Tentacle-Free Anime: "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" (2004)
- by Kazekun, 2 April 2017
By the time you read this the live-action Hollywood adaptation of Ghost in the Shell will be in theaters. With any luck, it's actually good. And we'll definitely be covering it very soon in a TFA review. For now however, I have one more Mamoru Oshii helmed GitS film to share with you. So now we leave 2017 behind, turn back the clock to the year 2004 to a time of innocence...
Not until nearly a decade after Mamoru Oshii gave us the original Ghost in the Shell film did he return to reap what he sow from the critical success he found with the '95 feature. This time with a direct continuation of Major's storyline but instead focusing more solely on Batou. Oshii also incorporated a more literal interpretation of the question “what does it mean to be human?” into the story, something that the previous film really only vaguely answered.
These aren't bad characteristics, mind you, but I would've enjoyed knowing how long has it been since the story in the first film? Given both that this film came out 9 years later as well as the incredible style change in the animation and look of the world these two now live in it certainly feels like 9 whole years has actually passed within the narrative. It was hard for me to look past that.
We'll discuss the stylistic changes in the animation in a bit. First, let's discuss the story. Batou and Togusa are after a mastermind controlling a bunch of “sexaroids” as they're lovingly called that are going around and killing high ranking officials. Their journey takes them on many twists and turns, they go up against the Yakuza, the find themselves within a doll factory set within a lawless territory, and surely we get the most literal interpretation of the “puppet master” idea yet. This is not the same puppet master from the first film mind you, but definitely the big bad is shown to us in the shape of a literal lifesize puppet being tethered on strings. If Oshii was going for subtlety this film is not it.
There's a whole thing with a mansion where the two get trapped in a mind-hacking loop, and eventually Batou makes his way to a doll factory discreetly placed within a lawless territory that, to be perfectly honest, looks incredibly bland from a design standpoint. Everything is yellow and gold and shrouded in heavy fog. Though there's a ton of stellar animation in this movie, the lawless area is definitely not a high point.
By the end of it all Batou is helped out at the last minute by Major who hijacks the body of a sexaroid and helps him find the kids whose minds are being hacks and pulled into a bunch of dolls that are being used for sexual purposes. To be perfectly honest, it wasn't until writing that very sentence did I realize that the whole underlying narrative of this film is actually about Batou combating widespread sex trafficking. Whether those taking part in coitus with sexaroids know it or not. Also the sexaroids themselves just don't look very good. The faces are nice, but that's really about it. How anyone could find pleasure in them is beyond me.
Honestly, the film isn't very good. The narrative is bland and our heroes are devoid of that certain pop of vibrant characterization that the first film showed off so well. It's a slow film mind you, but once we get to the action I found myself scratching my head more than anything over what I was watching. Not that any of it was necessarily confusing it just wasn't very exciting. Batou would come in, kick ass, take names, and in the few scenes where he necessarily didn't have everything under control it was usually when fighting a mass drove of sexaroids and the CGI in that entire fight was really not good at all.
Discussing stylistic choices, definitely gone is all the nudity. Or at least open nudity. Even when the sexaroids are all nude there is nothing like nipples or a vagina to keep them from being anything more than physically an empty looking shell. Also, the opening sequence where we once again see a body being made – the time the sexaroids instead of the Major – the sequence in high quality CGI and once again animated to the sound of exotic chanting music.
Just like the first film there are two scenes that feature the same chanting track while offering up nothing more than gorgeous CGI to feast your eyes on. These scenes are necessarily important to the plot but they're great to look at. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, again this was Oshii attempting to catch lightning in a bottle twice. These scenes are also admittedly gorgeous and definitely these scenes are real highlights of the film.
But some of the changes Oshii makes in his directing with this film versus 9 years prior is the lack of overt violence. Anything gruesome either happens off screen or to a sexaroid which has metal and plastic organs. As well as there's a much stronger emphasis on character's spouting deep morality quotes throughout the film that funny enough Batou actually brings up at one point. Seriously though, these out of place quotes that are thematically in line with the story of the film make up about 30% of the overall dialogue and trust me it gets real bad in the back half of the film. I'm not sure if Oshii simply had trouble coming up with snappy dialogue for our character's or if he was just on a quote kick at this point in his life and simply had to share his favorites with the world.
Either way, none of it works for me. There's fundamentally a difference in how Oshii conducts this film versus the first one. And while these changes are no necessarily bad because they are different, they're bad because they just don't work. If the main story could hold its own on top of these odd stylistic changes then that would be one thing. However it doesn't which leaves most of the film a hot mess.
The saving grace for this film is in its exploration of humanity with our characters. Batou and Togusa are lost, questioning their places in this world. Batou is without the one person who gave him guidance as well as whom he loved, and Togusa simply can't fathom filling the Major's hefty boots. On top of living in a world where their brains can be hacked and their physical control can be taken from them – which indeed does happen to both of them – neither are mentally in the best state of control either.
Barring all the stuff about humanity with the sexaroids, once you bring the kids into the fold as well as only showcase the robots as empty vessel killing machines that whole argument on whether they're human themselves or not becomes invalid. For Batou and Togusa however, that question is real threat to their sanity and thankfully both of them get a happy ending that very much proves that to some degree they're not only human but are finding ways to make their lives worthwhile as well.
That is where the magic in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence lies. Unfortunately it's deeply buried under a bunch of fluff that should have been trimmed from the end product. But, them's the breaks I guess. Even the best critically acclaimed directors can't win'em all. And certainly Oshii is more well known for all his good works than his bad. I don't necessarily suggest watching this film unless you simply want the complete Oshii Ghost in the Shell experience.
Final Score: 2 Adorable Basset Hound Clones out of 5
Are you familiar with this GITS sequel? How do you think it compares to the original? Let us know below!