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
Subverting Expectations Before It Was Cool
by Bolt Vanderhuge
Red Spectacles (1987), along with its sequel/prequel, is not well known even among anime fans, even those who are aware of the last of the “Kerboros Saga” films, Jin-Roh. Its director, Mamoru Oshii, is generally better known for his animated works, especially the 1995 adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, the production of which is actually the reason he didn’t end up directing Jin-Roh. More recently, however, people have been rediscovering what was Oshii’s first non-animated film, perhaps thanks to reviewers like yours truly retroactively throwing a spotlight on it. The problem is, a lot of people go into this film expecting it to be like Jin-Roh, and all the marketing for this movie really doesn’t help much in that regard.
Even the Wikipedia article would doesn’t reveal the fact that this film is as far from Jin-Roh as one can get while still being in the same alternate-history universe. I will try my best to explain, but one cannot truly have this film explained to them; it must be experienced.
The first step to understanding this film, is realizing that it’s not straightforward, at all. There are layers to it, and it’s difficult to realize it the first time you watch it, other than the obvious contrast of the segments that are in color with those that are in black and white. And the majority of the film is in black and white. The basic plot of film is that the “Special Unit,” created to combat a rising crime rate in an alternate-history Tokyo that had been occupied by Germans rather than by Americans, gained enemies among the Metropolitan Police and was overthrown when a new regime came to power. The “Kerberos Riot” resulted when the Special Unit refused to stand down, but after a siege it surrendered. However, senior detective Kōichi Todome, managed to escape Japan, and returns to Tokyo after three years in hiding, only to almost immediately draw attention from the government. However, it doesn’t take long for things to get stranger and stranger, and it becomes impossible to take seriously, as absurdist humor takes over the film.
It is better to think of this film as more of an exploration of concepts than as a narrative that is meant to be followed and understood by the audience. If anything, I’d say the entire point of the film is for the audience to figure it out for themselves. It’s difficult to determine what even actually happened in the “real world” as portions of the film are undeniably only taking place in Kōichi’s mind. It’s been suggested that the color portions of the film are the only “real” parts, but there are at least two different versions of Kōichi’s escape in color, so which is real? And who is the mysterious woman who keeps appearing throughout the film? Everything is pretty much left up to you to decide for yourself, along with whatever it was that Oshii was trying to tell you with this film.
All that can be said for certain is that this film is well worth watching and experiencing for yourself, and that no brothers or friends exist in a small restroom.
Fuck Yeah! Look it up!
The Red Spectacles (1987)
Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Distributed by Omnibus Promotion
Ungrounded Jin-Roh retread misses the point
by Bolt Vanderhuge
When I heard that there was going to be another addition to the Kerberos Saga, a live-action movie made in South Korea, I was cautiously optimistic. While plenty of my fellow weebs know of Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, most don’t realize it’s actually the third adaptation of an alternate-history manga written by Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, 1995). It’s set before the two live-action films, both directed by Oshii. Thing is, these films are not like Jin-Roh.Continue reading