Sorry for my recent absence, and for the following long-winded post. Work has been relentless, but now, having acquired a laptop capable of transmitting information through the cold ether, I am able to update RS from my favorite coffee haunt, Caffe Vita on Capitol Hill. Also, reviewing so many albums lately has exhausted my music-description organ, so I am injecting other media into the rotation now - whether you like it or not.
At a used media store on the Ave today, while looking for Final Fantasy III or some such classic game at discount, I took the long way around a rack of vinyl to avoid scraping pants with a like-minded shopper, and glancing idly at the wall of DVDs to my right, I found myself face-to-face with the special edition of Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade, and for $25 - from my experience it usually goes for twice that, and long have I yearned to experience the surround sound in this film. Taking it home and watching a few choice scenes, I am reminded of the greatness of this movie and now I must heartily recommend it to you, dear reader.
You have questions, grasshopper? I shall answer them. Yes, it's Japanese. Yes, it's animated. No, it's not Anime - at least not as we have come to define it. What we have here is a powerful, subtle, multi-layered film which would be impossible or unwise to attempt with real people and locations. Mamoru Oshii, famed for his excellent film adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, created the story and adapted this one himself, so there is a fusion of narrative and artistic vision that is rare to see even in animated features, where the art can suit the story to any extent.
I'll try not to spoil much but it is difficult to discuss this movie particularly without revealing a little. It takes place during the 60s in an alternate timeline in Japan, during a period of civil unrest and political instability, a transition period following the de-occupation of the country after WWII. A special unit of the police is established to combat the anti-government forces in the capital, and the main character, Fuse, is a member of this outfit. He is shaken during a mission taken by his unit and begins to question his ability to function as a soldier and as a person. He becomes involved with a woman who resembles closely a terrorist Fuse saw die in front of his eyes, and on this stage the various threads and conspiracies begin to assemble themselves. I am beginning to understand that the political situation in which the story takes place is not that far removed from the reality then, except this follows a more extreme path than did the people of Japan.
Throughout the film the story of Little Red Riding hood is pervasive; Fuse and the woman both read from an ancient telling of the story (the German Rottkapchen) and it becomes clear that the movie is also a retelling of the fairy tale, but the characters are obscured in the complex movements of the plot. This, however, isn't the version your momma told you.
The animation is simple, which is not to say unrealistic, as the details are subtle and convincing: Flat colors on the characters brought to life by the changing crease of a pant leg while walking, or tiny movements of the hands. The booklet reveals that the movie is completely hand-drawn, perhaps the last full-length feature to be so. The characters are very real-looking and japanese - no blue hair or big-eyes-small-mouth to be found. The backgrounds are painted in detail and scenes with action spare no frames to repeats or static scans - this film is a work of art in motion, and the direction by Hiroyuki Okiyura is superb (above is a terrible sample, but it gives a general feel). There is a certain scene, the fantasy on the rooftop halfway through the movie, the beginning of which gives me chills every single time I watch it - even thinking about it as I write sends shivers down my spine.
The sound in the movie is superb; 5.1 is used to full effect and every small thing is included. The clink of bottles as a man walks, every footstep and splash timed and placed right, it's clear from this and the animation that this movie is a labor of love, emphasis on labor - it must have taken years to make. I think I can place this movie on my top ten, and while some might be turned off by its density and animated nature, I consider these assets and not liabilities. Jin-Roh is an excellent, beautiful, haunting, and original movie that I cannot recommend enough.