In the crowded field of Japanese anime, “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade” cuts an impressive swath, if not nearly as cosmic as Bandai Visual’s previous opus, “Ghost in the Shell.” Scripted by anime giant Mamoru Oshii (director of “Ghost”) and directed by first-timer Hiroyuki Okiura, 32, who worked as an animator on both “Akira” and “Ghost,” this sci-fi fairy tale about a special-forces thug who’s humanized by his contact with a young girl has already been launched on the fest circuit and appears a strong candidate for specialized theatrical play and robust ancillary biz. Pic is slated for summer release in Japan.
Setting is the mid-’50s, in a Japan in which public order has broken down following the devastation of WWII, and the National Public Safety Commission has set up the Capital Police Organization (Capo) to exert control. In an arresting 15-minute opening set piece, Capo’s elite Special Unit is shown battling a street riot, in which anti-government forces use human bombs.
During the melee, one of the unit’s members, Kazuki Fuse, is traumatized when a young girl, code-named Little Red Riding Hood, blows herself up in front of him, causing all sorts of damage and sending Fuse back to training camp. Fuse later visits the girl’s grave and meets her sister, with whom he begins a cautious relationship based on loneliness. Meanwhile, a dastardly plot is afoot, in which the Wolf Brigade — a group of infiltrators of the Special Unit — is involved.
Despite the period setting and the script’s references to Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, pic’s universe is basically the same as in the vast mass of animes — a fascistic society peopled by ruthless police squads, freedom fighters and figures of innocence (generally female). Okiura’s take as director of Oshii’s script plays up the beauty-and-the-beast side, achieving some nice moments of stillness and childlike beauty and peace in between the dark, violent action sequences.
It is, however, a far less complex work than the futuristic “Ghost in the Shell,” with none of the latter’s stomach-churning, visionary moments or muscular sexuality.
Technically, the movie is most remarkable for the limits to which it pushes traditional cel animation, strikingly replicating cinematic techniques to the point where you occasionally almost forget you’re watching a cartoon. At other times, however, especially in non-action sections, the animation is conventional.
Budgeted at a slightly higher-than-average $ 30 million, pic was three years in the making, largely due to the use of conventional techniques, which give a much more solid look to the images than would CGI. “Ghost,” which cost about the same, made vast use of digital technology.