Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Shell Shock 

The sequel to Ghost in the Shell is a feast for the eyes, but a disappointment for the brain

Wednesday, Sep 15 2004
Comments
If Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence were a live-action sequel, there would be a lot of gossip about star histrionics, creative conflicts, and so forth. Since the original Ghost in the Shell, first released nearly 10 years ago, made an anime icon out of its star, the frequently nude female android Maj. Motoko Kusanagi (voiced by Atsuko Tanaka) -- long since immortalized in numerous action figures, posters, and clothing items -- one would think she'd be the star of the second installment, but no. Instead, Innocence focuses on her cyborg ex-partner, Batou (Akio Otsuka), a ponytailed cop with robot eyes and right arm, along with the personality of Robocop. Trading in a hot naked chick (however mechanical) for a partially mechanized man with attitude doesn't seem like a shrewd marketing decision, but since the movie's animated and was years in the making, you know it has to be more or less what writer/director Mamoru Oshii intended.

The first thing to know about Innocence is that it's not a movie for anime neophytes. Embodying the best and worst stereotypes of the genre, it's amazingly beautiful to look at and often utterly incomprehensible. A second viewing rewards patient souls, but there are still apparent plot holes (more on that later). And while the first Ghost in the Shell was perhaps the most blatant inspiration for the Matrix trilogy, Innocence (which makes an explicit reference to The Matrix) at times feels like a retread of Blade Runner.

The incident that sets the plot in motion will be familiar to fans of both I, Robot and The Animatrix. A new series of prototype robots is killing its owners and then self-destructing, in blatant violation of Asimov's Three Laws, which appear to be in effect in this universe. Because these "gynoids" are sex robots, none of the victims' families is willing to risk a public spectacle, and all settle out of court. But yakuza involvement is suspected, which brings in Section 9, employers of Batou and his mulletheaded partner, Togusa (Koichi Yamadera).

Initially, the investigation proceeds in a linear fashion, but at a certain point, Batou makes a leap of logic that leads him to a suspicious computer programmer named Kim (Naoto Takenaka). Many anime films contain deliberately complex plot turns designed to be understood only upon a second viewing, but I've watched the picture twice and I can't figure out how Batou comes to this conclusion, or why he didn't come to it earlier and save us all a lot of time. Kim is clearly the right guy, though, and his secluded mansion is also a wonder to look at -- imagine Blade Runner toy-maker J.F. Sebastian with an unlimited budget. Holographic displays of a family dinner in flames are remarkable; a CG aviary makes sly allusions to John Woo before dazzling on its own terms; and the numerous reflective surfaces project double and triple echoes of images that blow away most any other computer-enhanced sci-fi efforts. The movie took five years to craft, and it shows.

Would that the script showed as much crafting as the visuals. Those who long for their big-budget actioners to contain more plot may backtrack after seeing this one -- there's too much "plot" here. The film noir mystery tale is fine, at least until the aforementioned plot leap, but the action pauses at numerous points so that Batou and Togusa can exchange literary quotes from the Bible, Asimov, Descartes, the Brothers Grimm, and more. They also discuss the nature of artificial intelligence and whether it has a soul, but if you've seen Blade Runner, A.I. , or even the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation centered around Data, you've heard all this before, and more eloquently, too (it's possible that the dialogue comes off slightly better in the original Japanese, but most of us will have only the subtitles to go on).

Motoko Kusanagi does make an inevitable appearance, but not in the same form we saw her last. That's OK, though -- she's got so much more personality than Batou (whose face and voice remain pretty much expressionless throughout) that we'll take what we can get. It's in the small moments that Innocence really shines, anyway: You've never seen such painstaking and loving care go into the creation of a convenience store before, and the shootout that ensues there easily tops a similar scene in the Cowboy Bebop movie. Elaborate throwaway visuals vary from the snazzy (a pet toy containing a realistically rendered 3-D fish hologram) to the nonsensical (a robot smoking cigarettes ... why, exactly?), and it's a shame the guy with a giant can opener for an arm is dispatched so quickly and confusingly. There's a lot of imagination at work here; too bad just a little bit of it couldn't have been channeled into the creation of a better narrative.

About The Author

Luke Y. Thompson

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Slideshows

  • U2 @ SAP Center in San Jose
    Last night U2 performed the first U.S. date of it’s Innocence + Experience tour at SAP Center in San Jose. All four band members were present despite recent injuries sustained by both Bono and Edge. The sold out show took audience members on a walk down memory lane as the band revisited their roots. The innovative stage and lighting used gave the arena show an intimate feel, and engaged audience members in all sections of the venue. Photographs by Sugarwolf.
  • Bay to Breakers 2015 - NSFW
    The 103rd annual Bay to Breakers 12K race was packed on Sunday despite the cold weather. With a starting point a few blocks from The Embarcadero, people dressed as bananas, Elvis and everything in between ran west through the city and finished at the Great Highway where breakers crash onto Ocean Beach.

    Photographs by Christopher Victorio.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed