Jin-Roh (Jinrō)

Jin-Roh (Jinrō) 1999

Jin-Roh is another film that ticks a lot of boxes for me, but if you’re unsure about watching this lesser-known classic, keep in mind that I have my biases and I probably enjoyed this more than folks who maybe consider themselves ‘general’ action fans.

I say that because one of the things that I’m predisposed toward enjoying is an alternate history story and that’s definitely one way to describe Jin-Roh. And based on the pacing alone, perhaps don’t go in expecting a blockbuster-action movie.

Jin-Roh is a little more measured and could be described as character-focused, without being ‘slow’ either, I reckon.

Set in a troubled postwar Japan, with the 1950s rioting as part of the backdrop, there’s a lot of what I think is period-appropriate detail to the setting, contrasted with the almost futuristic armour worn by the Kerberos Panzer Cops. Our hero is Corporal Fuse, a member of the elite anti-terrorist force trained in the use of such heavy-duty armour. His story begins when he fails to shoot a young terrorist beneath the city.

And since the film uses a few thriller conventions, where everyone around Fuse is suspect, I won’t go into much more plot detail than that, and instead switch back to some of the production stuff that I tend to enjoy. Jin-Roh is based on a Mamoru Oshii work and was released post-Ghost in the Shell and so it feels like, to some extent, the team at Production I.G were still riding high and had a good budget too. The film definitely plays out that way, with high quality art and animation and a focus on character as much, or even more so than the action.

I’ll quickly note that action scenes aren’t absent either – and it can be quite ferocious, considering the Kerberos’ preference for those serious machine guns, but there’s time for Fuse to reflect and think about who he can trust too.

There’s even a lot that’s poetic about the film, from the faint ‘glow’ to some scenes, to the fatalistic attitudes of a lot of characters, or the way the Little Red Riding Hood nursery rhyme is used. In fact, in my obsession with seeking intertextual elements, I wonder if one of Fuse’s dream sequences doesn’t include a nod to a film I’ve mentioned before Don’t Look Now with the gate (and the girls themselves)?

But I’d better switch back to the visuals for one more point before I finish up, because I want to mention both the muted colour palette and how well that fits the setting, and also draw attention to the character design. If you’ve been exposed mostly to modern anime you might not be used to the realism common to various Hiroyuki Okiura designs, but I really enjoyed the variety from the director.

Finally, I want to mention the brooding soundtrack from Hajime Mizoguchi, which is another element that really sells the sombre mood of the film. In fact, it can be almost bleak and our lead is a little morose but I think, if you finish Jin-Roh you’ll see why. He is at least a little torn between his desires but it’s a very much internal struggle that is rarely played out upon his face.

So, to quickly sum up I believe this is a bit of a ‘must’ for fans of Mamoru Oshii but if you’re also interested in alternate history or a bit of subterfuge with your action then you might well enjoy this at times sombre movie.

4 Stars

(The colour of red itself runs through the whole film, with varying degrees of subtlety, but always feels effective to me)

Venus Wars (Vinasu Senki)

Venus Wars (Vinasu Senki) 1989

Post Akira fame, I suspect studios felt that there was definitely room for more futuristic dystopian stories with cool bikes and teen rebellion on the big screen.

Maybe that helped Venus Wars get the green light back in the late 1980s but setting that aside, I think the manga must have been strong too because I think its detail and characterisation remains visible in the anime, even with a lot of focus on animating exciting chases and battles.

‘Determination’ expression close-up time here

However, Venus Wars was not well-received at home and it took a few years for the film to be released and then gain traction overseas too. I wish I could learn a little more about that reception specifically, as I’m only able to find a few quotes on retailer websites. In the same places you’ll probably come across this from author and director Yoshikazu Yasuhiko:

“Thirty years ago, I was a loser. Because of the humiliation and the irritation to myself, I decided to seal this film…Now I want to apologize to the film and everyone, and I sincerely hope you watch this film pulled from the time capsule with the eyes of the contemporary age.”

which struck me as really sad, because when I watch Venus Wars now I don’t see the work of a loser at all.

Obviously, the movie is not without flaws (perhaps the pacing at times for me) but it’s really impressive. The world-building shows a grimy, oppressive Venus; the detail on the bikes and tanks, the ships and the buildings, it’s all great. The action sequences are fluid and usually filled with tension – and perhaps most of all, the characters are believable and engaging even with a reasonably large cast and a short (compared to a series or manga) running time.

Things that deserve emotional impact are rarely rushed through and the tension grows beyond the war itself, as our battle bike heroes find rebellion has a cost – and at the same time, the viewers are reminded that the people who suffer in a war are rarely those at the top. Aside from those smaller moments re: the politics, Venus Wars devotes a bit of time to romance too, and in that respect its ability to bring the conventions of many genres together makes it feel a bit like a Hollywood blockbuster.

Switching to the visuals a moment, I really liked the use of reds, greens and shadows within Venus Wars. The palette really sells both the ‘other planet’ setting and the war itself, also feeding into the grimy look and giving even the buildings an unhealthy pallor. And if the character designs at times bring to mind Mobile Suit Gundam then that might be because Yasuhiko was responsible for both works 😀

I do have a few quibbles with the movie, one being story-based and another perhaps more of a note about the visuals, I guess – but first, I wanted to quickly mention the ‘Earth reporter’ Sue. At first, I read her as unsympathetic, despite her bravery and drive.

Chekhov, right?

Established as a reporter who is kinda hungry for war (because it would give her a scoop of course) I was ready to write her off but she does have something of a redemption arc, though it’s not presented that way because I don’t think the film sees her goals as questionable. Still, she’s important and gets more screen time than say Miranda, which is a shame because she’s far cooler 😀

Aside from perhaps a bit too much time spent at the race track early on, the other pacing issue seems to be the inclusion of a few scenes with the gay soldier (Chris) – he must have had a meaningful role in the manga, but in the film his scenes are just there to operate as jokes or something? So that’s a mark against Venus Wars for me.

Gary has a mentor role so he ended up as one of my favourites 😀

Elsewhere there are some heavily filtered ‘live action’ moments that are used to represent Sue’s camera footage – a choice I really like intellectually but seeing it, despite being integrated fairly well, I didn’t actually enjoy that much.

Overall, I think Venus Wars is definitely worth seeing for science-fiction anime fans, especially if you’re interested in fairly big budget, high quality ‘old-school’ animation or works that owe a little something to Akira.

4 Stars

I also went a little overboard on the screen caps here:

The framing here and below are a couple of examples of the camera really placing you right ‘in’ the scene
‘Venus Wars’ has a bit of fan service but doesn’t go overboard
Safety first