Stephen reviews: Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999)

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade [人狼, Jinrō] (1999)
AKA Man-Wolf (Literal translation of the Japanese title)

Starring Yoshikatsu Fujiki, Sumi Muto, Hiroyuki Kinoshita, Yoshisada Sakaguchi

Directed by Hiroyuki Okiura


This is actually the third film of a trilogy, but before you start walking out on me, you ought to know that the trilogy actually goes in backwards order with the first film taking place after the other two. I had no idea this film was part of a series until I started writing up this review. The first two films, The Red Spectacles in 1987 and Stray Dog: Kerberos Panzer Cops in 1991, were live action, making Jin-Roh the only anime film in the series. It is also the only film not directed by Mamoru Oshii, the creator of the series, though he is best known for directing the 1995 Ghost in the Shell film.

A grim and terrible mood fills this anime. It can’t be called a dystopian future, mainly because it’s not in the future. It does feature an oppressive government regime ruling with its fists over a disenfranchised populace, so I suppose we should call it a dystopian past. Mamoru Oshii, who still wrote the script even if he didn’t direct this time, was politically active in his youth, and this film seems to portray the future he was afraid Japan would turn into. After entering the film industry, Oshii used that feared future as the setting for his series, nevermind that it’s now in the past.

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Stephen reviews: Voices of a Distant Star (2002)

Voices of a Distant Star [ほしのこえ, Hoshi no Koe] (2002)
AKA Voices of a Star

Starring Sumi Muto, Chihiro Suzuki, Donna Burke, Mika Shinohara (original version), Makoto Shinkai (original version)

Directed by Makoto Shinkai


It’s hard to find an anime that can truly be called a low-budget film. You can’t grab a camcorder and some like-minded amateur actors and whip something up over a few weekends for a few thousand bucks. Animation is very labor-intensive work that requires some rather specific, and expensive, tools. Few anime justifiable as a film are ever made on a shoestring budget. And then you want one with an English release? Well, that basically leaves you with Voices of a Distant Star.

The entire production was done by Makoto Shinkai over a seven month period. It’s only a 25 minute film, but the amount of work it must have taken for one man to do it all is staggering. He directed it, he animated it (both the CG and hand-drawn elements), he edited it, he wrote it, he did just about everything in it except the acting. Oh, wait, he did that too for an early production version, and one of the DVD features is to watch the film with his original voice work, where he acted opposite his fiancée as the lead. So really the only thing he didn’t do himself was the music.

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