Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) / Sci Fi-Animation
Inosensu: Kokaku kidotai

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and language
Running Time: 99 min.

Cast (voices): Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera, Atsuko Tanaka, Tamio Oki, Yutaka Nakano, Naoto Takenaka
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Screenplay: Mamoru Oshii
Review published October 6, 2005

Nine years after the highly influential anime film, Ghost in the Shell, we finally have a sequel, and judging by how much time, effort and resources were poured in, it proves well worth the wait.  Like the first film, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence merges complex science fiction, stunning animation, and exhilarating action, which combine to form an absorbing futuristic universe that perplexes at the same time as it fascinates. 

I won't pretend that I understood everything about Innocence, because after this, my first viewing, I'm still trying to sort out the many complicated intricacies that creator Mamoru Oshii (Avalon) has woven in.  It's tangible, but not easy to grasp, as visual pieces to a puzzle fly by, and before one can begin to click that piece into place, more pieces come, leaving us to set these things aside for when we collect our thoughts after, and repeated viewings.  If there are answers to be found, Oshii doesn't readily offer them, so we have to trust that the time spent in learning about this futuristic vision proves worth the effort.  Given the resonance of the first film, I'll wager it is.  It's refreshing to find a film which cost as much to make not deliberately try to dumb down its dialogue or philosophical concepts for the sheer purpose of mass appeal. 

The world of Innocence is set in the year 2032, where the we are re-introduced to Batou (the Major's partner from Ghost in the Shell), who happens to be taking down a group of robots that have shown a high degree of instability of late.  Further investigations show they are "sexbots", androids designed for human pleasure, but the way they seem to be self-destructing, they pose more harm than good.  Along with his new partner, a family man known as Togusa, Batou's research leads him to the company which has been mass producing these androids, in an effort to find out the root cause of the behavior.

Like the first entry in the series, the plot and action are not really at the crux of what makes Innocence fascinating, at the same time that it is frustrating.  Oshii liberally tosses in an endless barrage of axioms, witticisms, and philosophical musings, in an effort to create an ultimate statement on what it means to be human, and what it means that we create machines in our image, while at the same time we are becoming more like them.  The fear is also that the more advanced our creations are becoming, the more they threaten to supplant us as the dominant species, and although they are completely inorganic, they have the ability to think and act on their own, in often unpredictable and dangerous ways.

Innocence is not everyone's cup of tea.  It is superior science fiction very much in the mode of Blade Runner and its cyberpunk brethren -- low on action and suspense, but high of poetic visions and philosophical questions.  It is often slow, leaving much time to absorb the breathtaking visuals, which are a combination of the 2D anime of Ghost in the Shell with newer 3D computer generated renderings.  If for no other reason, Innocence is a film worth watching for the sheer aesthetic delights, which sees mankind dwarfed by awesome monolithic designs and a wide scope of beautifully crafted architecture.  There are moments that actually feel awe inspiring.

Ghost in the Shell 2 is a complex work -- easy to follow in plot, but difficult to understand in intent, but that's also what will ultimately make it enduring.  It does have an audience of limited appeal -- most likely tech geeks and lovers of cerebral anime, so don't go into this expecting another action-packed cyber-world like The Matrix.  For those who are interested, please be sure to watch the first film, as this may prove to be impossible to follow otherwise.  You might also want to explore how the Ghost in the Shell world works in the alterna-verse television series, Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex (Japanese episodes which are being trickled out on DVD in the US).  Regardless of the path you choose, the rewards are there for diligent attention and patience, and even if it loses you, at least you can admire the beauty of Oshii's stunning creation.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo