Reviewby Luke Carroll, Sep 6th 2007
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade [Special Edition]
Ten years have passed since war changed the face of Japan; a Japan which now burns with the fire of civil unrest. Fueled by rampant crime and poverty, a well-armed anti-government group has risen amongst the people with the intent of stopping the government through its terrorist plots. To combat this group, an elite group of heavily-armored soldiers was formed. Trained like dogs, these men were to combat the growing unrest with extreme and severe prejudice - these men were the Capitol Police.
However, when Constable Fuse, a member of the Capitol Police, hesitates to kill a young courier, he is forced to face his own humanity and ultimately decide - is it better to live as a chained dog? Or die a free man?
A few years ago, Jin Roh recieved it's first release on our shores thanks to Siren Visual, a company which was notorious for having a number of error ridden and sub par quality releases. Although it did not come out unscathed, many regarded Jin Roh as one of Siren's more tolerable titles available at the time. With their license of the movie now expired though, Madman Entertainment have stepped up to the plate in an attempt bring us a uniform release of Jin Roh that can proudly be sat on the shelves of fans everywhere.
It is not too often that you come across a movie that feels more like a labour of love than an attempted blockbuster, but Jin Roh is just that. With a story wound together by Mamoru Oshii, director of the acclaimed Ghost in the Shell, it is clear to see his influences in every nook and cranny of the film. Set in an alternate post World War Two Japan where the social and the political scenes are unsteady, an underground group known as the 'Sect' began carrying out violent protests against the current political practices. To combat this unrest, a special police unit known as the 'Capitol Police' were formed to suppress these terrorist activities by any means they see fit.
The opening of the film provides us with a brief introduction before we are thrown into a scene of chaos as the police try to stand ground to a group of violent protesters. It is here that we meet a young girl who the Public Security refer to as Little Red Riding Hoods, pretty women who courier bombs and other gear for terrorist groups. After dropping off her first package, she goes underground and is on her way to drop off another bomb when she notices the Capitol Police and flees, only to eventually be cornered by a lone soldier. Ordered to shoot her, Constable Fuse hesitates and asks why she is doing it, only to have the girl pull the bomb right in front of him. Deciding to visit her grave site, Fuse runs into a young woman who claims to be the young girl's sister. The two are very much polar opposites, but as the movie progresses, a bond between the two becomes more apparent. Everything however eventually goes sour when we learn that the woman is actually a trap designed by the Public Security Bureau to bring the Capitol Police down, with Fuse being the fall man. This is all intertwined with not only a number of political discussions, but also with the narrative from a book Fuse is given title "Rotkäppchen", or Little Red Riding Hood. This is a slightly more gruesome story than the one we have come to know though, but it plays with the movie perfectly.
Jin Roh's art is nothing short of spectacular for its time. Sticking with the use of traditional cel animation, Jin Roh took nearly three years to complete, and it shows in its wonderful foray of detail and movements that brings every scene to life. Set roughly in the later half of the 1950's, there is very little in the way of vibrant colours and backgrounds used. In order to achieve an old newsreel look, the animation staffed decided to use paint colours in the film, which ultimately leaves every scene with a slight brownish tone which is nothing short of stunning to see in motion. If there is anything to fault, it would be the scenes that take place in dark areas in which the characters are given a slight glow to distinguish them from the dark shadows of the underground. Although it doesn't detract form the viewing, it definitely could have been handled better than it was. The characters in Jin Roh are given a detailed life-like look which is nothing short of brilliant when it comes to the emotional sections of the film. It is not hard at all to be pulled into the film, and it is then that you begin to see the labour of love that was given to its animation. Although outdated in todays terms, Jin Roh's attention to detail and artistic choices leaves nothing short of a lasting impression that begs to be viewed over and over.
No great film however is complete without an equally brilliant soundtrack, and that is exactly what are presented with. Composed by Hajime Mizoguchi, the musical score ranges from quite eerie in tone to more tranquil and peaceful pieces. If there is one thing to appreciate about its use, it is the fact that the music works together with the film in bringing out every scene emotionally. It is hard not to appreciate the work that was put into the soundtrack. From the eerie sounds of the underground to the tranquil noises of a sunny normal day, the music compliments the film and becomes very much part of the experience. This is of course enhance greatly by the 5.1 DTS that is included for the Japanese track, although it is oddly not listed on the rear of the case. It is a shame that the soundtrack was not included separately with this release, as the score really is memorable and compliments the film wonderfully.
To round out the movie experience, we are provided with a very pleasing dub for Jin Roh. Recorded by Ocean Studios, the dub surprisingly keeps quite close to Japanese translation, to the point where a large portion of the movie is almost word for word to what the subtitles show. Of course this is achieved because a large proportion of the speaking is done indirectly. It is not often that a dub can match its sub counterpart in terms of quality, but Jin Roh comes close to doing that. For the most part, the cast was quite wonderful in the way that they gave each of the main characters a distinctive tone that subtly gave you an impression about their personalities. It is hard not to recommend the dub for the simple fact that it allows for that much more immersion into the film. However, if you plan to see it in the best sound there is, then it is hard to pass up the Japanese 5.1 DTS, which absolutely sounds stunning as you would think.
For this release, Madman have provided us with a small yet decent set of extras. First up is 'Interviews', a 38 minute insightful interview video that covers a number of various topics with not only the Director Hiroyuki Okiura, but also with Mamoru Oshii, Hajime Mizoguchi, and the Art Director Hiromasa Ogura. Also included is a 'Production Art Gallery', allowing you to scroll through various designs and sketches. To round out the disc is the 'Theatre Trailer', which also contains a number of tv shorts, and finally 'Madman Trailers', which is very much just a number of trailers for upcoming and previous Madman titles. Also included in the dvd case is a booklet containing a chapter list, discography of the director, and a 10 page article by Carl Gustav Horn.
It is not often a movie a movie like Jin Roh appears. In an era where violence and action becomes a movie's focus, trying to pitch a slower more emotional film would be treaded with much caution. No doubt many people may have passed on this title originally due to Siren's notorious status of affairs, however this release from Madman has erased any of those doubts to avoid it now. It deffinately is not a film that everyone will enjoy, but for those who loved the storytelling of shows such as Wolf's Rain, this title is deffinately one to check out.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Great animation, Lovely soundtrack, Deep and moving plot.
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