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BANDAI Entertainment
Official Site
Director: Hiroyuki Okiura
Producers: Shigeru Watanabe and Mitsushisa Ishikawa
Written by: Mamoru Oshii

Rating: out of 5

I must admit, in the interest of full disclosure, that I walked into this movie carrying thirty pounds of personal baggage. The thing is, I really, really, REALLY don’t like anime movies. Maybe something gets lost in the translation from Japanese to English, but I have not seen a single one of these films that has made any sense. I’ve tried to watch all the classics, from AKIRA to PRINCESS MONONOKE to PERFECT BLUE and to this day, I couldn’t tell you what happened in them. Hell, PERFECT BLUE lost me during the credits. As a general rule, I find the best of them silly and the worst of them excruciating. And a special mention goes out to DRAGONBALL Z, a show that, all by itself, makes me want to crusade against televison. At any rate, I don’t care for animes and generally making me sit through one requires, at minimum, a court order. And then along comes this movie.

JIN-ROH: THE WOLF BRIGADE is the latest offering from the creative teams behind such acclaimed fare as the aforementioned AKIRA and GHOST IN THE SHELL. So right off the bat, you know you’re not dealing with amateurs. These guys bring to the table years upon years of experience and back it up with talent by the crate. When I read that these two cats were involved, I was relieved because I knew that, though I probably wouldn’t get it, it would at least have an air of dignity. And dignity it has. In spades. This is one classy little film, a far cry from the wasteland of anime populated by “Sailor Moon” and things like that.

JIN-ROH tells the story of Kazuki Fuse, a member of the Capital Police’s Special Unit (an anti-terrorism outfit). Things are fine with him until, during a riot, he sees a little girl blow herself up right in front of him. Understandably, it puts a crimp in his day. As Fuse tries to cope with the realization that his job isn’t exactly all sunshine and flowers, things in Japan start going from bad to worse. Riots and demonstrations are the order of the day, not to mention the rumors that a secret elite force (the titular Wolf Brigade) within the government that is cleaning up the scum on both sides of the law. I really don’t want to say much else, plotwise, because there are a few twists and turns that are best left to in-theater discovery.

The thing that I liked so much about this movie was, unlike the other 99.9% of animes out there, it was extremly realistic. There weren’t any mystical wizards or talking robots or any of the other goofy-ass things that seem to populate the halls of every anime on the block. JIN-ROH is a straight political thriller, one that could just as easily been made as a live-action film. The animation was hyper-normal, none of that huge-eyes and pointy-hair nonsense (“Dragonball Z,” I’m looking at you…). In fact, there were a few times during the film when I forgot I was watching an animated movie. It felt so real, much realer than FINAL FANTASY, a movie so insistent on being “real” it comes across as fake. It’s the same reason that you can always tell when someone has had plastic surgery. Those who try too hard are all the more obvious.

Now, after that love-fest in honor of JIN-ROH, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that there were a couple of problems with the movie. The main reason why this didn’t get a four or four-and-a-half star rating is the overall tone and atmosphere of the movie. It is, in a word, heavy. JIN-ROH redefines “stoic.” There is absolutly no humor to be found here; no moments of lightness or happiness. It’s a solid 90 minutes of brooding depression, which is fine for some, but I like mine intercut with a wry quip or two. Walking out of this movie, I was left with the same feeling one gets after having eaten a double fatburger, large onion rings, and thick chocolate shake… the feeling that a long nap was in order. My only other problem with it, really, was that the plot itself was a tad convoluted, as political thrillers tend to be. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that that’s more my fault than it is the filmmakers’. Keep in mind, this is coming from the guy who didn’t understand what the hell was happening in either of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies.

So there you go; JIN-ROH in all its glory. If you’re a fan of anime, go see this one to check out how good your favorite genre can be when it stops dicking around with those freaky, D&D-rip-off plotlines and starts getting real. And if you’re like me and think that anime is the cinematic equivilant of toxic sludge, check this one out at all costs. It’s really the best way to be proved wrong.

—Clint Davis

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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