movie like Hiroyuki Okiura's Jin-Roh is why the
Japanese are considered the pioneers of animation. Over the last decade or so
the shortcomings of American "cartoons" and animation have become
painfully obvious when one looks at what's coming out of Japan now -- and even
in the past. Movies like Jin-Roh, Blood:
The Last Vampire, and a host of others all uses traditional cell
animation but enhanced with computer technology. The blend of old and new
results in beautiful movies that moves, flows, and breathes like a real movie
shot on real film, but free of the confines of reality.
Jin-Roh tells the tale of Kazuki Fuse, a cop who is
part of an elite outfit called the Special Unit, which is itself part of a
larger law-enforcement organization that patrols the nation of Japan. The Japan
of Jin-Roh is not the one we're used to; instead, the film uses an
alternate version of Japan, one that has just shaken off American occupation to
strive on the world stage on their own, and is in the midst of great civil
We learn that there are other units within the Capital Law-enforcement
organization, of which the Special Units is a part of, and its various heads are
vying for power and prestige. Among them is a civilian group who is constantly
at odds with the Special Unit and would like to see them permanently buried if
possible. This antagonistic relationship comes to light when, on a routine
mission to stop terrorists operating in the sewer systems during a massive city
riot, Kazuki's unit encounters a young girl who is acting as a bomb courier for
a terrorist organization called the Sect.
The girl, known as a Red Riding Hood,
has been carrying bombs between the terrorists and their cells all night, bombs
that have killed cops and worsen the rioting. She is a terrorist herself, and
before she can be captured, she blows herself up with one of her bombs.
Unfortunately, Kazuki was there, standing before her with his weapon trained on
her, but unable to fire, when she triggered the bomb. This causes great stress
for the emotionally vulnerable Kazuki. Days later, Kazuki, starved for answers
as to why the girl blew herself up, seeks out an ex-friend who leads him to the
dead girl's sister, who happens looks remarkably like her sister. As Kazuki's
relationship with the dead girl's sister develops, a web of deceit and
conspiracy begins to unravel around him.
To begin with, Jin-Roh is a beautiful film. Its
colors are pale and slightly drenched in browns, but the result is a haunting
Japan where the rich lives comfortably and the poor hides in alleys. Director
Okiura and writer Mamoru Oshii (Avalon)
makes great use of the Little Red Riding Hood story, turning the seemingly
innocent child's fable into an allegory for modern Japan and Kazuki and the dead
girl's sister, as well as Kazuki's relationship and bond with the Special Units.
Needless to say, Kazuki is the wolf and the girl is Little Red Riding Hood, and
this point is hammered into our heads over and over. Which leads me to one of Jin-Roh's
problems. The movie simply likes to repeat itself. Once the movie's many
conspiracies are unraveled at around the 60-minute mark, there really is little
need to continue rehashing the same plot threads. We already know,
there's no need to have numerous other characters mention it "just in
case" we're too dumb to figure it all out.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I also have a problem
with its length. The movie runs around 100 minutes, but could have been trimmed
into a brisk 60-minute pace. (In Japan it's common for feature-length animation
to be 60 minutes or less.) There are too many scenes that are unnecessary, and
most of them involve the Japanese tendency to let a scene linger and linger and
linger. The result is a movie that opens with a bang and then crawls toward a
thrilling conclusion. This makes the in-between 80 or so minutes somewhat
boring, with only brief bursts of violence to distract us from the snail's pace.
Of course, this makes the violence that appear at the beginning and at the end
all the more jarring. Still, I didn't enjoy having to sit through 80 minutes of
useless dialogue and brooding scenes. So much could have been trimmed and the
movie's A-plot, which doesn't appear until the 50-minute mark, would never have
Besides Jin-Roh's beautiful art direction, the
movie's character designs are also a winner. The design for the Special Unit
commandos is simply stunning. When we first see them they're armored commandos
that move like lightning with glowing infrared eyes that allows them to see in
the dark. It's no accident that the character designs of the commandos are
eerily similar to that of the Nazi stormtroopers.
This isn't to say Jin-Roh
sympathizes with the terrorists by casting the commandos as brutal Nazi-like
enforcers. The terrorists themselves are shown as being just as capable of
brutality and violence as their law-enforcement counterparts. The way they use
the Red Riding Hoods to ferry bombs to and from protests is incredibly
cold-blooded. In a way, there really is very little difference between the Sect
and their enemies, the Special Units. They just have different uniforms, but
neither could exist without the other. They're both wolves preying on the
innocent -- the Little Red Riding Hoods of the world.
Jin-Roh is the kind of animated film that makes
American-made animation seem like they're stuck in the dark ages. Hopefully
Hollywood will snap out of their funk and realize there's a lot to learn from
the Japanese besides how to build a cheaper stereo or TV. Until then, at least
we have Japanimation to turn to when singing animals and household utensils get
to be just a little bit too much.