Japanese anime is known for its imaginative wallop: from the retina-popping exploits of Dragonball Z’s Gohan and Krillin (not to mention the freaky mugs of their adversaries) to the awesome dreamscapes of Princess Mononoke. The freedom that drawing allows has given this impulsive genre a reputation for splicing coaxial cables between the eyeballs and previously uncharted reaches of the mind.
So here comes Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, a 1999 addition to the anime corpus, directed by then-33-year-old Hiroyuki Okiura. Postulating an alternate ending to World War II — in which Japan is conquered by Nazi Germany, not the United States — Jin-Roh follows the convoluted intrigues and treacheries of postwar politics, focusing on terrorist factions and counterterrorist Special Forces, in particular a unit called the Capital Police. The protagonist, a young cop named Kazuki Fuse, is tormented by flashbacks of a botched operation in which he fails to stop a pretty high-school girl suicide bomber from blowing herself up.
With its hyper-real animation (giving the images a “live” look) and mildly speculative storyline, Jin-Roh actually flattens out the possibilities of the form. Aside from tapping into the Little Red Riding Hood myth in a sometimes creepy, sometimes cloying way, it mostly comes off like a realistic action flick. I mean, why go through all the technical gyrations to draw a story that could just as well have been done with real actors and locations? Unless it was something like the challenge of bungee jumping: simply because it’s there to be done.
Okiura’s obsession with photographic realism might be forgiven had he not made his characters sit around so much in (boring) existential despair, smoking cigarettes and gazing at their shoes. The DFT program says, “Not recommended for persons under 18,” but aside from a few bloody shoot-outs and one scene involving flesh-chomping wolves, it’s hard to understand the restriction.
Though it’s probably a must-see for anime addicts, Jin-Roh’s not likely to turn on too many new ones.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Monday at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.
George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at [email protected].