Just Weird Enough to Not Be Normal
by Bolt Vanderhuge
The Kerberos Saga is the only movie trilogy I can think of that actually moves backward through time in each subsequent sequel, as well as becoming more and more grounded. While almost anything is grounded compared to the film that started it all, The Red Spectacles, the animated film that ends the trilogy, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade sharply contrasts it by being a dead serious look at the alternate history universe created by Mamoru Oshii which features a post WWII fascist Japan that was occupied by Nazi Germany, and follows the exploits of Tokyo’s Public Security Special Unit, which utilize powered armor and tote MG-42s. Part of this contrast is because Oshii did not direct Jin-Roh, as he was busy making Ghost in the Shell at the time, but somehow, StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops manages to fit between the two book-ends to this trilogy by being mostly grounded while still containing plenty of odd, shall we say, “symbolic” elements to it, which often feature red rubber balls to drive home the stray dog theme of the movie, as well as the return of the mime squad from the first movie.
The story also has something of a retcon which changes the circumstances of the Kerberos’ leader’s escape from his besieged headquarters and from Japan altogether thanks to a change in government which saw the Special Unit fall out of favor afterwards. While his two friends are referenced in dialog, Koichi Todome instead makes his helicopter flight out of the country from the roof of Kerboros HQ shortly before it is stormed, ending the siege. The film follows one of his comrades, Inui, shortly after he has been released from prison and placed on parole. Feeling betrayed by his former commander, he begins hunting the man, along with the help of a woman who helped Koichi hide out for a while in Taiwan, named Tang Mie. They eventually do find the man, and this is where the film seems to derail for a bit as they live as something of a throuple for a while.
While this movie is over twenty minutes shorter than The Red Spectacles, it actually feels about an hour longer thanks to the many long sequences that mainly consist of tracking shots and moody music. Anyone familiar with Oshii films might recognize this as something of a common feature in many of his films, which includes the most recent film of his I watched, Assault Girls. On the plus side, this film escaped his later proclivity for using a color filter.
Eventually, everything culminates in an action-packed climax, which involves a shoot-out with our old friends, the mime squad, with some occasional oddball humor being injected into the midst of the battle.
In what is easily the best part of the movie, Inui systematically hunts them all down in an abandoned hotel, thwarting their planned ambush of Koichi by wearing his armored “Protect-Gear,” which is the only remaining set that was unaccounted for following the Kerboros Uprising. However, this does result in a downer ending, which reinforces the theme which runs through all three films about how survival is only possible through following the pack, and stray dogs who are either abandoned by or abandon their master end up dying alone. The ending then leads into the events of The Red Spectacles, but naturally never explains what the deal with that movie was, because Mamoru Oshii wants you to think about his movies, even if this tends to just lead to frustration and confusion.
If you liked the first movie, I’d definitely recommend this sequel/prequel to it, but if you only know about Jin-Roh I’d be more cautious about suggesting you watch it. I’m not even sure if watching The Red Spectacles would be required to understand and/or enjoy this film, and I’ll fully admit that my love for them comes mainly from how weird they are, though admittedly StrayDog is a bit of a slog. I would say, though, that if you’re a fan of Jin-Roh and are just curious about these previous two chapters in what you might not have even realized was a trilogy, that you keep in mind that these movies are very much not like Jin-Roh, so you need to adjust your expectations accordingly, by just not having any.
Maybe Check It Out
StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1991)
Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Distributed by Shochiku Company, Limited