This week's "Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog" examines a spy-thriller set in an alternative, militaristic Japan
What's “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog”?
With so many options to choose from, finding a new anime to watch can be like navigating the dark and twisting woods in a fairy tale. In this thorny metaphor, let “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog” be the helpful woodsman who keeps the wolves away. Each week we provide additional information and cultural context to help anime fans decide whether or not they'd like to try out an unknown title.
What's Jin Roh?
Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade is a 1999 theatrical anime film set in an alternative time line where Japan was occupied by Germany after the conclusion of World War II. The film is the directorial debut of animator / character designer / animation director Hiroyuki Okiura, and it features a script by Mamoru Oshii. Crunchyroll describes Jin Roh as follows:
In a very different Tokyo, the totalitarian government rules with an iron fist. But a group called "the Sect" is staging demonstrations and challenging the government's martial law. Constable Fuse of the Capital Police's Special Unit is on a mission to stop a Sect demonstration when he encounters a girl in the sewers under Tokyo. When he fails to shoot as ordered, he is put on trial, questioned, and "re-conditioned" as a soldier. The dead girl haunts him, both in his dreams and in the face of her sister, whom Fuse has befriended. But Fuse has made himself a target for some very powerful men.
Although Jin Roh is part of the Kerberos Saga - a science fiction universe that includes such media as radio dramas, manga, and theatrical films - the movie stands on its own as a work that is equal parts spy-thriller and character study of a man cracking under the enormous psychological pressures of being a storm-trooper for an oppressive, authoritarian regime.
Of Men and Beasts.
In Japanese, Jin Roh is written with the Kanji for “person” and “wolf”, a combination that can either imply a literal werewolf or the more figurative “wolf in sheep's clothing”. The film explores the latter concept, in the process drawing heavily on the symbolism of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, specifically the earlier versions of the story that do not feature a woodsman coming to Red Riding Hood's rescue at the end.
This symbolism plays out both visually and narratively. The bomb-couriers for the Sect terrorists are referred to as “Red Riding Hoods”, for example, while the members of the Capitol Police and other public security organizations are referred to in canine terms such as “wolves” or “dogs”, depending on whether they are perceived as dangerous or loyal to the state.
The Hunters Hunted.
Jin Roh is a story without clear heroes. The antagonists intent on destroying Fuse and the Special Unit along with him include not only members of rival public security organizations, but different factions within the Capitol Police itself. As the story progresses, the lines between who is predator and who is prey begin to blur, leading a conclusion that is as emotionally wrenching as it is hauntingly violent.
The Better to Eat You With.
There's an old anecdote about two wolves at war within the human heart, one representing the goodness of human virtue, the other representing the evils of human vice. The moral of the story is that the wolf that gets fed the most wins. Jin Roh shares a similar conflict. The protagonist, Kazuki Fuse, must ultimately choose the world in which he belongs, and he must choose who he's willing to gobble up in order to prove his rightful place that world.
Crunchyroll currently streams Jin Roh in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the United States Minor Outlying Islands. The film is available both in the original Japanese with English subtitles and also in an English dubbed format.
Initially released on home video in North America by the now defunct Bandai Entertainment, Jin Roh is currently available on DVD and Bluray from Discotek Media via their Eastern Star label. The earlier, live-action entries in the Kerberos Saga film series - 1987's The Red Spectacles and 1991's Stray Dogs - were previously released on DVD in the US by Bandai Entertainment, but these releases are now out-of-print.
Although Jin Roh is a spy thriller, it is not an action film. The movie is often quiet, understated, and deliberately paced, and viewers must rely heavily on subtext in order to read the true significance of many scenes. It's not for everyone, but if you're in the mood for an artistic, atmospheric movie with a dark point of view, please consider giving Jin Roh a try.
Is there a series in Crunchyroll's catalog that you think needs some more love and attention? Please send in your suggestions via e-mail to [email protected] or post a Tweet to @gooberzilla. Your pick could inspire the next installment of “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog”!
Paul Chapman is the host of The Greatest Movie EVER! Podcast and GME! Anime Fun Time.