Sunday, June 5, 2011

REVIEW: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Ghost in the Shell 2: イノセンス

Released: 2004

Director: Mamoru Oshii

Starring (voice talent):
Akio Ohtsuka
Atsuko Tanaka
Koichi Yamadera
Tamio Oki
Yutaka Nakano

Running time: 100 min.

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

After a gap of nine years, Mamoru Oshii returned to the world of his now-iconic 1995 animé "Ghost in the Shell." But "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" was not approached as a conventional sequel, and in Japan it is simply known as "Innocence," the other, longer title having been tacked onto it for marketing purposes. Indeed, the film works wonderfully as a stand-alone episode in the futuristic odyssey based on Masamune Shirow’s manga, and shows Oshii charting it into fascinating new territory with a palpable sense of creative freedom.

"Innocence" drops back in on Batou, the burly cyborg detective of the elite Section 9 unit. His partner from the previous film, the formidable Major Motoko Kusanagi, is still lost in the vast information wilderness of the Net. Batou is teamed with a new partner, the down-to-earth Togusa, to investigate a series of murders committed by gynoids (robots made to resemble young girls for sexual purposes) against their owners. A closer look at the activities of Locus Solus, the company that makes the gynoids, brings Batou and Togusa into the midst of a scheme involving the yakuza, pitting them against a shadowy network of deviousness and deception.

While appropriately intriguing and well deployed, the mystery framework ultimately serves as a gateway to deeper matters for Oshii to present to his audience. Even more so than the first film, "Innocence" quite directly approaches the philosophical dilemmas involved in the relationship between humans and robots. The phenomenon of robots protesting against becoming obsolete; the question of whether the gynoids, in causing themselves to explode after their attacks, are committing suicide or merely self-destructing; a consideration of the imperfection of humans pitted against the flawless yet soulless existence of dolls – the film weaves and wanders between such curious topics through several engrossing passages of dialogue. Similarly, it is packed with an impressive amount of quotations that spark even more ideas and do much to illustrate the various concepts being addressed. Oshii was apparently inspired to incorporate the rich selection of quotes by no less a filmmaker than Jean-Luc Godard, who is himself known for his encyclopedic embrace of literature, philosophy and other media in his work. This unlikely influence gives a strong clue towards just how intellectually ambitious "Innocence" is.

As in "Ghost in the Shell," "Innocence" dedicates a generous amount of its running time to character and mood. The uneasy partnership between Batou and Togusa alone offers an interesting dynamic throughout the story as the latter often voices his disapproval of the former’s at-times dangerous methods and recognizes all too clearly that he can never hope to replace the Major. The stoic, confident Batou is highly compelling to watch as the main character, whether he is infiltrating a nest of yakuza thugs, calmly collecting information for the case or, best of all, quietly relaxing in his apartment with his pet basset hound. "Innocence" comes generously laced with other such moments in which the detail and character of its world are given the highest priority. Take for instance the calm driving scene in which an old-fashioned car glides through the neon-lit darkness of the night, a jazz tune playing on its radio. Or the majestic parade in which towering floats and masked figures drift between even taller skyscrapers as yellow flower petals fall from above (a sequence that apparently took a year to complete). Or the gargantuan, cathedral-like headquarters for Locus Solus, surrounded by streams of white birds.

As one might guess from the above descriptions, the quality of the animation seen in "Innocence" is absolutely stunning, far surpassing the first film. Carefully using computer-generated imagery for certain scenes, Oshii and his animation team totally succeed in creating a vivid, colorful realm of imagery that all but demands to be fully studied and savored through repeated viewings.

Interestingly, "Innocence" doesn’t contain all that many action sequences – though this should be seen not as a reason for complaint, but instead as yet another indicator of the film’s unique, surprising qualities. Packed with generous amounts of tour-de-force scenes, compelling characters and food for thought, it deserves full recognition as a triumph of artistry and ambition.

Read more by Marc Saint-Cyr at his blog

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