Jin-Roh: Special Edition (Mania.com)

By:Dan Kuhn
Review Date: Sunday, September 14, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, March 05, 2002

The Review!
Jin-Roh is head and shoulders above most anime features, both in ambition and execution. Given the universe the plot is set within, this could have been written to be nothing more than a pointless action movie. Instead, it boldly sets its characters at the heart of the film, and then follows them unflinchingly towards their respective fates. A true "film".

I viewed this film in the original Japanese DD5.1 and DTS soundtracks. If pressed, I would tip my cap towards the DTS soundtrack as just a tad better. The soundtrack is beautiful. Aside from the obvious issues of well-recorded dialog and very effective use of the rear channels, the soundtrack shows the attention to detail that embodies Jin-Roh. Attentive listeners will note each of the dozen or more hand guns, rifles, and machine guns in the film has its own unique (and correct) sounds when fired. Of all these, the ferocious roar of the MG-42 machine gun wielded by the Special Unit troops is unforgettable. Not a playful high-pitched racket put in to amuse the viewer, instead we have a sound pouring out the subwoofer, matching the gun's ability to deal out immediate destruction.
One item caught my ear during watching. At the beginning of the film, the young girl Nanami is racing though the sewers, trying to evade the Special Unit troops. For no discernable reason a massive random rumble is emitted by the LFE channel for about 30 seconds. As it has no correspondence to the music which is playing at that moment, I've chalked it up as an error. But 30 seconds can't hold back this soundtrack.

Jin-Roh is probably has the lowest color contrast of any animated film I have seen. (Perhaps it would look better in B/W? I'll try that another day.) Low contrast plus lots of blacks means a difficult DVD encoding, but the mission was successful, by and large. A scene here and there will exhibit some macro blocking- usually in scenes of characters moving horizontally on dark but not quite black backgrounds. Near the end of the film, Fuse and Kei walk away from a phone booth at the side or the road. As the pass through the frame, you can see a tad of ghosting trailing the characters. But all in all it's a beautiful transfer. Obviously a direct digital source was employed, as dirt and specks are totally absent.

The packaging looks better than it works. A clear plastic slipcase hold a three-fold case, which contains a DVD for the film, another for the extras, and a CD of the soundtrack. My case quickly developed the habit of not gripping the discs, meaning they all would fall out when I unfolded the case. It might have been more functional (though not as attractive) to include the CD in a normal jewel case.

Nice looking and simple to use.

Can't ask for much more extras. Well, maybe you can. What you get includes a full disc of info about the film, including a long (slightly dry) interview with the writer and director. Plus the soundtrack. We also get some production drawings and cast interviews. What's missing is more helpful info for viewers who are new to the Jin-Roh universe. I wouldn't have minded some more background info on some of the political and military characters, who play a huge role in the movie's plot. (There is also a "score card" that does graphically layout the structure of the Capitol Police chain of command, which is helpful, but should only be looked at after you have watched the film once.)

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)

Jin-Roh is an amazing balancing act. From the inside-out, it is: A love-story, an psycho-drama about obsession over a dead girl, a political conspiracy thriller, and "Little Red Riding Hood". All this get another layer of massive human violence, as matters involving terrorists and personal betrayals are resolved.

That sounds like a silly jumble of off-the-shelf plot items. But Jin-Roh's producers had no interest in making a movie like other movies. They set out to make a great film, and pulled it off.

The Jin-Roh universe existed prior to this movie. Writer Mamoru Oshii, best known for the 1995 "Ghost in the Shell", previously developed the world in a series 6 manga issues. The movie begins with a very brief synopsis of the state of play. After the conclusion of the Second World War, Tokyo became plagued by anti-government terrorists. In response, the Capitol Police militia was formed to deal with the problem. At the heart of the Capitol Police are the "Special Unit" troops. Outfitted with night-vision, body armor, and massive machine guns, these troops are sent in when decisive action is desired.

But, at the stage we pick up the story, Japan is on the cusp of three decades of explosive economic prosperity, and both the terrorists and Capitol Police have become relics in their own time. Even as the Capitol Police fight to rid the city of terrorists, forces within the government are aligning to eliminate the CP themselves, and restore a normal police structure in Tokyo.

The film begins with a demonstration of how to be a successful terrorist. Amongst a mob of relatively peaceful demonstrators, who's path is blocked by police, a tiny handful of terrorists are lurking. An anonymous figure steps forward from the crowd and lobs an explosive into the heart of the police line, taking down scores of officers. The enraged police charge the demonstrators, with batons and tear gas flying.

Far behind the main police lines waits a squad of Capitol Police. They'd like to be involved, but no. At the moment, they've been wrangled into a "co-policing" arrangement, and are subservient to the local police.

The terrorists move down into the sewers to make their escape. Along with the group is a teenage girl, who had just delivered the bomb used at the demonstration. (Her name is Nanami, mentioned only once in the film.) The leader of the group gives her another bomb, to be taken to another protest elsewhere in Tokyo.

But their escape is doomed. The CP unleash the Special Unit into the sewers. The girl becomes separated from the rest of the group. Just as well, as the battle between the well-armed terrorists and the massively-armed Special Police doesn't last long. The terrorists are cornered, and then ripped to shreds by the massive belt-fed machine guns wielded by the Special Unit troops. The battle is over in less than a minute.

And the girl does no better. She's quickly cornered herself, but rather than surrendering, she detonates the bomb she was to deliver, killing herself in front of the soldier who caught her. Had he wished, he had ample time to kill her, but couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger. She had no such reservations.

The blast knocks out power in the area, making the police action happening on the streets above into a fiasco.

It's here that the real plot(s) of the film start. The soldier who wouldn't fire, Fuse (foo-seh), is left haunted by the girl's eagerness to die. He becomes obsessed with the event, and relentlessly searches for some kind of closure. Fuse gets sent back to the training Academy as punishment for failing in his duties. Other forces in the government see this as a chance to bring down the CP all together.

We quickly learn that the head of the Capitol Police, Muroto, is himself interested in getting rid of the Special Unit. But he has a problem. Rumors are circulating that the Special Unit has moles in the rest of the CP agencies: the "Jin-Roh", or "Wolf Brigade".

While Muroto waits, Fuse begins his search for answers. He gets help from an old friend, Henmi, who was with him at the CP Academy before bailing out. He now works under Muroto, and gives Fuse some information. Turns out the dead girl has an older sister, Kei, who Fuse meets by chance when he visits the girl's grave. Seeing as how Fuse was basically responsible for her sister's death, Kei is quite pleasant company, and doesn't blame him at all: "You were both doing your jobs."

Soon they are seeing each other regularly. Kei's reasons for wanting to see Fuse are left for the viewer to guess at (and eventually worry about). Fuse also gives few clues to why he sees Kei. Indeed, he hardly speaks a word until the last scene of the film. Whether he is attracted to Kei is left an open question.

Slowly, you notice the Kei seems to be longing for escape from her life as well. An amazing scene takes place at an old school playground, empty but for the two of them. Fuse silently watches as Kei plays on the equipment, which she has long since outgrown. Anyone who has revisited an old playground from their youth will note the accuracy of Kei walking down a slide, rather then trying to use it properly. Later, the pair visit a small amusement park, on the roof of a building in the heart of the city. While admiring the view, Kei talks of "getting out of the city, to a place where no one knows me."

Fuse begins retraining at the CP Academy. The Academy itself looks run down. A telling detail is that Fuse's dorm room could hold four people, but houses only him. The training isn't going well. Fuse is having hallucinations about both Kei's sister, and Kei herself, reliving moments from the encounter in the sewer. These culminate in a terrifying dream sequence that foreshadows much of the rest of the film. The extreme violence that is portrayed, much as the battle which begins the film, is not drawn to be enjoyable, but to shock.

Soon, the political conspiracy plot reemerges, as Muroto meets with the heads of the Tokyo Police, who offer to assist in the merging of the Capitol Police with the regular police force in Tokyo. All they ask is that Muroto get rid of the troublesome Special Unit troops. It's an offer Muroto wants to take, and he has a plan.

***Major Spoilers from here on***

Fuse's meeting with Kei was no accident. Henmi arranged for the two to meet, with Kei only posing as the dead girl's sister. Kei is another bomb runner for the terrorists, who's been arrested and turned over to Muroto. When the story breaks that a member of the Special unit has been seeing a terrorist, the scandal should break the back of the Special Unit once and for all.

However, Muroto was right to worry about the Wolf Brigade. They've caught wind of these goings on, and have a plan of their own.

Using the local police, a trap is set for Fuse. Kei is to meet him late at night at the city's natural history museum. The shadows of the darkened building are filled with police, expecting an easy capture. Using only stealth, Fuse infiltrates the museum, steals away Kei, and they make their escape via a police car. These scenes almost play as comedy, with the police completely outclassed by Fuse's abilities.

With the masquerade at an end, Kei finds herself now being used by the Wolf Brigade as bait to lure Henmi into a trap. She and Fuse make a detour to her rooftop amusement park, deserted for the night. Kei understands the danger she's in, and hopes the Fuse will save them both from what is coming. Fuse almost suggests that they leave town, but his sense of duty to the Wolf Brigade is too powerful to ignore. We get the old cliché of Fuse putting his jacket over Kei, who is shivering in the cold night air, leading to an intimate moment between them.

It's soon time for the endgame. Muroto, who's smart enough to see that the plan has failed badly, sends Henmi himself to try to capture Kei and Fuse. After all, if Henmi gets killed, its one less link back to himself. Indeed, neither Henmi nor the police who accompany him into the sewers question how they "discover" where Fuse and Kei are "hiding", when of course a Wolf in Muroto's department told them intentionally.

Down in the sewers, Kei is shocked to discover that the Wolves have known all about her from the first day she met Fuse. Even worse, it's revealed that she has been carrying a microphone without her knowledge. Henmi had been recording her conversations with Fuse, as insurance. Suddenly Kei realizes she is in mortal danger from the Wolves themselves. They cannot release her if Muroto does indeed have recordings of her and Fuse. This leads to an amazing shot of Kei screaming at Fuse, as he disappears into the darkness to deal with Henmi. Having kept her cool up until that point, she yells at him with equal parts terror and anger. In a uniquely Japanese fashion, she quietly wishes that they had died together, in a double suicide. These thoughts are shocking, coming from a teenage girl, already worn down by life.

Fuse leaves her and attends to business. All attempts to kill are failures, and bodies collect in the narrow tunnels as Fuse eliminates all opposition. One policeman goes so far as to launch an RPG, which engulfs Fuse in fire. For a moment the policemen congratulates himself. Then Fuse emerges from the smoke, no worse for wear. Soon only Henmi is left. Desperately he tries to find a way back to street level. But there's no escape.

Which leaves the problem of Kei, and a remarkable ending. In a movie full of sights to shock and amaze, the ending does not disappoint. It's all to common in anime features to have vague or pointless endings. I would wager that from a room of 100 viewers, fifty would be disappointed in the ending, balanced against the other fifty, who would reply that the film could end no other way.

Jin-Roh is as perfect an anime feature as has yet been made. It deserves to be short list of anime with Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Perfect Blue, and Princess Mononoke. Works that accomplished the feat of pushing an art form forward.

Parting Thoughts:

This film is so bursting with goodness you need multiple viewings to catch it all.

Jin-Roh had amazing animation, but on close inspection you realize that a lot of the human figures aren't strictly animated, but are in fact rotoscoped (traced over live action footage). Some people take exception to this technique, but I feel it worked brilliantly in this film. The scenes of Kei were often devastating, simply because she moved exactly as a real girl would. It accentuated the terror when you saw the Special Unit marching in, ready to deal out instant death.

Also, the action sequences that opened and closed the film stand out for their unwavering seriousness. When was the last time you saw a live action film that didn't break up action sequences with silly gags, or smart mouthed remarks from the people involved. There's not a funny line in the film.

The guns used in the film are all real guns, most of them German and most from WWII. The MG-42 machine gun wielded by the Special Unit was never used hand-held, but instead used on a tripod to hold a stationary position. It's 1000 round per minute firing rate necessitated the replaceable barrel, which you see Fuse cleaning and inserting into the gun just before call from Kei.

I didn't like having to infer that Muroto was the head of the Capitol Police. I feel that readers of the manga would have known who he was, but people like myself, who's experience in the Jin-Roh world starts with this film, were left in the dark when the political stuff started happening in the film. I counted three people who spoke important dialog who never even received a name, much less a straight forward description of who they were and why they were important.

Consider Henmi vs. Fuse. Henmi's last line was ironic: "What's the difference between us?" Not much. Henmi was willing to sell out Fuse to advance his career. Fuse, having failed in his duties at the start of the movie, was in the end willing to sell out Kei to show he really was still a Wolf.

Buy the end of the film, you could ask whether the Capitol Police were any better that the terrorists they fought against. In order to protect themselves, they had no qualms about being Kei's judge, jury, and executioner, based on nothing more than her involvement with the terrorists. (We are never told what her exact duties were before she was arrested). Most people would call her death a murder, not justice.

The most common character trait in the film is a lack of understanding of the people around them:

Fuse has no idea why Nanami would be so quick to kill herself when confronted by the Special Unit, and can't except that.
Fuse's commanders are baffled by his unwillingness to murder a teenager, when she was obviously carrying a bomb.
Fuse never suspects that Kei is seeing him because of she's part of a plot against the Special Unit. (We see his shock when photos of Kei and Henmi together are left for him in his room).
The police assigned to catch Fuse when he comes to meet Kei are made to look ridiculous by his masterful techniques.
Henmi and the officers with him enter the sewers with not a second thought, even they should know better. (Note that in the film, the Special Unit kills anyone they engage in combat, without exception, and take not a single casualty in return).
Fuse refuses to understand that the Wolf Brigade will do anything to protect the Special Unit, including killing Kei.
And Kei still hold out hope that Fuse will save her. Only at the end does she learn how "Little Red Riding Hood" really ends.

Review Equipment
Sony 36" WEGA HDTV, Denon -1600 progressive scan DVD Player, Sony STR-DE985 Receiver, Vienna Acoustics speakers, REL Stadium III subwoofer

Mania Grade: A+
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: A+
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 59.99
Running time: 142
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Jin-Roh