A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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February 4, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , ,

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