by Amy Seaman
Maybe I’m biased, but the beginning of Mamoru Oshii’s Innocence, otherwise known as Ghost in the Shell 2, turned me off just a teensy bit. Maybe it was because I missed seeing a female protagonist kick ass. Or perhaps it was the fact that the movie just took a little too long to get started. Don’t get me wrong, Kenji Kawai’s opening sequence and song were beautiful, but somewhat lacking at the same time — what exactly it was, I’m hard-pressed to name. Talk about heightened expectations from the first movie.
Innocence picks up where its predecessor left off — sort of. Though it actually takes place a few years later, little has changed. Through a barely adequate textual explanation at the beginning of the reel, new viewers are introduced to Major Motoko Kusanagi, who vanished at the end of the last movie. Batou, Kusanagi’s partner, has continued his work with Public Security Section Nine in her absence, but is now partnered with Togusa, the only non-cyborg member of the team — a characteristic that forces Batou to become protective of his new sidekick (albeit somewhat grudgingly).
Batou and Togusa spend the majority of the film investigating Locus Solus, a corporation that creates gynoids — hyper-realistic robotic sex dolls— searching for tangible evidence that will help the police implicate the group for a chain of murders. The gynoids have been malfunctioning and killing humans. After learning that each of the eight individuals were killed by “Hadaly” gynoids that had been modified to self-destruct, the two men seek out an inspector connected to the organization, only to find that he has been killed by the yakuza — and this is when the film actually starts to pick up.
An action-filled fight soon follows, and Batou and Togusa eventually find themselves heading for the Locus Solus headquarters near the Northern Frontier — the home of ghosts, colourful celebrations, and a lot, a lot of birds. For me, the name Locus Solus — meaning “uninhabited place” in Latin and famously used by Raymond Roussel in his fantastical 1914 masterpiece — was a dead giveaway about what was to come. If dead languages and obscure French surrealist novels mean nothing to you, however, it is at this point that you should start focusing on the minute, seemingly insignificant details — and proceed to embrace Masamune Shirow’s ability to weave a good plot.
Like the first part of the series, Innocence focuses on the increasingly shrinking barrier between humans and technology, addressing the question of what it means to be alive, and pulls in a bit of political commentary as well — the crew aboard the Locus Solus ship speaks Chinese and there are brief murmurs about international affairs.
Though the characters in the movie do not break the fourth wall, they certainly dent it with their comments about the easily modifiable, liquid nature of memory, remarks that force viewers to re-examine the earlier scenes of the film. All in all, it’s a decent watch, if not for the striking graphics and animation that emphasize the difference between traditional and futuristic — a theme that remains consistent in both Ghost in the Shell movies. Though the dialogue was well-placed and even philosophically “deep” at times, with its 100-minute runtime, the film was a bit too long and way too predictable… but maybe that’s just because I’ve read too many existentialist novels and have seen too few SF animes.
A SECOND OPINION:
by Jake Adelstein
Some movies, while flawed stay with you longer than others. Often, it’s because the film touches upon something in our own experiences that makes it personal. Compared to its groundbreaking predecessor, Ghost In The Shell, Innocence is less impressive. Sometimes, the dialogue is overly flowery and not even the best voice actors in Japan can make the words sound as if a real person was speaking them. I’ve known a lot of cops, few of them match Batou’s ability to make poignant metaphors. Perhaps, it’s part of becoming a cyborg: enhanced verbal eloquence.
Without giving away the plot of the movie (potential spoiler alert here!), in many ways this film is a parable about human trafficking. Human trafficking, of course, is a more nuanced way of saying slavery, usually in reference to sexual slavery. In utopian science fiction, there is often an idea presented that technology will free the spirit from the flesh, and we will move beyond our base desires. Innocence argues that technological progress is increasingly a way to dehumanize ourselves, others, and fulfill our lower animal desires. The movie weaves an interesting tapestry of action, adventure and philosophical thought on what is reality, experience, and identity. The relationship between Batou and Togusa is a subtle commentary on the conflicts between a personal life and working life, between humanity and depersonalization, between duty and emotion, between solitude and loneliness.
The surreal journey to Locus Solus is beautifully done and it plays with the memories of the viewer and invokes a strange sense of deja vu and jamais vu at the same time, the anime equivalent of reading Abe Kobo’s The Ruined Map. It takes a few minutes to realize what is happening to the characters and in some ways, that helps you feel a connection to them and their disorientating experiences. The music of Kenji Kawai is beautifully interwoven into the film and it is an eerily haunting soundtrack. This is not a film to casually watch while doing something else. The movie is very detailed and it demands the attention of the viewer, enough so that it merits a second viewing.
Because of the years I’ve spent working on the human trafficking issues in Japan and continue to work with the Polaris Project Japan, the movie resonated with me in ways it probably won’t for other people. If the mark of a good film is that you think about it for days or even years after you saw it, it is a great film. The movie has moments of strange profundity and lines whispered more than once, almost inaudibly, reinforcing a sense of deja vu as the film unwinds. The following line below is spoken on two occasions by two different characters, both heroes in some aspects.
Walk alone, do no evil, ask for little. Like an elephant walking through the forest.
It may simply be philosophical dressing on a relatively simple film or it may be the moral to what is essentially a very poignant modern day fairy-tale.