April 11, 2002

Cornell Cinema

Print More

Animation certainly is an art form unto itself, combining painting and live-action into a hybrid of realistic illusion. It’s amazing to consider the number of frames or individualized paintings that compose an animated feature length film. However, it’s also most effective if animated films do what they do best, which is to create a reality that resembles real life while fully using animation to break out of the confines of filming in the real world.

Whereas special effects directors such as Tim Burton go to great lengths to achieve seemingly impossible feats in live action film, animators have the freedom to simply draw their fantasies and allow their imagination to run wild through their brush. Thus, if a film is going to be animated, it is well advised that it do something unachievable in the realm of real world movie-making.

The chilling Japanese anime drama, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, is an entertaining and contemplative work of film art by renowned animator Hiroyuki Okiura (Ghost in the Shell, 1996). With an intriguing story line that is supported by a complex matrix of political and philosophical issues, Jin-Roh is compelling, if not slightly frustrating to watch.

This tale of a traumatized member of an elite para-military police force is laden with heavy themes of star-crossed romance, mental anguish, disillusionment, and conspiracy. A strange metaphor is drawn through the ghostly narration of a twisted rendition of Little Red Riding Hood during much of the film’s rising action. This parallel first awakens a curiosity in the viewer, but seems to wan in relevance to the plot and its assistance in elucidating the story. The similarities between the two tales is relevant and lends a poetic quality to the film, however the degree of relevancy is never quite made apparent.

However, the moral of both tales seems to be the same, “A wolf in sheep’s clothing is still a wolf (conveniently the film’s original tagline).” This is tragically discovered by Kei, the younger sister of a female terrorist courier who the policeman, Kazuki, witnessed detonate a bomb while on duty.

In dealing with his emotional turmoil after this disturbing suicide-bombing, Kazuki visits the grave of said terrorist only to meet Kei who he begins to visit often and secretly. They wander together through the streets of a fictional Japanese city which the viewer learns to be a causality of “the Great Defeat,” or World War II.

The time is a strange mix of the future and past with high-tech military weapons contrasted against 1950’s mis en scene. However, this is the only fantastic element of the film that is assisted through animation. The rest of the time, the animation almost seems to hinder the action at hand, disallowing the effectiveness of lingering close-ups by obscuring the emotions meant to be seen on characters’ faces.

In such a deeply emotional and reflective film, the static nature of animation awakens a sense of appreciation for the emotional articulation of actors. Although the action sequences are graphically awesome and vivid, the meditative scenes, which contain little to no dialogue, are left barren and dry with stagnant facial expressiveness. One is left to wonder if Jin-Roh would not have been more successful as a live-action film.

However, this is not to say that enjoyment isn’t found in some of the more striking landscape shots that behold a God’s eye view perspective. Several of the film’s vistas, especially one or two of the moon and night sky, blur the line between reality and illustration.

In sum, Jin-Roh is intriguing enough as a life-imitating painting, but perhaps best appreciated by true fans of anime.

Archived article by Laura Thomas