The Week in Review: Watchdog of Hell trilogy

When I first finished Jin-roh: The Wolf Brigade years ago, I thought that was the end of the story. I think many people had a similar thought. It would be a few years until I learned that Jin-roh is actually part of a much bigger story called the Kerberos Saga and Jin-roh is part of a movie trilogy called Watchdog of Hell. Chronologically, the order of the trilogy is Jin-roh: The Wolf Brigade, StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cop, and then The Red Spectacles. Relevant to the trilogy is a manga called Kenrou Densetsu.

The Kerberos Saga tells the story of a unit called the Metropolitan Police (“Metro police”) and the Special Unit aka the Kerberos. The Metro police was created to curb a growing threat of crime in the capital. Among these criminals are a group collectively called the Sect. However, despite one’s impressions from the premise, the story is not really about cops fighting crime. After watching all of these films together and reading the manga, Watchdog of Hell to me is an existentialist adventure that only Mamoru Oshii could create. This is a story about searching for purpose and freedom in a hostile and changing world.

For a long-running series this is the closest one could get to a pure Mamoru Oshii story. Most of the creative talent behind everything in the Kerberos Saga is Mamoru Oshii; the man is either writing the story, directing the production, or both. Almost everything in the Kerberos Saga was fiddled with or created by Oshii. It differs from a series like Patlabor, which was made by a collaborative group of five called HEADGEAR, or Ghost in the Shell, which began as a manga by Masamune Shirow. Kerberos is truly Mamoru Oshii’s brainchild.

Like all of Oshii’s films, Watchdog of Hell is very much an audiovisual experience told through Oshii’s monologues and Kenji Kawai’s signature music. These films are scarce with action sequences and shootouts, but are abundant with scenic montages, sometimes accompanied with dialogue, and long takes. The lack of shootouts might disappoint some viewers because the protective armor used by the Special Unit–featuring their signature red eyes, black gas masks, and giant machine guns–designed by Yutaka Izuchi are quite cool.

Watchdog of Hell uses the tale of Little Red Riding Hood as inspiration to create an allegory about a changing world. In Jin-roh, the characters Kazuki Fuse and Kei Amemiya are representative of the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood respectively. Amemiya is the Little Red Riding Hood because that is what they call her in the movie, but Fuse’s representation as the Big Bad Wolf is not as explicit. First, we have the movie’s title, jin roh, which is Japanese for werewolf (literally meaning, “man wolf”). Second, Fuse is in numerous occasions juxtaposed with wolves. Finally, we have the final sign: Fuse’s exclusion at the end of the film. One of the beliefs regarding the metamorphosis into a werewolf is that those who are excommunicated, that is, excluded, from the Roman Catholic Church turn into werewolves1. The opening text from Jin-roh makes it clear that Fuse and his comrades are being banished (see image below). At the surface level, Jin-roh is a story heavily inspired by Little Red Riding Hood; however, it is also used as a means to explore the transformation of a society, because of the banishment of the Kerberos.

opening to jin-roh

While these two characters are representative of the Little Red Riding Hood tale, Jin-roh is also a tale of a changing society and Oshii uses the Little Red Riding Hood tale as a framework to tell it. As the violence in the capital is only made worse by the ruthlessness and insubordination of the Kerberos, the government in Tokyo decides to abolish the Kerberos. Originally created to protect the powers of their masters, they are eventually perceived as a threat to their masters. This was discussed extensively in the manga:

Kenrou Densetsu v01 c02 - 059

As the times change, the Kerberos have lost their purpose. In chapter 2 of the manga Kenrou Densetsu, a pilot named Hachirou Kishu is telling a mechanic about a recurring dream he has. In this dream, Kishu is chasing something. When the mechanic asks Kishu what he was chasing, Kishu cannot remember. The mechanic simply says, “Thought so.” The metaphor is obvious: Kishu is chasing something but there is nothing to chase. In other words, he has lost his purpose.

Kishu’s dream applies not only to himself, but to the entire Special Unit. In StrayDog, the sequel to Jin-roh, the members of the Kerberos are compared to dogs that have been rejected by their masters. Much of the early film is devoted to a man named Inui and his struggle to find purpose in life. Inui thinks that if he finds his commander, Koichi, then he can find a purpose:

Koichi: You got out of jail amazingly quick.
Inui: I was given a separate trial and was a well-behaved and model prisoner. After I was paroled, I forged a passport and flew here.
Koichi: It was just because you had something to tell me.
Inui: I just wanted to ask you, what should I do from now on?
Koichi: I don’t have any right to give you a command now.

Inui was given a new life to start in Japan, but instead he chose to forge a passport and fly to Taiwan to look for his former commander. He is, as the movie puts it, a stray dog and is on the search for a new master. His purpose is to serve, but he lost that purpose when he lost his master. He is purposeless now, just like Kishu.

If the Special Unit is the “watchdog of hell” then what happened to their duty to guard the entrance to Hades like the Greek hellhound Cerberus2? I have mentioned that society is changing within the Kerberos Saga timeline, but I have not said exactly what is happening. This is where things start to get fuzzy. Oshii is not particularly specific about those details and only offers implications. In The Red Spectacles, the main character Koichi meets a main named Ginji in a stand-and-eat soba shop. Ginji tells Koichi about the last two years, “Both the town and the people have changed. And so have I. ‘Ginji the moon-viewing’ became just plain old Ginji when ‘moon-viewing’ disappeared from the menu. Yet, as soon as the sun sets, I find myself coming to a place like this. Not being able to forget the taste of the past.” Something has happened to the Japan that Koichi once knew, but we never truly understand what happened. Ginji seems to imply that the change was a bad thing. Perhaps he is referring to the banishment of the Kerberos. Either way, something in society changed that caused the banishment of the Kerberos.

Details about the beginnings of the postwar Japan are also vague and even contradictory. In the beginning of Kerberos, we learn that Japan was defeated in World War 2 by a foreign country and their atomic weaponry. Who is this foreign country, exactly? There are two likely candidates, but that is where we see the contradictions. The first candidate is the Third Reich. This is implied by the German weaponry used by the Special Unit, such as their machine guns and their armored cars. The armored cars used by the Special Unit look very similar to the German SdKfz 222 armored car used in World War 2. This likelihood of it being Germany was further strengthened by a fan made video called Images of the Last Battalion (see video below). Supposedly, it is based upon a radio drama written by Mamoru Oshii that puts details into the early postwar Japan. However, there is no English sources from which I can rely upon.

The second candidate is the United States, which is the historical occupier in the immediate postwar Japan era. Ginji and his associates, a group called the fast-food grifters, were given a spin-off called Tachiguishi Retsuden. Tachiguishi Retsuden begins with the occupation of Japan at the end of World War 2. This image below from Tachiguishi Retsuden, I think, explains everything.

cd1.avi_snapshot_00.49_[2013.12.08_23.56.46]

That is United States Army General Douglas MacArthur overlaid on an American flag. If Germany is the one that occupies Japan, then why is General MacArthur being shown in an explanation about the occupation of Japan? If that is not convincing, then why are American soldiers patrolling the streets?

cd1.avi_snapshot_02.24_[2013.12.20_15.39.43]

Could it be that Tachiguishi-Retsuden is not related at all to the Kerberos Saga? That is not true, either. Ginji the moon-viewing is in both Tachiguishi and The Red Spectacles. As mentioned earlier, Ginji knows Koichi. On the left is a shot from The Red Spectacles and on the right is a shot from Tachiguishi-Retsuden.

Nevertheless, I do not think that knowing who occupies Japan is even important. The Kerberos Saga is a story about the affects of a changing society on society’s vanguards. The Special Unit functioned as the guardians of society, but the world changed and their purpose was lost. The Special Unit resisted change and failed because of the imprisonment of the entire Special Unit and the deaths of Inui and Koichi Todome. All facets of our world are jumbled into an ever-changing torrent and dealing with constant change is sometimes not easy. However, the world does not wait for us. Instead of resisting change, as the Kerberos did, we should be adapting to it.

Sources

  • ^ 1: Jacques-Lefèvre, Nicole. “Such an impure, cruel, and savage beast…” Werewolves, Witches, and Wandering Spirits: Traditional Belief and Folklore in Early Modern Europe, Ed. Kathryn A. Edwards. Kirksville: Truman State University Press, 2002. 192. Print.
  • ^ 2: Kerberos is the Latin form of the Greek word Cerberus.

Information about the movies discussed

If you are interested in watching these movies, then please read on. I have compiled information about the movie’s production staff and cast. I talk about them briefly here.

Jin-roh: The Wolf Brigade

Production Staff

Directed by Hiroyuki Okiura
Written by Mamoru Oshii

Jin-roh is the directorial debut for Hiroyuki Okiura. His next job as a director would not be until A Letter to Momo. He is still an active animator and his recent involvement includes works like Evangelion 3.33: You Can (not) Redo and Paprika.

Mamoru Oshii, of course, wrote this movie, as he writes almost all of the Kerberos material.

Cast

Yoshikazu Fujiki as Kazuki Fuse
Sumi Mutoh as Kei Amemiya

Jin-roh: The Wolf Brigade seems to be the big role for both of these two. Yoshikazu Fujiki plays Inui in StrayDog.

StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cop

Production Staff

Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Written by Mamoru Oshii
Music by Kenji Kawai
Film editor Seiji Morita
Cinematography Yousuke Mamiya

This movie is the first that credits Mamoru Oshii as the sole writer (this film series was made backwards, so The Red Spectacles is the first one made and Jin-roh is the last one made). Kazunori Itou was credited as co-writer in The Red Spectacles, but I do not think he does any work on the Kerberos franchise after the manga.

Kenji Kawai does the soundtrack and he would do the music for many more of Oshii’s movies (I think all of them).

Cast

Shigeru Chiba as Koichi Todome
Yoshikazu Fujiki as Inui
Takashi Matsuyama as Hayashi AKA Man in White
Eaching Sue as Tang Mie

Shigeru Chiba is an extremely experienced voice actor and actor. Two minor roles that I find interesting were, he plays a mechanic, Shigeo Shiba, in the Patlabor series, and he also has a small part as a historian in Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Perhaps his most famous role would be as Buggy the Clown in One Piece.

Yoshikazu Fujiki is not as experienced. His most recent role was in the 2009 live-action movie Assault Girls, which I will not be seeing (maybe). His most famous role is Kazuki Fuse in Jin-roh: The Wolf Brigade.

Takashi Matsuyama works in both voice acting and acting. He plays Takeo Saeki in The Grudge, which I will never see. He provides his voice for dubbing many foreign films, such as Man of Steel and Speed Racer. He is also the voice for Fuzzy Lumpkins.

Eaching Sue, to my knowledge, has not done anything before or after StrayDog.

The Red Spectacles

Production Staff

Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Written by Mamoru Oshii
Kazunori Itou
Music by Kenji Kawai
Film editor Seiji Morita
Cinematography Yousuke Mamiya

This was written by Mamoru Oshii and Kazunori Itou. This, I think, would be the starting point of many further collaborations between the two. Both Oshii and Itou would work together in the group HEADGEAR that would produce the Patlabor franchise.

Kenji Kawai does the soundtrack, again.

Cast

Shigeru Chiba as Koichi Todome
Hideyo Amamoto as Moongaze Ginji
Tessho Genda as Bunmei Muroto

Shigeru Chiba is present in this movie again as Koichi Todome. As the movie becomes more surreal towards the end, Tessho Genda performs a short dance that freaks out Chiba. I wonder what each of them thought about that. Oshii tends to have his characters do bizarre things sometimes.

Hideyo Amamoto works mostly in live-action. He has been in Kamen Rider as Dr. Shinigami and has been in many of the Godzilla movies.

Tessho Genda plays Balgus in Vision of Escaflowne, Van’s mentor. He also plays Dan Dastun, the Military Police major and former colleague of Roger Smith, in The Big O. Unfortunately, I have not seen the original Japanese dub of The Big O because the English dub is so darn good. Lastly, he played Karl Gustav Kempff in Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

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3 thoughts on “The Week in Review: Watchdog of Hell trilogy

  1. Mazryonh

    “I do not think that knowing who occupies Japan is even important.”
    This isn’t the only work of Japanese fiction that consciously omits details about the larger situation in Japan, though it is probably one of the earlier ones. If you’ve read the bestselling manga series Saishuu Heiki Kanojo or seen its anime adaptation, you’ll find that the ongoing war involving Japan and its land in its backstory is barely covered. Foreign invasion forces are sometimes shown in that series, but never with much consistency and and the larger geopolitical situation is never examined. This didn’t hurt that manga series’ success, admittedly, since it was about a doomed love story.
    Still, the use of German WWII weaponry and the fact that America conquered Japan doesn’t make much sense, assuming WWII in the Kerberos Saga went similar to how it did in reality. Germany and its war materiel didn’t have a major presence in East Asia or close to East Asia for its armaments to have a major presence in Japan, I would think. The real-life answer is that Mamoru Oshii loves the look of that era’s German weaponry, but does he give an in-universe reason for its prevalence in Japan?
    Also baffling to me is Mamoru Oshii’s continued focus on fast food, specifically the Japanese kind served at “no seating provided” places where you stand and eat it. You don’t see this in Stray Dog: Kerberos Panzer Cops since that film takes place almost entirely in Taiwan, but from the few online clips I can find show that fast food still has a bit of a presence there. Did Oshii say in an interview that he relied a lot on “Stand and Eat” places for his food before achieving fame and acclaim, or something similar?
    Since these movies are hard to come by outside of Japan nowadays, I’d like to know if could you tell me just what was the impetus for the Kerberos Riot we see in Stray Dog. It would take quite an incident for this kind of armed group to violently rebel, instead of being reassigned where their penchant for overwhelming force would be more useful. I have to wonder if someone at the top of the Kerberos organization liked gunning down poorly-armed resistance groups and protesters too much to stop simply because he was told to (and because in reality, simply using overwhelming force to eliminate dissidents/rebels from your own constituents/subjects usually just gets the populace to hate you even more).

    Reply
    1. optimalexplosion Post author

      Whoa bro, thanks for the comment!

      For your first point, WW2 did go a bit differently. Supposedly, Germany conquered the USSR because of the Kerberos armor that they developed (they basically won the Battle of Stalingrad with it). The fuzzy part is what happens to Japan. If it were occupied by Germany, then that leads me to wonder why Germany went to war with Japan in WW2 (maybe that whole honorary Aryan thing was temporary). If it were the USA, then that kinda makes sense, but it does not explain why Japan has Nazi technology with the USA as occupiers. The only possible explanation I can think of would be if Nazi Germany never declared war on the USA after Pearl Harbor. That allows the USA to occupy Japan, and it allows the Japanese government to buy weapons from Germany since, you know, the Japanese are former allies and the USA did not go to war with Germany.

      The whole fast food thing (or, more specifically, food fast grifters) is a bit odd. It plays a much more prominent role in The Red Spectacles, and obviously it is front and center in Tachigui Retsuden. It tends to take rebellious symbolism, because rarely do these food fast grifters ever pay for their food. Further, these areas can be convenient meeting places for would-be revolutionaries. Part of it also symbolizes the changing times, because these food establishments tend to be influenced by foreign countries (Moongaze Ginji in The Red Spectacles talks about how the food is different) and was even outright banned by the Japanese government of the Kerberos Saga. In a way, it is more a civilian, down-to-earth look at cultural change. Interestingly, I was watching a documentary on GMOs the other day. Much of the arguments against GMOs, particularly in Europe, was that changing food ultimately means changing culture. Food plays a much more prominent role in culture in Europe, and food is taken much more seriously there than in the USA. Perhaps the same could be said about Japan? As for whether or not Mamoru Oshii has a personal connection to fast food, I cannot say because I do not know.

      Information on the impetus for the Kerberos Riot is vague. I have basically looked at everything available in English for the Kerberos Saga. Two important pieces of media, I think, are not available in their entirety to me: the radio drama that the Last Battalion is based upon, and the manga. If you have seen Jin-roh, then it must be obvious to you that political intrigue plays an important role in the Kerberos Saga. Symbolically, the Kerberos Riot is consistent with the resistance to change that I discussed throughout this article. However, why did it happen in terms of plot? In other words, what was the narrative catalyst for the Riot? As you said, the Kerberos were quite criticized for using overwhelming force for the enemy they were fighting. Second, as was seen in the manga page I posted, the Kerberos were under heavy suspicion that they were trying to become a force on the same level as the Army. Perhaps they had power designs. I do not know for sure. The manga was made in parts, and only the first part is available in English. As the story progresses, we get more and more hints that political forces are moving against the Kerberos (examples include terrorism and assassination). As I said, part of it is the Kerberos stepping outside of their authority (in Jin-roh, there was that big fuss about how the Kerberos went into the sewers when they had no authority to be there – not only did they disobey orders, but they caused damage, which happens a lot when they get involved in things they shouldn’t). However, those moves are never executed in the first part. The story of the Kerberos Riot, and the catalyst you are wondering about, are probably in the later parts of the manga. FYI, that radio drama I mentioned earlier would explain much about WW2 and the occupation of Japan.

      Reply
      1. Mazryonh

        You’re welcome. I found this particular blog entry via a google search, actually. I’m glad this blog is still active, anyway.
        Your conjectures seem reasonable, though I have to wonder if Oshii doesn’t like Fast Food Burger Joints much (according to the trailers for Tachiguishi Retsuden there are parts that parody that newer kind of Fast Food establishment). Maybe Oshii misses the old “no seating provided” places that much.
        If changes to food result in changes to culture, can you think of what kind of tangible changes would result if the following happened? A bowl of Japanese Ramen is certainly less portable than a hot dog, but I fail to see how it would actually change culture if everyone in America started eating Ramen or “Moongaze Soba” from street vendors instead of Hot Dogs, for instance.
        So the government thought that the Kerberos might turn their MG42s against them rather than the terrorists? What stopped the Kerberos from simply toning down their use of violence, then? Is that an unanswered question in the series? It’s much too bad that so little background story info is available in English, frankly.
        I don’t know if you read about this sort of thing, but Oshii’s vision of police becoming more and more militaristic was prophetic in one way. Many police units in America are starting to be decked out in military-grade hardware, though of course their version of body armour doesn’t look anything like Protect Gear. There’s been talk that they’ve been too quick to “go tactical” and use overwhelming force, though obviously not with long bursts of automatic weaponry like the Panzer Cops did.
        The Kerberos Saga is certainly not built to be a “mass market” series because the mental “entry cost” is fairly high. That’s to be expected when you get non-sensical slapstick scenes like the following:

        And then you have long takes where nothing much happens, like in Stray Dog:

        The Public Security Force didn’t even ditch their white face paint until Jin-Roh either.
        Do you think that Stray Dog could have been given a bit more mass appeal though? I feel that more scenes with the signature Protect Gear could have been included in the form of flashbacks (perhaps via Inui’s on-screen nightmares) showing him reliving Panzer Cop operations he performed with Koichi. That would have been one way to show just how much of a betrayal the Panzer Cops saw Koichi’s abandonment of them at the end of the Kerberos Riot, and more action scenes interspersed with the contemplative scenes to keep the audience interested, rather than stuffing all the action at the beginning and the end.

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