Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Dir. Mamoru Oshii

Studio Ghibli / Buena Vista

Starring: Akio Otsuka, Atsuko Tanaka, Koichi Yamadera

Reviewed by Ixthus

Like its predecessor, Ghost in the Shell (1995), Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is a feast for the senses, perhaps to the point of gluttony. Mixing traditional hand-drawn animation with three dimensional CGI and two- and three-dimensional compositing and post-processing, Innocence is technologically very similar to Oshii's prior film. The mixture is skilfully woven together so that not even the overly specular reflections from some of the 3D rendered objects clash with the sparse cel-shaded visuals of the classic Anime style. Mapping hand-drawn scenery onto three-dimensional scenes allows the camera to move fluidly through a shot without appearing to contrast too heavily with the action in the foreground. A technique often referred to as "Bloom" (added as part of the post-processing) pushes the over-bright segments of each frame into its surroundings, blending away much of the obvious friction between the old techniques and the new. Bloom is used to wonderful effect. Cityscapes bathed in sunlight exude rich, warm colours. Dim and dingy alleyways are countered by research labs where sterile, overly-lit environments bring the cold, clinical aspects of research into cybernetics and genetics into view. The contrast is in the material, not in the techniques or the medium.

There is a sense that the bias has switched somewhat towards the use of 3D rendered CGI, and there are a few places where the low frame rate hand-drawn animation does become noticeable against the high frame rate overly-precise computer-generated media. In the 1995 film more emphasis was placed on compositing two-dimensional media into wonderfully-paced collages. Anyone who has seen the stunning “Wandering The City” sequence in the middle of Ghost in the Shell will know exactly what I mean. In Innocence there is more emphasis on three-dimensional CGI, and not just in those segments designed to alert us to the impending information blizzard we are bringing on ourselves.

‘Innocence’ is a blur of visual, aural, and storyline elements. Just like so much in modern life it rarely gives you a moment to reflect, offering sights that you just wish you could just go back and take a closer look at. But by doing this you would be distracted from the current wonderment. There is a diverse soundtrack, and a frenetic story. When it does give you a quiet moment away from the action it starts injecting more of the philosophical questions.

In Innocence, the cyborg detective Batou, having been separated from his former partner Major Kusanagi—hero of the preceding movie—is teamed up with a younger cop. They are told to investigate a number of grisly deaths at the hands of a new series of robo-hooker.

The film primarily approaches the subject of what it means to be human. Are humans machines? Can a machine be human? By attempting to blur the boundaries of human and machine, it aims to break down any preconceptions the viewer may have and then hints at some of the questions we should be asking ourselves.

With aspects of the works of William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Philip K Dick, among many others, the film is gruesome, disturbing, dark, sinister, and horrific. It is occasionally surprising, when the action and sensory overload lets up enough for you to do anything other than just observe open-mouthed. A few wonderful pieces of misdirection add a playful element to the story, but it is the touching, human moments which really bring this creation to life.

Just like Ghost In the Shell, this film tolerates and rewards repeated viewings, giving access to added levels of meaning and subtlety each time. It doesn't try to push any boundaries already extended in the first film, but rather to make sure that the viewer hasn't relaxed them, and it provides a cornucopia of story, visual, and auditory treats along the way.

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