Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is a haunting movie. Its film-noir world of cops and killers is infused with metaphysical ruminations on the nature of humanity, reality, and the soul. Think of an animated Blade Runner, and you’re on the right track.
I’m a relative newcomer to Japanese anime. I have not seen this film’s predecessor, and so I don’t feel completely qualified to give it an authoritative review. But I’ve seen enough anime to know that much of it isn’t nearly as good as Ghost in the Shell 2.
PG-13 for violence, disturbing images
In a very brief telephone interview, Movie Habit said director Mamoru Oshii clearly reads a lot of philosophy. We asked which thinker's writings resonated most with his own outlook.
Oshii responded, through his translator, that our assumption was wrong. Laughing, he said that lots of people make the same assumption, but that he doesn't read a lot of philosophy. He said he does, however, read lots and lots of books, on lots of subjects, and he absorbs a lot of philosophy that way.
Our protagonist is Batou, a square-jawed loner. He’s a bachelor cop whose only softness is for his basset hound; the only luxury in his humble apartment is the expensive microwavable dog dinners he buys. Oh, and Batou is a cyborg.
His partner, refreshingly, is not a wet-behind-the-ears rookie. He used to be an inspector, and now he’s helping Batou investigate the murder of an employee who works at Locus Solus, a company that manufactures gynoids, female sex robots.
As kinky as that sounds, the film isn’t exploitive or titillating. In fact, some of the gynoids go on the fritz and charge at men with guns. The image of armed soldiers terrified and firing assault rifles at female-looking embodiments of sex could have kept Freud busy for years.
The mood is a sad, somber counterpart to the high-tech, neon-colored world. The mood is captured perfectly in a later scene at a parade full of bright colors and fantasical masks, behind which the citizens, all dressed in gray, are look like they’re at work.
Flesh and Bone
The murder investigation is the backbone of Ghost in the Shell 2. It’s the piece that gives the movie its structure. The film is fleshed out by the philosophical dialogue and the mystical component to the world in which robots and humans coexist and converse about the soul.
At its best, Ghost in the Shell 2 is a puzzling art film, one that could be watched over and over yielding different interpretations. Good companion pieces might be Dead of Night, Don’t Look Now, or Last Year at Marienbad.
A scene toward the end of the film plays three times, each slightly different from the last, and it feels like director Mamoru Oshii is working out in his craft some inner demon that has tormented his life.
Likewise, the discussion of life, “dolls” (i.e., robots), and souls seems to get deeper and deeper as the film progresses. He speaks of architecture as the external memories of DNA, something geneticist Richard Dawkins has suggested. One of his characters suggests that soulless robots are more aesthetically perfect than human beings because of the ugly things a soul is capable of.
Trying Too Hard
But only time will tell whether Ghost in the Shell lives up to its aspirations. Sometimes Oshii tires too hard to infuse Ghost in the Shell 2 with metaphysics. An occasional reference will be too obscure or the characters will carry on too long spouting quotations and aphorisms. At some point you just want the director to speak for himself, rather than trying so hard to impose universal relevance on to his movie.
Still, if all anime is this good, then let’s see some more.