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Andrew Osmond fights his bestial urges…

Loups GarousIn an anti-septic future society, you’re always being watched for your own good, but with no-one to call a real friend. Humans harbour bestial urges, ready to spatter synthetic sidewalks with blood. A quartet of teen investigators search for serial killers, who might already have them on their hitlist. Oh, and don’t forget the funky singing schoolgirls!

Loup-Garous, a feature film from Production I.G., is a dystopian murder mystery. It’s set in a near future Japan, which at first doesn’t look that different from the present. In the words of director Junichi Fujisaki, the film’s approach is to depict familiar things – normal-looking houses, vehicles and buildings – and then put in elements we don’t recognise. Hazuki (the viewpoint character, though maybe not the main one), seems a normal girl, but she lives alone in a wholly automated house, eating synthetic food, and occasionally talking with her uncle through a video link. She has a ‘communication disorder,’ preferring to frame the world through screens; even when she’s outside, her eyes are fixed on her portable monitor.

Not that Hazuki wants to go out much, as there are serial killers on the prowl. Of course, there wouldn’t be a story if she stayed safely coddled at home. One night, she’s startled by the appearance of Mio, a far livelier lass who shuts off surveillance and yanks Hazuki into the night. In short order, the confused girl is introduced to Myao, an exotic girl who lives ‘unregistered’ by society and fights gangster goons trafficking outcasts like herself. And then, there’s Ayumi, an androgynous girl who fascinates Hazuki –

Hold on a moment. Ayumi is a girl?

Well, yes, though it confused the American translators of the film. Both the dub and sub refer to Ayumi as a boy – most obviously the dub, which has her voiced by a male actor! – but the Japanese extras make it clear she’s female. We’re left to wonder what most confused the translators – Ayumi’s androgynous looks, or the crush Hazuki has on her? Or maybe it’s the things Ayumi does later in the film, which aren’t at all ladylike…

Loup-Garous is a film about nature versus social repression, and the beasts in us that fight to be free the more society buttons them up. (The film’s name, Loup-Garous, is an old name for a werewolf, the ultimate ‘beast inside.’) Loups-Garous is also a piece of SF that imagines a future so dehumanised that the things we live for – having friends, making choices, enjoying the world outside our doors – are being bred out of the young.

You could make connections to modern Japan, where there are many news-stories of people shutting themselves away from the world, refusing to leave their houses and rooms. The name for the condition is hikikomori, suffered by the hapless hero of Welcome to the NHK and the ubergeek ‘Pants’ in Eden of the East. You could also take the film as a critique of Japanese urban life, cut off from natural cycles, where people live in a mass of millions of strangers. The girls in Loup-Garous are drawn to look at the sea, one of the few ‘wild’ elements in their mechanically regimented world.

But it’s a classic, universal theme. You might equally link Loup-Garous to Ray Bradbury’s beautiful American short story ‘The Pedestrian,’ where a man in the future is arrested just for taking a walk. There are also many parallels between Loup-Garous and another new anime, Fractale, set in a far more fanciful future, based on the exotic realm of Ireland.

Interestingly, director Fujisaki himself compares Loup-Garous to the film Stand By Me, though with a quartet of girls rather than boys! Certainly, the teens similarly grow through their (sometimes traumatic) experiences, and through what they learn about each other. But they also have something to bond over – old video films of a guitar-playing girl band, which Mio adores.

The girl band wasn’t in the original Loup-Garous novel (by Natsukiko Kyogoku). It’s an obvious marketing device for the film, sung by a real girl-group, Scandal, who provided the band’s moves though motion-capture. Quite possibly, the filmmakers were swayed by a certain anime girl band who’ve been rather popular in recent years. Then again, the idea that even in dark future dystopias, girls still dream of being in old-fashioned rock bands is rather charming. If Wall-E could be hooked on Broadway…

Loups-Garous is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.

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