced that board of inquiry. From the moment you first made contact with him, we’ve looked into everything there is to know about you.
Kei: So then…
Agent: We let you do what you wanted…without interference. That’s what counter-intelligence is about. The side that correctly anticipates the other and strikes first has the advantage.
(Cut to a confused-looking Sage)
Sage: What a tweest?
Sage (VO): I kid, but this really is kind of an out-of-nowhere revelation, but I don’t think there was any other way to reveal that Fuse was in on it for the majority of the film. Though the Wolf Brigade had been brought up from time to time during conversations throughout the film, they never seemed to connect to anything that was happening.
Still, I do like the overall twist that the whole counter operation was to suss out the conspirators against the Special Unit. This is when the character of Kei fully realizes how powerless her position is. As no matter what side she was on, she was always being used.
(As Fuse walks away in full battle array, Kei breaks away from the man holding her back. She runs towards Fuse.)
Kei: What else can I do?! What choice did I have?! You know I wanted to go with you…you know I did, but you weren’t someone who could!
Sage (VO): Clad in his armor, Fuse is able to take out the gunmen that had followed him since picking up Kei, leaving his old friend Henmi for last.
(We cut in on Henmi being cornered and injured. This will be his last stand against his friend.)
Henmi: You’re human…too…aren’t you—
(Fuse cocks his gun as Henmi turns around with a hand cannon)
(Henmi fires his hand cannon and misses, blowing up a stone bridge in the process. Fuse, without remorse, fires his LMG into Henmi, bullets ripping his body asunder as we cut to black. We cut in on the ending of the movie.)
Sage (VO): We finally end of a tragic note as most fairy tales do in their original text, as Fuse is forced to kill Kei to ensure the safety of the unit, and to keep her from falling into the hands of those that would undo them.
(As Kei cries in Fuse’s arms, he clenches his teeth, takes a breath, and tearfully fires a single gunshot that rings out through the air. Kei lifelessly slumps to the ground, as Fuse stands motionless in the middle of the field. Sage desperately tries to brighten the depressing mood.)
Sage: Uhh…hey! Did you know that the same guy that voiced Fuse voiced the coffee guy in The Humanoid?
(Cut to our favorite scene from The Humanoid)
Coffee Guy: Coffee! My salvation from my day-to-day drudgery!
(Cut back to Sage, who is squirming in his seat, knowing he ruined the heavy mood of the scene)
Sage: I’m sorry I spoiled the mood but…I didn’t know where else to put that little tidbit.
Sage (VO): Even for as long as this review has gone on, there is still a wealth of themes and particular scenes I didn’t get to talk about. I guess that’s to make up for the fact that I went through the film’s plot in its entirety, and may have turned off some people from watching it, which for most of my positive episodes here on Anime Abandon, is my ultimate goal. Even if you know now what’s gonna happen, I still urge everyone who hasn’t seen it to find a copy and watch it. It is one of the most somberly beautiful films I have ever seen.
(Cut to Sage with the DVD in his hands)
Sage: Like all good things, this too must come to an end. However, with the new year rapidly approaching us, I think we should start off with our best foot forward.
(Sage produces a VHS of Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned and glances over at it)
Sage: …and I might need some help in that regard.
(Sage reaches down from his recliner and picks up his cell phone. He dials a number and waits for an answer. Who could our special guest be for the next episode? Guess we’ll find out on the flip side of 2012…)
Sage: ’Til next year…Oh, hey Linkara! What’chu doing during MagFest?
Footage and Audio Provided ByEdit
- Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade
- Procession of Nobles
- The Humanoid
Special Thanks ToEdit
- Kyle "Oancitizen" Kallgren