In Japanese/Cantonese with English subtitles; featuring the voices of: Akio Otsuka, Atsuko Tanaka, Koichi Yamadera, Tamio Oki, Yutaka Nakano, Yoshiko Sakakibara, and Naoto Takenaka The line between humans and machines has blurred beyond distinction...and humans have forgotten that they are human...
When Japanese Anime is discussed, two films invariably define its brief yet highly productive and influential history, Akira and Ghost in the Shell. With the same bated breath and excitement as Star Warsí fans without nearly as lengthy a wait, Ghost in the Shell 2:Innocence has arrived. From here on, referred to as GITS and GITS2. The fact I am a peripheral Anime fan did not lessen my enthusiasm.
When GITS was released, there was an attempt at expanding Anime film audiences beyond the diehards through a simultaneous theatrical market release (US/UK/Japan), to limited avail. The real explosion in popularity came with the eventual DVD/VHS release. So when I heard about the sequel, my mind raced a thousand beats per minute. Why now?...What took so damn long?...And of course, the inevitable, could it top the original?... The answer, simply, is no.
Although GITS2 is unable to live up to the expectations of GITS, what's left is a worthy sequel which by ending on a hopeful note, leaves open a possible continuation of the saga. By creating well-drawn characters, enthralling, inventive set pieces, and by immersing the viewer in a deliberately paced investigative story through dialogue-driven scenarios, GITS2 distinguishes itself as quality artistry recommended wholeheartedly.
Without having seen GITS, GITS2 loses sparkle from the story beats but is still straightforward enough for any viewer to easily follow. For those who missed Ghost in the Shell (Kokaku Kidotai), the film is based on a Masamune Shirow manga (Japanese comic):
In the year 2029, crime has developed into sophisticated hacking into the interactive network. The plot involves a unit of Pubic Security Officers called Section 9, Cyborgs (human spirits inhabiting entirely mechanized bodies) with incredible strengths and abilities that can access any network on Earth, formed to combat a computer program (The Puppet Master), created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has escaped into the electronic universe. The shell team charged with stopping this cyber hacker is led by Major Motoko Kusanagi. Major mysteriously disappears into the network at the filmís end, leaving her uncertain partner, Bateau, alone to ponder her demise.
So begins GITS2. Unlike the cryptic storyline of GITS, GITS2 unfolds in a way certainly familiar to CSI fans, essentially an investigative tale where the crime must be solved. To be specific, murder. Actually plural, murders. In a world immersed with otherworldly entities. Itís 2032 and our tortured anti-hero, Bateau, is back continuing his pained, obsessive longing for Major. He's been called to a crime scene. There's a homicidal killer holed up.
A gynoid/sexaroid (a realistic robot created solely for sexual pleasure) has slaughtered her owner and two officers. When Bateau readily ends the gynoid's "life", this only furthers the mysteries regarding recent murderous rampages by this newly developed series of mechanical dolls (robots with no human elements at all). Thereís much going on behind this one simple murder. And the mayhemís details are what Bateau and his meek partner, Togusa, are charged with finding. Chief of Police Aramaki informs them that the case is theirs because this is one of eight known gynoid murders. So far there are no lawsuits and the victims were all public officials, so terrorism is a possibility. Always suspect in Bateauís expansive mind is the industrial giant Locus Solus, makers of the wayward gynoids.
The calculating, skilled detective is continually one step ahead of foes, either by a hair finger trigger or mental gymnastics. In course of the investigation, various obstacles appear throughout - bureaucracy, Yakuza thugs, a loquacious forensic scientist, and a hacker more formidable than Bateau first suspects; thus helping to build a wonderfully enigmatic bridge. According to director, Mamoru Oshii (who helmed GITS and scripted this one), there are no humans in the entire film.
Itís a fact not always known, thereby adding suspense when we meet the quirky characters. Weíre always wondering what type of entity weíre dealing with, never truly knowing who is friend or foe during the investigation. Even our hero is not so simplistically defined. Bateau is startlingly conflicted for a cyborg, desperately wanting to retain a connection to what it means to be human. It's admirable if not highly dangerous. Going to such outlandish lengths as to have an expensive "real" dog, a tense moment of danger is created when Bateau goes to buy liquid rather than dry dog food.
Unknowingly hacked into, Bateau goes on a berserk shooting spree in a crowded grocery store. This only intensifies the concerns of a Police Chief who already wonders about Bateauís mental state. Our heroís conflicted nature gives Bateau an appealing sardonic edge that belies a soft interior. Moments of warmth with his loving Bassett Hound (a favorite breed of the directorís) helps fuel this belief. The lonely soul keeps hoping his beloved Major survived. Reaching beyond the detective story roots, GITS2 is as intellectually stimulating as any film youíll see this year, readily able to quote esteemed sources such as Milton, Descartes, Confucius, and the Bibleís Old Testament - dare I say metaphysical in nature?
For those who like their anime with such intellectual discourse, the story definitely enlightens and enraptures. The constant motif of arrogant humans immortalizing models of our own image through robots/dolls, and the use of dolls and robots as pets is understandable given Japanís cultural tradition of Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival) on March 3rd. And yes, the visuals are just as bodacious. Here providing insight into the filmís tone are the director's own words, "We live in a cruel and frightening world. It is this culture of fear and anxiety that I want to depict cinematically." Although some visual similarities with the original are noticeable (this not necessarily being a bad thing since it only adds to the unity), the difference in styles makes this wholly different in spirit.
One of the problems for GITS2 is, like the new Star Wars trilogy, the passage of time has produced a new level competition in quality effects/animation. By having new plateaus reached in this digital age by so many artists in all the varied fields, itĎs difficult to break a new mold and surpass whatís been accomplished to date.
And with a moxie of its own, the lack of visual astonishment has less to do with the overall film than changes in the paradigm since GITSí inception. There is superb animation competition derived from: Ice Age, Final Fantasy,Blood: The Last Vampire, Metoroporisu, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Perfect Blue and Princess Mononoke. Lucasí new work, impressive as it is, still did not impressed like the mind-blowing effects and mythic storyline virtuosity work of The Matrix and Lord of the Rings trilogies.
Believe me, there are plenty of exciting triumphs to behold, whether itís a somber grittiness, hardboiled 40ís look, or the breathtakingly beautiful industrial cityscapes. The visuals could aptly be described as exotic with the varied CGI and traditional animation evident. What appears to be nothing more than a spectacular visual feast showpiece is a gratuitous parade scene that astonishes nevertheless. The film also has a prime example of an upbeat ending whose tone is comforting without being contrived. And with Majorís final words, "Whenever you enter the net, Iíll be by your side", Bateau can be assured she will always be with him within the vast electronic matrix.
The minimal amount of action is a disappointment. Yet the action, when it does take place, is thrilling. Beneath the confusing story, GITS kept you hooked through action. GITS2 works in reverse, with the story keeping you hooked despite its more lingering pace - where scenes are allowed to breathe. A detached, staccato ambience is created by this decision. And for fans of the music from GITS, the composer, Kenji Kawa, is back again to create a lush, memorable score.
For those uninitiated into Anime, this is a good start. Remember GITS did influence The Matrix trilogy. Also, and this is not a detraction, the obvious Blade Runner influences are apparent and should be mentioned even though I understand itís a stereotypical reference in these cyberpunk-like stories/films, but there it is. The mature themes may understandably limit its audience.
With the film arriving off the heels of I, Robot, itís a nicely comparative film. Like many films layered with broodingly deep subtext, GITS2 benefits from multiple viewings. The film revealingly shows what not many films would: the consideration that robots may be the ones thinking, "I donít want to become human." Enjoyable as GITS2 is, it lacks some of the originalís fresh vitality. At the same time GITS2ís ability to precisely define Anime makes the film extremely satisfying. An archetypal Anime film at its best.
© by Julian Boyance, August 24, 2004
Read the interview with director Mamoru Oshii (http://movie-vault.com/interviews/abcdefghij)
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