A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 341 – Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence – February 4th, 2011

So, like last night’s movie, this was a new one for me. I feel less guilty about it since it came out after I finished college and smack in the middle of when I was in grad school. Graduate courses keep you busy, you know? I wasn’t watching many movies at the time and certainly not ones that required me to focus entirely on them for the subtitles and the philosophy. Because yes, this movie does indeed have a lot of talking about life and what it is and what it means and what qualifies as alive and ethics and so on and so forth, and it’s a good idea to pay attention.

Last night I know I bemoaned the lack of substance in the movie. It touched on things without really going into the depth that I know the material is capable of. Tonight I think there was a bit of a swing in the opposite direction. The movie does these very deliberate slow pans across the gorgeous scenery, with the characters standing still in the middle of it all, talking about philosophy. They quote Shakespeare and Milton and the Bible at each other and to be honest, it started to feel like it was going nowhere and I found myself looking down at my computer to escape it. It’s not that I dislike the topics at hand, it’s just that sometimes it felt like the movie was deliberately looking for ways to make it all seem super meaningful without actually managing to do so. There’s a long scene in a mansion, with someone Batou knows and he’s tricked him and Togusa and it’s all virtual reality, but not really and they talk and talk and talk. It felt like it went on for hours. And this isn’t what I wanted when I said I wanted substance.

Thank goodness there’s a little more meat to the movie than that. It’s not all just seasoning. The plot revolves around rogue androids who are really high end sex dolls. A number of copies of the same model have all gone on killing sprees, eventually self-destructing and erasing their own memories. Section 9, our bad ass government security task force, takes on the case when they find that at least one politician has been involved and that all of the families of people killed by the dolls have settled out of court instead of suing the responsible company. And once that’s established early on in the movie the rest of the story is about Batou – the super heavy duty cyborg who used to be partnered with Major Motoko – and his new partner, the almost all organic Togusa tracking down the point behind the rogues and discussing the nature of life.

You might have noticed that I described Batou as formerly Motoko’s partner. This is because this movie is picking up where the first one left off. Oh, it can be watched on its own, I’m sure, but it’s set in the same continuity, so Motoko is still officially MIA and the vast majority of the movie happens without her. And I think that might be the source of some of my problems with the movie’s long and meandering discussions of ethics and philosophy. Motoko has a vested interest in the questions she raises in the first movie, but Batou seems to mostly be considering the issues at hand here due to his relationship with Motoko and her absence. It puts it all at a remove, because the people talking are all looking at the issue from the outside, whereas Motoko looks at things personally.

The issues at hand are about the dolls and whether they are alive and whether they should be. They touch on how humans create machines to be more human without considering the consequences. And it’s all interesting stuff. After all, the whole plot with the dolls going rogue and murdering people, and the sinister source of the dolls themselves is heavy material. But for all its philosophical maundering, the movie never really hits any true insights. It asks questions and never looks for the answers. It never gives the characters the time to do so.

Once again, the animation is gorgeous, and sometimes the style backs up the material. In particular, when Batou and Togusa go to visit the forensics expert who’s recovered data from one of the self-destructed dolls they all have a discussion about whether the dolls are alive. This is the start of that whole train of thought and it’s introduced well. The forensics expert refers to the dolls as having committed suicide. This provokes a response from Togusa and a different response from Batou, allowing the expert to give them her thoughts on the matter, and all through it are shots of her lab. It is white and cold and sterile, full of dismembered robotic parts hooked up to diagnostic machines. And there is something about the pairing of a discussion of machines coming to life with scenes of them in pieces that simply works in a way that some of the later discussions don’t. I can appreciate the aesthetics of the film while still thinking that they don’t quite support the dialogue and vice versa.

Fortunately for the movie, Motoko does show up near the end, though not in the form we’re used to. Which I like. I think it’s a good choice for this particular story that she be in a different body, showing just how fluid her physical identity is. She isn’t the body she inhabits and therefore she isn’t tied to a temporal form. It gives her character an interesting dimension. And because she has such a completely different view on the matter of what makes someone or something alive, her presence changes the whole dynamic of any conversations she takes part in. By the end, when the creepy dolls are attacking Batou and Motoko looks like they do, and they find a real organic person in the middle of it all, there’s some interesting stuff going on. Unfortunately, that’s where it ends. Thank goodness there’s the series.

February 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

February 4, 2011

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

How do you make a Ghost in the Shell movie without Motoko? If the Major is the primary character in the series how do you make a sequel to the movie where she takes that evolutionary step into the unfettered world of the ‘net? If you’re Mamoru Oshii you do it by casting Bato in the lead role, inserting your own dog into the film, and using a hell of a lot of computer effects.

For me this movie is the Matrix sequel of the anime world. There must have been considerable pressure to come up with a movie to follow up the first Ghost in the Shell, but Oshii had a real challenge because Kazunori Ito had written him into a corner at the end of the first movie when he had the lead character enigmatically leave her humanity behind. In many ways Motoko IS the Ghost in the Shell franchise, so it was a bold step to do a movie in which she is largely absent. But even given that restriction there is much about this movie that smacks of trying a little too hard.

At times this film seems almost like a spoof of the first one. Replacing the cool opening credits of the first movie, which show the birth of a cyborg that looks very much like Mokoto this movie has a detailed CGI rendering of a robot being assembled. A creepy posable ball-jointed robot. Then there’s the lengthy and non-sensical parade scene, which somewhat echoes the scene of rain in a canal in the first movie, but also seems to lampoon it. It’s bigger, more expensive looking, more detailed, but also less coherent and feels less like an actual part of the movie.

This film tries to be contemplative and philosophical too. The characters have lengthy conversations about the nature of reality and such, but they don’t feel like they make any sense. It could be something lost in the translation, but these thoughtful asides feel circular and self absorbed. One thing that struck me is that the characters in this movie are constantly, CONSTANTLY, using literary quotations. It feels as though the movie requires not just subtitles but footnotes and a bibliography. It’s trying so damned hard to be deep that it doesn’t pause to think how ridiculous it is to have the sentimental but somewhat phlegmatic Bato breaking off of a climactic chase scene to stare into space and talk about the deceptive nature of mirrors.

I’m accustomed to a certain level of confusion when watching anything rooted in the Ghost in the Shell universe. Even the comic relief can have lengthy discussions on the nature and inherent contradictions of human language as a means of communication. (As the tagikomas do in one of the omake bits after the credits of the Stand Alone Complex show.) The plots are involved, wandering and don’t always make sense, at least to me. But this movie is worse than usual. It feels disjointed and doesn’t flow. Bato is on an investigation that has to do with malfunctioning pleasure robots (something that did happen in the manga) but then there’s a shoot-out with a triad gang, a completely unnecessary and very long sequence where he and Togusa get caught in a recursive false reality, and then an assault on the robot manufacturing plant (located on a giant ship in international waters) that has no apparent motive or reason. It’s like Oshii had in mind these set-pieces but didn’t write a plot to explain how they fit together. They just kind of happen, and we’re meant to imply that there’s a thread that connects them.

Then there’s the aesthetic of the movie. It’s not just that all the backgrounds and props are now CGI models over which the hand-animated characters are inserted. It’s that there’s a sort of retro vibe that doesn’t seem to have its root in the works of Masamune Shirow. Shirow has always concentrated on the super futuristic, and his designs show his background as a technical illustrator. This movie doesn’t have a single slick, cool, futuristic car – apparently in the years since the first movie everybody has gotten souped up retro cars that look like they came from the 1940s.

Oh, and Bato also has an adorable basset hound apparently modeled after Oshii’s own dog. I love how cute the dog is, and I suppose I can understand how it fits Bato’s character for him to have a dedicated mutt that he secretly cares for (somewhat like the tagikoma he forms a relationship with in the manga and show with his organic oil.) But it feels like an obvious self-insert.

This movie proclaims at the start that it is “based on the manga by Shirow Masamune,” but it’s not really. It’s a movie made by and for Mamoru Oshii. A kind of vanity project that borrows a few of the characters from the Ghost in the Shell universe but doesn’t feel to me as though it really belongs there.

February 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment