In the years following the Second World War Japan suffers a series of economic and social crises. With violence on the streets the government establishes an elite Capitol Police, heavily armed and armoured to counter the threats from various terrorist groups. Among these groups the most dangerous are the Sect, a band of revolutionaries. Kazuki Fuse (Yoshikatsu Fujiki), a member of the Capitol Police, runs down a young girl with a bomb yet refuses to shoot her. The girl detonates the bomb, killing herself and injuring Fuse. As he recovers after this narrow escape, Fuse’s superiors question him about the incident and force him to re-train. Fuse later meets Kei (Sumi Muto) at the grave of the young woman, who tells him that she is the girl’s sister. Kei and Fuse’s relationship develops, with both harbouring secrets that if revealed could jeopardize their safety.
“Jin-Roh” is part of a larger franchise including films, radio plays, and manga, devised by writer Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell). An exposition heavy preamble means that those unfamiliar with the rest of the series will easily follow the story, and “Jin-Roh” can be enjoyed as a stand-alone film. It takes place in an alternate history, one in which the Third Reich won the Second World War and occupied Japan. This is evident in the authoritarian designs and naming of the Panzer Corps. The film does a great job of depicting this alternative 1950’s, with a bleak cityscape infused with post-war noir aesthetics. The grimy streets and subdued colour palette create a sense of deprivation drawing on real-world environments but with anachronistic twists, such as the black, science-fiction inspired design of the Kerberous division. While Oshii clearly delights in world-building, and includes background about the political and judicial organization of this society, the central plot is a strikingly human affair. The relationship between Fuse and Kei is motivated by genuine emotion and believable threats based on their beliefs. There are occasional bursts of bloody violence, with bullets tearing through people, and the militarised police raiding terrorist hideouts, but for the most part it is a quiet, contemplative drama focussed on the turmoil that our protagonist is going through.
“Jin-Roh” questions the morality of its characters, putting their actions under the microscope and asking the audience to consider carefully their own notions of right and wrong. There is no black and white in the Capitol Police and the terrorists, and the film deliberately blurs the lines between their actions, with plotting on both sides. The second strand of the film concerns human nature, in particular the character of Fuse. Fuse’s vision of wolves viciously tearing a person apart seems to be an echo of his underlying nature, a violent individual further dehumanised in this dog-eat-dog society. The film’s bleak assessment is that he is not able to shake this predatory inclination. Whether it is society that has made him a monster, or simply that the society finds value in these latent atavistic tendencies, it makes for a uniquely interesting lead. A fantastic alternate history noir thriller with genuine depth of character and theme.