Japanese animation comes in many flavors: manga, anime, and now in recent years computer-generated. However, when looked back upon, there are a few distinct legendary animated films to come from the land of the Rising Sun. Akira, probably the best known anime of all time, and Ghost in the Shell, a film which has spawned numerous comic book series and television adaptations. Now, after 10 years of being absent from the silver screen, director Mamoru Oshii returns with Innocence, the second chapter in the large screen incarnation of this highly imaginative and thought-provoking series.
Set in the year 2032 (28 years after the original), Innocence follows the tale of Batou, a human cyborg law enforcement officer in the government's anti-terrorist organization. Batou and his partner have been assigned to an unusual string of murders involving Gynoids â€" female robots designed specifically to provide sexual pleasure to their male owners. These robots have been malfunctioning and in many cases attacking and killing their masters. During the course of their investigation, Batou begins to suspect the involvement of a higher government agency, as all of their clues lead to dead ends even when trying to gain the proper clearance to talk to the company that makes the robots. Batou's suspicions become correct and the two finally discover a way to track down the power behind the murders. First, though, they must work their way through a computer hacker whose circular logic and firewall systems make it very difficult for them to crack the code in order to locate the actual factory where these gynoids are made. And just what does a young kidnapped girl have to do with the entire situation?
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is an interesting piece of filmmaking because while there are many outstanding elements that I want to applaud within the 98 minutes, at the same time there is a lot that left me wanting more. First of all, the animation is breathtaking. A mixture of 2D and 3D (similar to Titan AE) â€" with the environments and locations being computer generated while the characters are hand drawn â€" is about the most beautiful animation I've seen on-screen in quite sometime. From the opening frame to the closing title there is no doubting that this film is a spectacle to look at and one that needs to be seen on as big of a screen as possible. Another positive is the action sequences. Though few and far between in the middle sequence of the film, they are present both off the top and at the end, which provides a satisfactory if not appropriate or expected end to the feature film. More on that in just a second.
Moving to the negatives, which for some people will be the biggest positive the film could offer â€" the story and the underlying (and in some places overlying) thematic material that it deals with. Now I'm not one to pretend that I'm anything more than someone with a love of film and motion picture cinema. I am by no means a philosopher or some sort of scholar. That said, the underlying message in The Matrix films was something I was easily able to grasp. However, sitting through 98 minutes of Ghost in the Shell 2 was a more demanding experience than I thought it could possible be. Simply put, the concepts and ideas brought up by this film in the last 45 minutes alone are enough to confuse even the most astute of movie audiences. While the opening of the film was fairly straightforward and easy to follow, things take a turn for the odd when the film introduces concepts such as machines that can think and act on their own and the humanification of dolls and our modern society. It also deals heavily with computer and human interaction as well as age-old philosophical teachings from Confucious, Descartes, and even the Bible itself. At the core of this film is a lot of deep meaning and interesting discussion material. The problem is that in its subtitled form, there is a lot of reading that needs to be done and it can become overwhelming.
So, I'm conflicted about Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. On one hand, I've never seen anything like it in terms of visual style and originality, and while my anime experience is limited, it was pretty entertaining and well put together. I can also respect the director for his deep thought-provoking subject matter, which is said to be one of the major influences of The Matrix films. On the other hand, the film becomes so confusing and bogged down in its own importance in the latter moments, that I left the theatre one bright Thursday afternoon with my head spinning, unsure what really happened. Ghost in the Shell 2 is the kind of film that I would need to see a few more times to dissect it properly and really grasp things at the much deeper level the film is trying to impart upon its viewers. Sadly, that didn't quite happen, and a lot of moviegoers will likely scratch their heads as to what occurs on screen. This is a valiant effort that is probably best left to those experts in the genre and those who have the time to watch and re-watch to get all the nuances and elements of the movie. Still, if you just want to see some fantastic visuals, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything more stellar than those on display here. Maybe one day I can fully appreciate the genius that is surely somewhere in the 98 minutes that Innocence unspools, but for now the best I can do is give this film a conditional recommendation as it's certainly not for everyone.
Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.