Wookiee Hut Animated Movie Reviews presents:
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Animated Movie Review by Diana DeRiggs

Author / Creator: Masamune Shirow

Director / Script / Screenplay: Mamoru Oshii

Animation / Production: Production I.G., Studio Ghibli

Music: Kenji Kawai

Publisher/Distributor: Go Fish Pictures

Rating: Super Star Destroyer

This is the first animé to be entered into the Cannes Film Festival and sadly, the supposedly artsy Cannesites didn't get it ... they thought it was "a cartoon trying to be serious." Yes, it is an animation, and it IS serious. Thankfully, the reviews of the movie — which opened this past weekend — unanimously agree that director Oshii's genius shines through, incorporating visually beautiful computer-animated graphics, rich in detail and movement and graphically the most stunning thing you will have ever seen. There are somewhat mixed reviews concerning the story, but the the negative aspects of reviews tend to be divided between "wanted more action and gunplay" and "I'm an undereducated buffoon and I don't know who Descartes or Confucius are, so I'll just whine about it."

Once again, Ghost in the Shell presents a package that is adventurous; not only is it a great animé (a term which once strictly referred to serialized episodic animated films) movie, but expands your mind by spouting philosophy and creating tension through gunplay and hacking. You come away from this movie thinking ... which upsets many moviegoers, of course. Since when is entertainment about thinking and feeling once the film stops?

A new type of android — called "gynoids" because they are built to provide certain services which require "gyn" — has been created and distributed on a prototype test basis to a number of important men. Alas, something goes very wrong, and the "Hadaly" line of robots start to murder their masters, before self-destructing themselves. These robots, like every robot since Asimov defined the basic rules of robotics, are programmed never to harm humans — that is the realm of humans and cyborgs (part machine, part human) — but this violation can come about when viruses invade the robot brains, or they are hacked and controlled remotely, or when their processors degenerate through disease or neglect. In this futureworld, humans grow tired of androids, often discarding them. The abandoned machines sometimes go berserk through neglect and if they become derelict. The sad thing is that these mechanized dolls look and act human — we are their gods, creating a being in our own image. The only thing preventing discarding such beings or ill-treating them is their lack of a soul — a "ghost."

Yet when Batou — of the elite Section 9 crime unit — is sent on a case where a gynoid kills two young cops as well as her politically important master, he detects the presence of a ghost in the porcelain-skinned doll. He hears her pleading with him, "Help me! Help me!" as she pulls herself apart with her fingers in an insane frenzy.

It has been a few years since Batou's Section 9 partner "disappeared into the 'net" and his boss, the aging, frailer looking Aramaki, sees signs of Major Motoko Kusanagi's discontent in Batou. He assigns a flesh-and-blood human to partner with the cybernetic Batou; the young Togusa complains that he does not have cyborg parts or cybernetic brain, how can he understand and thus help or work with Batou? Aramaki tells him, "One does not have to be Caesar to understand Caesar." Togusa is also told that he was assigned to succeed the Major as Batou's partner because the Major had hand-picked Togusa from the police force to join Section 9 — an unprecedented selection. Besides, he's the only one without cyborg parts in the whole unit, thus he can't be partnered with anyone like him, anyway.

Ostensibly, this is about the merging of man and machine — throughout, there is a concern that the only thing differentiating the two is the presence of a "ghost." Throughout the movie, we meet men who have chosen to place their ghosts in a doll, not even concerned with realistic human movement. We see a funeral pyre for discarded dolls — eerie because of how human the dolls look. The question reverberates: "Why is it that humans are obsessed with creating other humans?" One character equates it with having a child — a means of creating more of yourself.

Can dolls develop a ghost? Do they require and deserve rights as humans? Again, this is an ongoing question — what is the definition of human? Humans kept as slaves or children are routinely deprived of human rights simply because though they look human, in human minds, they are nothing of the sort. They are made by humans, yet are definitely not humans. So why even consider the "humanity" of a doll or android, no matter how useful, responsible, or pleasurable they may be, when we cannot even grant real humans the distinction of humanity?

If that android was truly an android, what is it that Batou heard before he shot the murdering robot in an unmapped alley? And when he loses more and more of his human parts, will he someday not be human? It seems his status is based more on legislation than any measurable reality, and he is indeed entering the depression felt by his beloved and irreplaceable former partner.

If this is too deep for you, you can turn off most of your brain and still enjoy the visual spectacle that is the Ghost in the Shell universe. Oshii is often cited as one of the first and the best in merging digital-, hand-, and computer graphics into one seamless whole. In other movies, he even digitally redrew images in post-productions which were initially drawn by hand. In his way, he is the George Lucas of the animé industry, changing things and changing how they are done. The result will leave your mouth gaping and your lungs gasping for air. It's truly that beautiful.

As noted in the Ghost in the Shell review, Oshii's sets and designs were copied verbatim by the Wachowsky Brothers for The Matrix. It was so obvious that Oshii refuses to take messages from them or to meet them. In this movie, we recognized Coruscant ... but before we accuse Oshii of casting stones, we have to note that he vastly improved on Lucas's original production in TPM: Episode 1. Though this ship sort of resembles the Queen's art nouveau cruiser, it's much more profound. The ship resembles a dragon's head, and has articulated wings for gliding which are used by the likes of NASA, making it look like a predatory raptor. It sails through a mist filled with doves, between ornately sculpted towers and spires. There are long scenes showing the terrible beauty of the city they fly over and through. They are eye candy, in that they stand alone and make you gape and your eyes pop! But they also serve the story by revealing the brooding in Batou's mind, just as the scenes before Kusanagi "dives" in Ghost in the Shell were a window into the Major's ghost.

The background are detailed, colored subtly or garishly, as required by the story. The action elements — including the characters, guns, bombs — are drawn more simply, using flatter colors, even flatter than in the original movie. There is a difference in the colors this time — the set (like the SW prequels, by the way) is lit predominantly at night and at twilight. The way the sun's rays reflect off the surfaces are crafted with a drama all its own. Light and shadow are colored and presented to give incredible depth and texture to the story. It's awesome — a merging of hyper-surrealism and an almost coloring-book or paint-by-numbers style of drawing, and it totally, completely, beautifully works. If anything, it underlines the perception of "reality."

The sound work owes a lot to Star Wars's Ben Burtt, the original sound designer for all the movies. How flying motorcycle styled vehicles sound as they fly, accelerate, land ... it could be a scene out of Star Wars, as it uses so many of the audio cues Burtt had collected and crafted. The music is by Kenji Kawai, who created the music for the original movie, and much of it is reprised here, including the chanting in a sort of Hindu / Buddhist / Chinese / Kyoto manner by women. But he also included more contemporary types of music — slow, smoky jazz melodies, for instance — and many loved the theme song "Follow Me," which played over the end credits. I thought it was a bit too assertive and obvious, but it worked as a song out of Ishikawa's radio as he dropped off Batou at his home, for other reasons. I don't think it's worth buying the soundtrack, though.

The chanting from the first movie accompanied the opening sequence; in Ghost in the Shell, it showed the "birth of a cyborg" — it turned out to be the creation of the Major's "shell." This time, though the creation of a shell is repeated, the process shows the mechanical assembly of the gynoids. Both processes occur in a water-like liquid, allowing for fluid, balletic movement as the cyborg bodies are crafted and reproduced as a series of ballbearings, circuits, wires, shell parts. They are finally pulled from the liquid through an interface liquid, which flashes them for their final "skin" to make them visually human-like.

You cannot afford to blink during this movie. Machines look like animals; animals are actually machines. Networks and firewalls are depicted as very hard-edged visuals. Things seem to move faster there than before.

The version in theaters now is Japanese voiceacting with subtitles beneath. You have to read fast, but you'll get the hang of it. Just remember the rest of the world suffers this when they watch American movies; it's a good thing for us to understand. Given the history of the other efforts, the English voicework will likely stink, so you aren't missing anything by not seeing this movie in English.

The voice actors from the original movie and from the television series Stand Alone Complex are here again. This is important; at least one very important character is only identifiable by voice alone. As before, the actors did a superlative and totally believable job. (They certainly acted a lot better than the wooden performances by the Star Wars prequel actors! I've said it before, but George Lucas would have done better to just admit his movies are animations and forego the live actors.)

My only criticism is that the story's resolution was too "pat" and almost too pedestrian given the philosophical and bioethical questions brought up in the course of the movie. It does answer an important question as to the whereabouts of the Major, but I found that answer rather disappointing ... I mean, duh, of course that's where she is!! It makes one believe that this is the end of the story ... which is really very very disappointing! It seems like unless they start poking into Togusa's head, that's the end of the franchise, movie-wise.

This movie is enjoyable on many levels, no matter where on the spectrum of philosophizing or action or art you are. This is what movies like I, Robot or Metropolis tried to do and failed. If all movies were like Oshii's Ghost in the Shell franchise, we'd be doing a lot more thinking and seeing!

Screenshots from www.production-ig.com and www.production-ig.co.jp

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