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In a Japan torn apart by riots, an officer from the paramilitary Third Force is almost killed by a suicide bomber from the fanatical Sect. He begins an affair with the bomber's sister, not realizing that they are both pawns in a power game played out by opposing factions in the government.
Scenarist Oshii has tackled this subject several times before-not only in his manga Hellhounds, but also in the live-action spin-offs The Red Spectacles and Stray Dog. However, it is notable that the acclaimed director of Ghost in the Shell should have avoided seeing this particular project through, instead handing it over to the younger Okiura. Although this is Oshii's fourth pass at the same material, it jettisons the authorial input of his Patlabor-cohort Kazunori Ito, leaving a script with a hollow heart. Hellhounds had Inui ("Dog"), an officer who is almost killed by a sly female terrorist. It ended with Inui facing the same foe a second time and losing his life. Jin-Roh replays this story with Fuse (equally punning, since it is made up of the characters for "man" and "dog") unable to shoot one of the Little Red Riding Hood activist girls who transport satchel-charges to the rioters.
Oshii's original script employed the Red Riding Hood analogy throughout, retelling the story sympathetically from the wolf's point of view. Elements of this remain in carefully composed shots of Fuse beneath a full moon, and a meeting-place in front of the wolf-pack display at the museum. Fuse himself has a lupine cast to his features, and, in the finale, the fairy tale's use of disguises as bluff and counterbluff assumes Perfect Blue proportions-within the government, the paramilitary, the elite brigade, and, ultimately, the group that masterminds the whole affair.
Director Okiura, however, does not use the lupine imagery as much as Oshii intended, opting instead for a doomed romance between the softness of the impressionable girl Kei and the impenetrable steel of Fuse's armor. His night-sights are literal rose-tinted glasses through which everything is reduced to straightforward good and evil. In his armor, he can fight the rebels without a thought; out of it, he is a whirl of contradictions. Unfortunately, so is the script, which presents an alternate Japan of the late 1950s, but like Hellhounds and The Red Spectacles before it, fails to explain why. Is it a Japan that was not economically rejuvenated by the Korean War? Or simply a Japan with a few more riots? What do the rioters and the wolf-brigade vigilantes want? What is the mysterious Sect fighting for? Advanced technologies like night-sights and tracers jostle with 1940s gear like Volkswagens and German antitank guns, but why? Jin-roh was premiered abroad long before its Japanese release in early 2000, possibly to drum up "foreign interest" among audiences who would assume that their failure to comprehend the backstory was a cultural problem and not simply lazy plotting-an issue that could be said to haunt the same studio's later Blood. The end result is a skillfully animated but aimless film, with a desperate opening voice-over that tries to explain the foundation of the Third Force, in a failed attempt to convince that this is anything more than a Cold War thriller with a respray. LV