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'Jin-Roh; The Wolf Brigade'

Complex, ultrareal, 'Jin-Roh' still captive in animation

Friday, October 26, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Set in an alternate-universe rendering of postwar Tokyo, "Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade," playing this weekend at the Melwood Screening Room in Oakland, strives for visual and emotional realism that is unusual for an animated film.

'Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade'

RATING: Unrated; contains animated violence and mature themes.

STARRING: Voices of Michael Dobson, Moneca Stori.

DIRECTOR: Hiroyuki Okiura.

WEB SITE: www.jin-roh.net



The drawings contain such detail and the story depends so much on the tortured psyche of the lead character that you may wonder why the filmmakers didn't just make a live-action movie. As it turns out, "Jin-Roh," which attempts to explore humankind's relationship with our animal nature, ends up being neither fish nor fowl.

The movie begins with a terrorist cell, The Sect, battling a special law-enforcement unit called the Capital Police, which cloaks its soldiers in protective gear that makes them look and move like robots. But they still can feel. A young constable, Kazuki Fuse (voice of Michael Dobson), comes face to face in the sewers with a girl carrying a satchel bomb. He hesitates to shoot her, she detonates the bomb. Fuse and his superiors must deal with the repercussions.

Fuse is racked with guilt over both the girl's death and his moment of paralysis. He meets the girl's older sister, Kei (voice of Moneca Stori), who bears a strong resemblance, and starts building a relationship with her. She gives him a copy in German of "Little Red Riding Hood" that is Grimmer than the one we're used to.

The identity of wolf and victim may not be as obvious as it looks. What of the rumors of a rogue group inside the Capital Police called the Wolf Brigade? The power struggle among the various law-enforcement groups is complicated enough. The viewer must spend too much time figuring out who's who.

You may also find yourself distracted by the movie's visual assets. The buildings are realistically rendered down to the last brick and board. You can see the lines on people's faces and the crease of their pants. The formal nature of line and movement helps convey the melancholy that envelops Fuse but doesn't leaven the viciousness of the killings that occur periodically throughout the film.

It also distances you somewhat from the characters. You understand Fuse's dilemma, but you don't feel his pain. He is still paralyzed, in a sense, even as he goes into action.

Written by Mamoru Oshii (director of the superior "Ghost in the Shell") and directed by his protege Hiroyuki Okiura, "Jin-Roh" frames the metaphorical question: Is Fuse a wolf at heart? Who is the predator; who is the prey?

A better question would have been, "Why?" For all the philosophizing, only Kei actually seems to understand what is in her heart. "Jin-Roh" presents an impressive surface but doesn't quite get under the skin.

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