Review: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence [2004]

a review by the the Crow.

Ghost in the Shell 2: INNOCENCE

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OPENING THOUGHTS

My history with the Ghost in the Shell is well-documented. Apart from Metal Gear Solid (and some other franchises), this series is one of the most important influences out of the world of entertainment to me.

A full 9 years following the original Ghost in the Shell‘s theatrical release, around the time Stand Alone Complex started the build up to 2nd GIG, I finally encountered the franchise in the pages of a magazine.

I watched a few early reruns of SAC: 1st GIG first, before finally catching up with the original movie. The minute I finished it… there wasn’t any question about it. I was going to watch Innocence. I quickly caught up on the manga (all three original collections by Shirow Masamune – yes, even Man-Machine Interface…) and returned to SAC while I waited for Innocence to become available to me.

Mind you, Innocence isn’t a sequel per se to Ghost in the Shell. This is just a new movie that happens following the events of the first, and isn’t really a continuation of what was shown in the first instalment. Even the world here is slightly different. It’s halfway between the Hong-Kong inspired backdrop of 1995’s film, and the highly polished world showcased in Production I.G.’s Stand Alone Complex universe – which is it’s own timeline, unrelated to these movies (as are the eventual Arise OVAs, and the upcoming 2017 live-action movie). And the world that we’re shown in Innocence is the closest we might ever see Ghost in the Shell come to Bladerunner.

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However, Innocence remains my least-watched instalment in the Ghost in the Shell franchise apart from the Arise series (which didn’t really click with me as much). The reason for that? Well, I don’t watch the Oshii movies all that much because I want them to retain a sort of “freshness” to my eyes every time I watch them.

I want them to retain the kind of feeling I experienced when I first got dropped into the franchise: that sort of cold, unknowing curiosity that well-executed art inspires on a first watch. And therefore: less is better. It’s the same reason I stay away from my most favourite foods for months on end. Too much of anything is a bad thing, but even in everyday doses, some things can lose their novelty. And a touch of novelty, even in something familiar, is the best way to experience something.

Variety in all things, is what this crow recommends, no matter how much you might love something. The only exception to this rule might be people (as in: people definitely are, even though too much of someone sometimes raises issues, but there might be others). And Innocence tackles even that frontier.

But before I write a whole damn book on the movie, let’s just go over it in general terms for the benefit of those of you who haven’t yet watched it, and are wondering if you should invest your time in this movie, shall we?


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TRAVERSING INNOCENCE

WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS SOME [MODERATE] SPOILERS

The movie opens with Batou arriving at the scene of a crime.

The crime? A gynoid (basically, a female robot; as opposed to android, which refers to the male variety) has committed brutal triple-homicide. When he arrives, it’s holed itself up in an alleyway.

After a short chat with the guy in charge of the scene, Batou enters the alleyway where the gynoid has killed its last two victims: two officers. He finds the robot sitting at the foot of a staircase at the end of said alleyway, holding the head of one of its victims. It attacks Batou, but Batou evades the strike and responds with a strike of his own, armed with one of those knuckleduster-things which usually put your run-of-the-mill cyborgs and/or robots down pronto.

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Pummeled against a shuttered gate, it whispers to him to “please help (them)”, before ripping its outer layer of skin off, and opening up its exterior shell (face and all).

In reply, Batou fires his weapon. The screen fades to black, and…

Cue the “SHELLING SEQUENCE”!

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Click the image to watch the shelling sequence on YouTube (opens in a new window)

Now, to be quite honest, I prefer the original shelling sequence compared to the sequence in Innocence. There’s something oddly charming about the 1995 version as compared to this one. While it’s a nice sequence, it doesn’t deliver the same kind of punch that its predecessor did.

Now, once the credits have played through, Section 9 (including new boy-scout Azuma!) convene at their HQ. Cheif Aramaki explains that the gynoids at the centre of a recent spell of homicides are prototypes currently in beta-testing. Because of some high-profile victims being snuffed out between the killings and the mass-recall of the models, terrorism is among the concerns of the authorities. And thus, Section 9 becomes involved in the case.

Togusa is paired with Batou. They muse over the lack of the Major as they head to the crime lab closest to Locus Solus (the manufacturer of the gynoids).

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When they arrive, there’s a line which I find quite insulting thrown about by one of the jobbers they meet, but I’ll leave it be for now (I’ll peck YOUR eyes out, you bastard! I hope you hurt your foot on that bin).

They meet (Doctor! -she’d kill me for that; she’s the type who comments on internet forums, after all) Haraway in the labs, working on the gynoid Batou riddled with holes earlier, and this is the point where the movie starts spinning off into the kind of conceptual space only Ghost in the Shell can deliver (although the Metal Gear Solid franchise certainly has tried).

Once we’ve established robot suicide and how it works, we discuss the distinctions between humankind, machines, children, and dolls, with a nod to Descartes thrown in for good measure.

Once Togusa hits his philosophical overload, he brings us back to the plot. It’s revealed that the beta-model gynoids are built “to unusual specs”, and are equipped to serve as “sex-roids” (perhaps a better name?). The particular model Batou encountered had an audio file left in it. And what else is it but the robot’s final plea to Batou?

“please help us”

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Following a twist in the tale and meeting Ishikawa (who drives a flash car and gives Batou some possibly-unwelcome advice), Batou goes home all sneaky-like (I bet his card’s PIN is 2501 and all), cleans up a little, feeds his dog (d’Awww! Isn’t she cute?! I just want to pet her so much! And she has a clockwork doll companion, too!), and we get our first glimpse of a fish in the movie.

Now those of you not in the know, fish are quite an important visual cue in the Oshii movies (and, it seems, in the upcoming live-action movie as well). I won’t give away what they cue here, but I’ll just point that out so that you become aware of it.

Following Batou’s little period of R&R with his dog, the investigation continues into Locus Solus. The Yakuza get involved, Batou glitches and runs down an old colleague, Kim for answers. Throughout (and especially in the scenes involving Kim) there is quite some philosophising (and yes: there’s a lot of theosophising throughout the movie, as is expected from Mamoru Oshii) about questions to do with: the identity of the self; the nature of reality, and the nearly-horrific subjectivity of personal realities reflected against the chaos of the world as a whole; other animals’ place in the scenario alongside humankind, robots, dolls, and other corpses; and even some talk of myths, legends, and a handful of quotes from the days of old thrown in for good measure.

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Batou eventually makes his final ‘dive’ (in all senses: literal, methaphorical, and in terms of “cyber-warfare”) into Locus Solus once he has enough cause to justify such a move. It’s of course a risky move, but the big man does it regardless because he can (and look cool while doing so).

And holy heck, does it look cool. It’s one of the best-handled boneheaded infiltration sequences I’ve ever seen. I know that that 2004 stinker I, Robot only came out around three months-or-so following Innocence, but boy, someone must have something to answer for. When I finally watched it (woe me!), I was livid. I was sure someone had tried to rip off Innocence‘s final sequence for the movie (and fucked it right up), but after having looked up when I, Robot was produced, the timelines really don’t match up all that much.

The plot devolves into pretty straightforward action at this point; and to be quite honest, for a film as heavy-minded and ponderous as Innocence, it’s a thing of wonder for it to have so many nervy action sequences in it. Togusa loses his ability to assist Batou, leaving the big man to fend for himself deep in the belly of the enemy’s territory.

And just as all seems lost… from amongst the chaos, bullets, and flying spurts of blood, a fish surfaces from the depths (via satellite, too! lol).

At its appearance, we’re jerked back from this mad, mad rush to fight off a quite-literal puppet army into the truth at the heart of the whole affair with Locus Solus.

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And is it ever a seedy affair. Innocence is based mostly on Robot Rondo, the sixth chapter of the original manga collection, and if you haven’t read it, please stay away from it and watch Innocence, instead. There are a few Stand Alone Complex episodes I would highly recommend in the same vein, but I shan’t point them out now for fear of giving away crucial plot elements.

The job gets done. But the questions we’re left with are hard to resolve into a total victory for our ‘good guys’. On the surface, it might seem like it’s a total victory, but is it?

I urge you to find your own take on it. It might not seem like it’s a question of much consequence, to be honest, but think of it this way: can Batou ever look at a doll the same way again? Especially when the ‘camera’ fixes on his and his dog’s faces as said doll’s held in the arms of Togusa’s young daughter.

I leave it up to you.


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DON’T GLANCE, LOOK

Can Mamoru Oshii do wrong?

Well, yes. He can. Just look at Assault Girls (and I have almost all of his movies on DVD, including that one, for fucks’ sake!). But it’s a rare occurence.

Innocence follows a pretty basic plot-line from the manga, with elements added in from here and there. It’s written well, and doesn’t have any bad moments in either the Japanese, nor the English dub (which isn’t actually bad, although I still recommend watching the subtitled version in the original language in regards to all films). But with films like Ghost in the Shell, the writing’s more about setting moods and poignant moments rather than the actual dialogue of the characters.

With writing like this, which plays more off the events happening in the viewers’ eyes, and especially with an animated feature, it’s up to the crew working on the visuals to take the writing and make it achieve its maximum potential.

So… what about the visuals?

Innocence is among the most gorgeous animated movies of all time. The mix of 2d and 3d (employed more subtly by Production I.G. in the Stand Alone Complex series) sounds like it shouldn’t work. I mean, just look at the new Berserk for reference.

But Oshii and his team pull it of spectacularly. It’s a level of skill I haven’t seen displayed yet in technical terms. While the overall ‘warm yellow’ tones of the movie aren’t my favourite colour scheme to use, that’s just my taste – or lack thereof – I can’t hold that against Innocence. Every moment of the movie drips with sheer visual delight. From an artistic perspective, it’s one of a kind.

I mean, just look at this little moment someone turned into a .gif and uploaded to Tumblr:

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The above sequence, set to the main theme, is Innocence‘s version of that moment from Ghost in the Shell, where Major Kusanagi wanders the streets in search of her ghost. It’s not quite as spectacular, but fuck me, is it ever gorgeous.

On that note: let’s take a moment to talk about the score, shall we?

The music is very-similar-yet-slightly-upgraded version of Kenju Kawaii’s score for the 1995 film. This has – for some reason – put people off, it seems. I don’t take such issue with it. I think it works perfectly. And when those new drums hit (which Kawaii on occasion plays himself)… just really nothing gets me quite as stirred up for Ghost in the Shell on the big screen.

In terms of pacing, the movie’s incredibly slow. This is another thing that puts people off it, but I don’t have much time for people who say things like that. Up your patience-game, is all I can advise those poor souls.

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In terms of philosophical content, Innocence is about on par with its predecessor, if not a little more heavy with the subject. It raises a lot of questions, but it doesn’t answer them – – just as it should (if it somehow could, we’d have saved a lot of work in the field). The only major(lol) character possibly even equipped to deal with these things would be Major Motoko Kusanagi, following the finale of the first movie.

And in this one, we’re left with Batou and Togusa – who is our gateway into this world, being mostly human and all – to deal with the strangeness of a world into which cyberspace and new life-forms are colliding (both made and spontaneously-generated).

As a rumination on these topics (and others) – adhering to the limits of our lead(s) – the movie works just fine.

I’d recommend watching this when you’re curled up on your couch, when the air’s cooling outside your windows. Block out all outside interference and let the screen take you up into the world of Ghost in the Shell.


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WALKING WITHOUT SIN

Innocence is a brilliant sequel to Ghost in the Shell. Some might argue that its plot seems thin, but I propose that it’s not. There’s quite a lot going on in the plot. Much more than in the original ’95 film, actually.

While re-watching it ahead of Solid State Society (and this month’s live-action movie, which I’ll talk about once the next Ghost in the Shell review is done) after far too long, I noticed a few lines of dialogue that have directly influenced the plot of my very own debut novel-to-be ever since it’s beginnings. It’s amazing, how I’d for some reason not noticed these lines in as striking fashion up until this re-watch (and I’ve watched it as intently as I ever have in the three-or-so times I watched it in between).

Strangely enough, it ranks lowest among the three Ghost in the Shell movies (and there ARE only three) in my eyes. But does that count towards it being a bad movie? No. No to that notion for sure.

Innocence is a work of art, and I’m very happy that it exists. It’s an undiscovered gem of cinema, but I hope things stay that way. That thing I said about the “novelty” factor? I don’t really want Innocence to become something that’s thrown around like just some part of a franchise. The movie’s fine where it is.

But that said, if you weren’t sure if you wanted to watch it, take it from me: please do.


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FINAL RATINGS

THE CROW: 9/10

Innocence is a worthy successor to Ghost in the Shell, and it honestly gets overlooked too much. If you’re expecting the same thing as happened in Ghost in the Shell, you won’t find it here. Innocence is possibly the most unique movie yet in the Ghost in the Shell franchise, mostly because of the lines it toes. While episodes of Stand Alone Complex toe these lines with some regularity, they aren’t really movies.

This is a fine movie, and is just as good as the first (and I recommend watching the very original version of the first, not that 2.0 thing).

Also, here’s a little tip: all that talk about mirrors and such? Take that to heart. It’s sound advice.

THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 10/10

(◔◡◔)

I didn’t really like this film when I first saw it. Watching it with the Crow though… yeah. I can see his points. The first time I watched it I obv didn’t pay attention to the story since I didn’t know why they ended up visiting the puppet-man Kim or how the boat even showed up. I mean I remember them happening but didn’t know what the hell connected them.

This time I paid proper attention. And it made the film so much better! The story’s really fucking cool. It just sits far in the back while everyone spouts a lot of philosophy. But IT ALL TIES UP!

Y’know… I kinda think it’s fucking perfect. A 10/10 for this one!

And before I go… THE DOG! WHO DON’T LOVE A GOOD DOGGIEWOGGIE IN A FILM?! AWWW! WHO’S A GOOD GIRL? HUH? HUH?! SHE IS! 

(^◡^)


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And we can’t just not say goodbye to our loveable pupper, can we?

Sweet dreams, beautiful pupper!

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8 thoughts on “Review: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence [2004]

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