GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE
****1/2 (out of 5)
September 17, 2004
Akio Otsuka as BATOU
Atsukko Tanaka as MOTOKO KUSANAGI
Kouichi Yamdera as TOSUGA
Tamio Oki as ARAMAKI
Yutaka Nakano as ISHIKAWA
Naoto Takenaka as KIM
Studio: Go Fish Pictures
Directed by: Mamoru Oshii
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
The first “Ghost in the Shell” was intended to bring Japanese Anime to a wide western audience. It didn’t, but that didn’t stop it from being a cult hit on video.
Is the sequel going to achieve the original’s goal? Probably not. And that’s a shame because this film isn’t just a great anime movie; it’s a great movie. Unfortunately, the wide American audience doesn’t have an appetite for adult-level animation. There’s an unwritten rule in this country that if it’s animated, it’s for kids.
Still, the original “Ghost in the Shell” is arguably one of the most influential anime movies ever made, possibly even topping the influence and interest that “Akira” had in this country almost two decades ago.
We’ve seen a lot of robots on film as of late, and we’re finally getting away from the unfortunate stigma that George Lucas gave us that mandated robots need to be cute. (Don’t get me wrong. I love the “Star Wars” movies, but in the hands of mindless studio execs, they think every robot should be an R2-D2.)
Last year, we saw Greg Pak’s “Robot Stories,” which examined grief, love and betrayal from the eyes of machines. This summer, we saw “I, Robot,” which was decent but more about Will Smith and special effects than about the bridge between human and machine. “Ghost in the Shell 2” does exactly what a movie about robots should do – it makes us look inward to see how we differ from these mechanical men.
“Ghost in the Shell 2” continues the story of Batou, a cyborg cop who is now tracking down a robotic prostitution ring. But this is more than a simple mob ring of prostitutes. This story is about “dolls,” which are robotic sexual slaves illegally produced and distributed by the yakuza crime bosses. In short, it takes the whole concept of a blow-up doll to the next level – a robot supposedly made without a soul to fulfill the erotic dreams of her master.
However, these dolls have a problem. There’s something inside them making them kill their masters and eventually themselves. The key to this lies with the “ghosts” in the machines. Because robots are more effectively produced from existing human parts, these dolls have remnants of souls that cause this murderous – and suicidal – glitch.
Batou takes it upon himself to track the source of these dolls down. It’s an unofficial mission with unofficial permission. Batou brings along his new partner, a family man who is also supposed to report secretly on Batou’s psychological condition. And for a seemingly unfeeling robot, Batou is a mess of emotion – from grief at the loss of the Major (detailed in the first film) to his love for a goofy basset hound. Where the first film was the journey of the Major, this movie is the journey of Batou – not just to discover the mystery behind the dolls, but also seeing his struggles to retain the humanity of his own ghost.
And as far as robot stories goes, it really gives “I, Robot” a run for its money. In a way, “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence” is more true to Isaac Asimov’s original concepts than “I, Robot” ever was. There’s even a Susan Calvin character as well as a subtle reference to Asimov’s three laws of robotics. Hollywood should take a hint from this – it is possible to make an intelligent action movie that has its roots in Asimov’s vision.
This movie has a bit of the incoherence issues that plagues anime, but the occasional murky plot details still make it a better than the last wide anime-level release in American, “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.” Although “Final Fantasy” was easier to understand, it had all the Gaia nonsense upon which it hinged the whole plot. “Ghost in the Shell 2” makes plenty of sense. You just have to think through some things a little harder than you would with a typical Hollywood movie.
All of this makes “Ghost in the Shell 2” the best science fiction movie of the year, without even taking into account the animation. But the film is worth checking out simply for the brilliant mix of ink-and-paint and CGI. The artistry of “Ghost in the Shell 2” is finally reaching a level where this mix works on a new level and isn’t crudely distracting. The production design is simply breathtaking. It’s a must see for the theater. Don’t just wait for DVD, or you’ll miss out.