Monday, June 27, 2011

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)

Title: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)

Director: Mamoru Oshii


The best of Anime films are philosophical in nature. I’ve noticed that when anime directors talk about their films, they tend to talk about how much of their own life philosophy they have put into them. Miyazaki is one such director; many of his films carry environmentalist messages within them. Miyazaki ’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Princess Mononoke (1997) for example are films that explore themes of man vs. nature and even man vs. the divine. I guess so much time and effort is put into these films, that the filmmakers behind them want to infuse them with something personal, a philosophical fingerprint so to speak. Mamoru Oshii’s films are especially recognized for their philosophical approach towards anime. In fact, as I mentioned in my review for Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995), his films are populated by characters who love to have long philosophical conversations. Ghost in the Shell was a science fiction film that explored themes of existentialism and asked questions like: How can we prove that we exist? Do our memories define us? What defines life? How can we grow and evolve as human beings? And when we are fully in control of our lives, where do we go from there? Important questions in deed. So when I finally decided to give Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence a watch, I immediately wondered what kind philosophical questions Oshii would explore this time around.

If you remember correctly, Ghost in the Shell presented us with the characters of Major Motoko Kusanagi and Batu, both of which belonged to an organization known as ‘Section 9’, an anti-terrorist unit. In that film Major Motoko and Batu were after a computer program known as ‘The Puppet Master’, a program that suddenly turns into a sentient being. The Puppet Master has become aware of its existence and wants to find a way to exist within the real world. The renegade program ends up transferring its consciousness into Major Motoko, who by the end of the film ends up disappearing into the world saying “And where does the newborn go from here? The net is vast and infinite”; then she jumps off a building and disappears into her new life in the real world. On Ghost in the Shell 2, Major Motoko is still at large, living her life somewhere in the real world. The government is still looking for her, but not because they care for her, rather, what they care about is the top secret information she carries in her brain. On this film we focus more on Batu, a couple of years after the events of the first film. He still works for Section 9, but since Major Motoko’s disappearance, he is now working on his own.

Basically, this film is Batu’s show. ‘The Major’ as they refer to Major Motoko Kusanagi (the main character in the first film) functions as more of a guardian angel for Batu. We hear her voice, but we never really see her, at least not in the way we saw her in the first film. ‘Innocence’ focuses on Batu’s investigations concerning a series of murders that have occurred in which sex robots known as ‘gynoids’ have killed their masters. 8 murders have been committed by these cyborgs. The gynoids suddenly go nuts and decide to kill their masters and themselves. Why is this happening? Who is at the root of this? Or is it simply a malfunction? A glitch in their programming? To aid Batu in his investigation, he is assigned a new partner named Togusa; an all too human partner.

I love the first Ghost in the Shell film. I like its deliberately slow pace, its philosophical explorations, its cyberpunk mood, its futuristic landscape and the animation, top notch. But I always felt it was missing something. I felt the story sort of ended too quickly, I needed more of a bang in the last minutes of the film. But aside from that, the first Ghost in the Shell is near perfect to me. So here comes this sequel that completely surpasses the original on all levels. Interesting part about this project is that even though it’s a bigger film, with a bigger budget (reportedly around 20 million dollars) the film still manages to have incredibly intimate and introspective moments, the kind of moments you’d expect from a Mamoru Oshii film. There is this one moment where we see Batu arriving at his apartment, preparing food for his dog and sitting on his couch to relax and contemplate the events of the day, some of the quietest moments in the film; yet incredibly endearing somehow. The relationship and closeness between Batu and his Baset Hound offer us some of the most heartfelt moments in the film. That’s another thing you can expect to see in Oshii’s films, he loves his Baset Hounds and has included them in many of his films in one way or another. On this one the dog is all over the film going as far as forming an important part of the films themes. On this film Oshii puts across the idea that we are all important and alive and part of this world, be it humans or dogs or cyborgs; the ultimate message being coexistence.

Visually speaking, this film is superior to anything that Oshii has ever done. A couple of years ago Oshii decided to take the original Ghost in the Shell and refurbish the visuals by adding and replacing couple of animation sequences which were done with traditional animation with new CGI. In my opinion, that experiment didn’t work very well because the new CGI stood out like a sore thumb against the older animation, that version of Ghost in the Shell was called Ghost in the Shell 2.0, I personally recommend the original version with the traditional animation in it over the new ‘enhanced’ version. On Innocence, Oshii decided to mix both CGI animation with traditional, only this time it worked because it was what was intended for this film from the get go. The result are some of the most beautiful and astonishing images your apt to see in an Anime, these animators really out did themselves in terms of details, one viewing of this film will not be enough to absorb it all. Repeated viewings are certainly recommended. Oshii pushed his team of expert animators to the limit with this film, always giving them a new challenge in terms of what they could do. The DVD extras really go into what the animators had to go through to make this movie, I loved the fact that they interviewed them and asks their opinions on the the whole creative process, it was a real insight. In fact, the making off segments are highly recommended. They follow the whole process of the film up to the part where Mamoru Oshii and his producer travel to France, for the Cannes Film Festival, but more on that in a few moments. 

Their are some scenes in Innocence that evoke scenes from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), an obvious influence over this film. For example the scenes in which Bato and Togusa visit an old city and fly over it on a ship, looking at the city as they flyby, in these instances Oshii takes his time in letting the audience bask in the visuals, same as Ridley Scott did in those first opening moments of Blade Runner, where we could really take in that futuristic landscape of flying cars and interesting architectures. Whole moments are there for us to simply admire and enjoy the artistry with which this film was made. There’s this whole sequence that’s takes place during a parade that’s simply stunning, and when they reach the headquarters of Locus Solus (the company that manufactures the cyborgs) the design in these sequence are also something to be admired. Just be ready for some truly beautiful imagery. 

In Oshii’s own words, this is not your conventional anime film. At it’s core, this is a drama for adults. Oshii hoped that even though the story is aimed at adults, hopefully the younger crowd will find the film appealing as well. But ultimately, Oshii didn’t have kids in mind when he made this one. It’s a film that’s very moody, and quiet at times, Oshii enjoys his intimate quiet moments. His characters don’t have to be going around blowing everything up every five seconds. Characters in an Oshii film feel very real because of this. But don’t confuse this with a boring movie, it has its action packed moments, I think Oshii did a good balancing act between quiet moments and more action packed ones. 

The original Ghost in the Shell was extremely influential on American cinema and apparently, so is this sequel. Their are scenes in Innocence that deal with dreams within dreams, watching these scenes I started to wonder if Nolan had seen this film before he started writing Inception. The similarities between both films are there. This wouldn’t surprise me since Inception has many similarities with the first Ghost in the Shell film as well. It seems to me that Christopher Nolan might be a real Mamoru Oshii fan! Influential or not, the film was well received at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004. It was even nominated for the Palm D’Or award at the festival, an award reserved only for the best film of the year. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence lost the award to Fahrenheit 9/11, but that doesn’t matter, what does matter is that a Japanese animated film was considered one of the best films that year, going up against live action films and documentaries (and even other animated films like Persepolis) so that says a lot about the films quality. This Mamoru Oshii film is animation of the highest caliber. It’s food for the eyes and the mind, don’t miss it.

Rating: 5 out of 5


LLJ said...

A lot of people dislike this film in comparison to the original, but I too actually like this one a bit better. The first film largely dealt with broad, macro issues of man and technology, whereas this film brings those themes down to a more intimate level.

And I feel like Oshii's Sky Crawlers was just another step into his continued progress into the intimate. In some ways, late period Oshii is even comparable to--dare I say it--Terrence Malick in that both are concerned with using big studio budgets as tools for making personal, abstract, intimate films.

Franco Macabro said...

A lot of people might dislike this film because it's very different from the original, its not so cyberpunkish. This one is a bit more laid back, even retro in design.

I applaud directors who take studio money to make art, their should be more of them. Sadly, when a film is art, it doesnt make that much money, and studios dont like to back them for this reason.

The only way directors like Oshii, and Lynch and Gilliam can survive is by making cheaper films that will make money only because they cost so little to make, which is exactly what has been happening with this type of directors. Look at Lynch's Inland Empire (entirely shot on digital cameras) and Gilliam's Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, a far cry from his multi million dollar excesses from the 80's.

Interesting bit of information though, Oshii's producer said that he actually wants to spend more money on Oshii's filmmakings (he spent about 20 million on Innocence) so that people will get to know him and understand him as a filmmaker...even though they lost at Cannes.

A hero never dies said...

Great film and review, although quite significantly different, I love both films. The Japanese absolute edition blu ray of Innocence is truly spectacular!

Franco Macabro said...

I loved the extras on the dvd, it was in depth, it even showed all the actors that did the voices, and how Oshii gathered them to explain to them the mood he was going for with the movie.

Yeah, its true that both Ghost in the Shell films are vastly different, in fact, Oshii has stated that he never intended Innocence to be a straight sequel to Ghost in the Shell, in fact, in Japan the film was simply called Innocence, with out the Ghost in the Shell 2 before it.

I wouldnt be surprised if he added the whole sub plot with The Major simply to make the film more marketable by associating it with the first Ghost in the Shell.

LLJ said...

I have the Bandai DVD and I already think it looks spectacular there, the blu-ray would seem to me like the cherry on top! In fact, I'm quite sure the film would look great on any format it's on anyway, the art and design work on this film is just that vivid.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Sky Crawlers should you get around to it!

Franco Macabro said...

Dont worry LLJ, I got Sky Crawlers lined up for a review.

I agree, Innocence must look even better on Blue Ray. I sadly have not totally given into the Blue Ray thing because you basically have to buy everything again, tv, cables, a blue ray player, plus the blue rays themselves...but I guess I'll eventually give in and buy a blue ray, if it sticks around and doesnt go the way of the Laserdisc.


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