• Jamie Morris

One to Watch: Jin-Roh

This 1990s classic shows a different side to Mamoru Oshii...

The works of writer and director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) often depict futures transformed by war and technology, but his multimedia Kerberos saga instead takes us back in time to a fascinating take on post-war Japan. Spanning radio dramas, comic books and live-action films, it may at first seem impenetrable to newcomers – but 1999’s Jin-Roh, the only fully-animated entry in the franchise, has established itself as a classic standalone tale in its own right.

Set in an alternate history in which a Stormtrooper-esque armoured police force is founded in response to violent post-war riots, Jin-Roh focuses primarily on the struggles of Corporal Kazuki Fuse, who is racked with guilt after a young resistance fighter kills herself in a suicide bombing before his eyes. Soon after, Fuse forms a friendship with the sister of the deceased girl, Kei, who he is surprised to find holds no grudge against him – but Fuse is not so quick to forgive himself.

It’s an impactful directorial debut that stands tall as one of the most memorable anime films of the 1990s

The film is an interpersonal drama first and a political thriller second, with action largely taking a back seat in favour of introspective dialogue and quiet character moments. While Oshii’s script goes a long way in establishing the tone of the film, he actually had little to do with the production beyond writing it due to being preoccupied with Ghost in the Shell, and it instead fell into the hands of first-time director Hiroyuki Okiura.

Okiura insisted that the film be animated almost entirely by hand, taking three years and an estimated 80,000 animation cels – and his dedication to analogue techniques pays off. Along with the film’s muted colour palette, its detailed, realistic animation makes the dystopian setting feel believable, and its characters’ struggles are easy to empathise with. In addition, a gentle jazz score by Hajime Mizoguchi creates unlikely moments of serenity, similarly to how Joe Hisaishi’s soundtracks are utilised in Takeshi Kitano’s crime thrillers.

Most of the infrequent scenes of violence that do occur in Jin-Roh are within dream sequences that capitalise on the film’s recurring Red Riding Hood motif – but Fuse’s nightmares of further bloodshed threaten to become reality as political tensions continue to stir in the background of the slow-burn narrative.

The film has been cited as an inspiration by a whole host of filmmakers, and in 2018, it was adapted into a live-action remake by South Korean director Kim Jee-woon. It’s an impactful directorial debut that, in spite of fierce competition throughout the decade, stands tall as one of the most memorable anime films of the 1990s.

Jin-Roh is available to purchase on Amazon