VOICES OF: Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera

2004, 99 Minutes, Directed by: Mamoru Oshii

Ghost in the Shell II is like an anime made by Bergman or Tarkovsky. There’s bloody murder, shoot-outs, and a convoluted mystery, but everyone involved would much rather stare out a window and moodily quote Confucius and the Old Testament.

If the first Ghost in the Shell was sometimes too fast to follow, then the considerably slower Innocence is just as difficult because none of its characters seems in the right humor to give us a clear picture of what’s going on. The plot is seen obliquely by our part-time philosophers as we are treated to one jaw-dropping image after another. I’m a sucker for slow, patient, mysterious, and beautiful journeys. For me, this is one of the year’s most absorbing movies.

Fear not, moviegoers, cartoon that Ghost in the Shell II may be, it is not Disney or Pixar or Don Bluth, whose desperate enthusiasm to be inoffensive, likeable, and dumb things down borders on mania. There are no eye-rolling kiddy jokes, singing-and-dancing, or pop culture-quoting sidekicks. But Ghost in the Shell II is also spartan when it comes to all the irritating crap that we might associate with anime. One critic—sorry, I forget who—described Pokemon, rather aptly, as color, violence, and noise.

In place of the Attention Deficit Disorder approach most anime uses when it comes to editing, dialogue, and action, we get long takes and pauses that soak and saturate. The heavy lines and washed-out colours typical of the genre have given way to lush and crystalline computer-generated backgrounds joined seamlessly to hand drawn characters. Don Bluth’s Titan AE was similarly conceived but not nearly as organic. Even the underage sex kittens—the guilty pleasure of diehard anime fans—seem self-aware, self-reflexive, turning on the audience as they turn on their enslavers in the course of the film.

"One of the year’s most absorbing movies . . ."

And what great images they are, strengthened by how enigmatic the film is. Ghost in the Shell II opens with a sprawling night-time metropolis so bathed in orange lights that it seems built in a volcano. We witness a strange bonfire of abandoned robots at the end of a parade of giant elephants and hailstorms of confetti. Shadowy, inky reflections bath the windshields and windows of cars moving through future Tokyo. We visit the refrigerated, clean-white factory where sex kitten robots sit disassembled and packed in plastic. We follow our detectives to a lawless city of sun-scratching spires, complete with a gothic cathedral that appears built out of old computer parts. When they finally reach the villain’s lair, it is a Tudor manor constructed entirely of stained glass, where people, birds, and even fire are frozen in time.

The images are larger and greater than the story; the mystery they contain goes in all directions. Science-fiction movies are often too literal, but this one is unbridled. When a scene began repeating itself, like a hallucinating computer program, I was too wrapped up to question what was happening. In a film that constantly surprises and juxtaposes what’s real with what’s a clone, a robot, a dream, or a hologram, the combination of computer and hand-drawn pictures couldn’t be more appropriate. Listen to the casual resignation of the hero when he discovers his wounded arm has been replaced with one cloned from his own DNA because that’s cheaper and faster than healing the original. Where’s my real arm? he asks, flexing his new fingers, indistinguishable from their predecessors. We threw it out, says the doctor.

Nominally, Innocence follows two of the detectives from the original Ghost in the Shell. They have names, but let’s just call them Mullet and Ponytail. Mullet is the younger of the two, still entirely human save the internet connection in the back of his neck, while Ponytail is a towering collection of artificial eyes, superhuman reflexes, and reinforced limbs. Together they investigate sex toy robots that are murdering their masters. They sniff out a trail that includes crime scenes, robot factories, Yakuza dens, the computer cathedral, the crystal manor, and, finally, the watery grave of a cargo ship that’s supposed to be abandoned.

Along the way, amidst all manner of questions about the nature of the mind, the spirit, and perception, Ponytail wonders if his old friend the Major is watching him and guiding him. The Major, you will remember, is the heroine of the first Ghost in the Shell, who took to a completely electronic, non-physical existence when she could not be convinced that she had ever been human.

I end with no commentary, no translation, and no attempt at Ghost in the Shell II’s meaning, just an urgent recommendation. A description of a thing often limits our understanding of the thing; we become more attached to the words—simple and non-threatening—than to the thing itself. Ghost in the Shell II is pure, wordless cinema, existing in a realm too deliciously mysterious to pull down.

- The Friday & Saturday Night Critic



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