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)

Angel’s Egg (Tenshi no Tamago)

Mamoru Oshii is quoted as saying that Angel’s Egg “kept [me] from getting work for years” and that makes me kinda sad to read even now, years after his career skyrocketed.

Angel’s Egg (Tenshi no Tamago) 1985

I do see why it freaked out the studio suits – but it’s a beautiful film that deserved to be made, I reckon. And in an utterly non-controversial way, I reject the idea that something is only good if it is wildly popular and makes a lot of money – but that’s an aside, I guess, let’s get back to the movie.  

Angel’s Egg is fascinating to me and I found it deeply immersive; there’s so much atmosphere built in to every moment, from the dissonant opening to the way the rest of the movie builds and reveals detail about the dystopian-like setting and its lonely characters.

If you’ve read much about the film you’ll know it’s not praised for its narrative but that isn’t to say that Angel’s Egg is without story or events; there’s a lot going on but so much rests in subtext, leaving us to infer things like motivation, consequence and purpose. In a way, the film is almost a study in animating water, light, shadow, in visual storytelling.

Of course, it’s more than those things but Angel’s Egg is also so much like traditional visual art. The composition and framing of so many shots as the Girl moves through the seemingly empty city with her egg, is relentlessly striking. It’s also exceptionally minimalist (dialogue-wise especially) in terms of palette – covered in blues, greys, blacks and whites for the most part. It’s ghostly, moving.

The sound design is equal parts haunting and dissonant – from metallic sound effects to softer rain, to the unearthly choirs, there’s a darkness there too. In fact, shadow is probably the key element to Angel’s Egg, how it moves, conceals or contrasts is constantly explored by Yoshitaka Amano and Mamoru Oshii. The closest comparison I can make to the style is probably the way German Expressionist film can be said to focus on the following:

  • Mise-en-scene and heavy atmosphere
  • Long shadow effects
  • Details of sets used to evoke emotion or provoke thought
  • Camera set in unexpected angles
  • Mystery, hallucinations
  • A slower pace than other movies

Expressionism does explore other things in different ways too but I think that Angel’s Egg is what you’d get if Anime met Expressionism, and it had me enthralled – glued to the couch, as it were. And while it all sounds bleak perhaps, I think the movie does explore hope (and maybe offers some too), though that can be a bit buried – at times the darkness and even the surrealist touches take charge; there’s even echoes of the Venice seen in 1973’s horror classic Don’t Look Now.

Related to above, there’s an aspect that I don’t want to spoil and which somewhat sums up the idea of surrealism in the film – it’s both moving and kinda sad, purgatory-like in a way – but again, I won’t mention specifics in case those of you reading have never seen the movie. In a similar way, I won’t ruin the final, chilling shots but I will circle back to my word choice of ‘purgatory’ because Angel’s Egg does have a strong focus on Christian symbolism, even if it’s not a film anyone would call ‘preachy’. Lots of room for the viewer to decide what they felt about the movie and the characters here.

Once more, I’ll repeat that I don’t think everyone will enjoy Angel’s Egg (which is normal and valid of course) but I think it’s worth watching at least once for the visual elements alone, and for how very non-typical the film was for the anime world.

A classic but not everyone’s classic 😀

5 Stars