Reviewby Carlo Santos, Feb 11th 2005
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Following the events of the first Ghost in the Shell movie, Major Motoko Kusanagi has since left her physical body and is now a "ghost" living in the network. This leaves Batou as the top officer at Section 9, the special task force assigned to matters of human/machine relations. Batou's latest assignment is to investigate the recent string of suicide-murders perpetrated by a certain brand of "gynoids," androids designed to look like women. Together with officer Togusa (one of the last few people who hasn't had his body fitted with cybernetic parts), Batou tracks down the cause of the wayward gynoids—all the while pondering and discussing the hazy realms where machines become dangerously close to human, and humans become dangerously close to machines.
By now, most English-speaking anime fans (and many animation/foreign film buffs) have heard about the issues with the Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence DVD. Yes, they tried to pass off closed captions for the hearing-impaired as "regular" subtitles. Yes, the font of the subtitles is uncommonly large and occasionally intrudes on the visuals. And yes, the cover looks like promo art for a schlocky action movie and lacks Mamoru Oshii's trademark basset hound. This leaves two burning questions among fans. Firstly: when is Dreamworks/Go Fish going to admit they screwed up and encode the DVD with proper subtitles? Secondly: so, uh, how was the movie?
Fortunately, Dreamworks has responded to the subtitle problem by offering a DVD exchange. Those who got the captions-only version of Innocence can go to the distributor's website, apply for a mailer, and send in the defective disc in exchange for a properly subtitled version. It won't make the DVD cover prettier, but it'll make watching the movie more enjoyable.
People already know from the theatrical release and word-of-mouth that Innocence isn't your average cyberpunk thriller. It's a cyberpunk thriller armed with a library. The actual plot isn't too hard to follow: Batou and Togusa head out to investigate the case, have a few encounters with some shady folks, and ultimately end up at the corporate headquarters where they learn the secret behind these crazy killer robots. The problems arise when director Mamoru Oshii forces his audience to sit through long discourses on human existence (often accompanied by literary quotes) before unloading the next thrilling action scene. With this labored sense of pacing, the average viewer may not want to stick around for the whole thing. Innocence has some ambitious things to say, but blocks of text just aren't suited to the visual medium—a problem that's magnified by having to read the subtitles.
The dense dialogue also makes the characters in the movie difficult to relate to. Hardened cops, no matter how futuristic they are, just don't go around spouting Milton and Shakespeare at each other. Batou, being almost entirely cybernetic, at least has an excuse for being grim and distant—but let's face it, the entire cast of Innocence is about as accessible as a Ph.D. dissertation. Rather than looking at how a mechanized future affects the individual, the movie engages us on the level of Really Big Ideas, with humans and cyborgs as mouthpieces for the concepts being bandied about. As a result, Batou and Togusa never really grow as characters, and even a reunion with an old friend seems like an arbitrary nod to Ghost in the Shell fans rather than a genuine advancement.
Although Innocence's storytelling approach is flawed, it's still a masterpiece of visual technique. Production I.G's animation staff takes the rest of the industry to school with the film's seamless motion, breathtaking backgrounds, and intricate CGI. The realistic but stylized character designs are well-suited to the slick futuristic setting, which in turn is so magnificently constructed that no sci-fi world has ever looked like this or ever will again. Although the frequent use of CGI draws too much attention to itself, the detailed rendering goes far beyond that of the average anime show, and the fluid three-dimensional motion carries over to the 2-D work as well. The visual coup de grace comes in the Kim's Mansion sequence, where a series of lavish scenes unfolds like an M.C. Escher drawing gone anime.
Accompanying the inimitable visuals of Innocence is a distinctive music score by Kenji Kawai, composer for the original Ghost in the Shell movie. Fans of the Stand Alone Complex series may long for Yoko Kanno, but with the movies having a more somber tone than the TV show, the haunting music is a perfect complement. Equipped with a choir and a full orchestra, Kawai evokes both traditional Japanese melodies and the emotional punch of modern film scores.
Dreamworks treats the release of Innocence like a live-action foreign film and provides only subtitles on the DVD. For such a heavily hyped film, the extras are remarkably sparse, consisting of director's commentary, a making-of feature, and some previews. This lack of bonus content doesn't detract from the movie, but it does make the DVD package less appealing, and the subtitle/caption hullabaloo only made matters worse. It's fair enough that Dreamworks is making amends with the exchange program, but bungling a high-profile release is not going to win any hearts among such an opinionated fandom.
Technical issues aside, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence has its merits, primarily as a showcase of animation pushed to the limits of beauty and complexity. Unfortunately, the dialog is also pushed to the limits of complexity, resulting in a dense mess of quotes and jargon that would look better in a textbook. By all means, go see it for the eye candy, but make sure to prepare your brain for the philosophical pummeling that Batou and company are going to give you. In the spirit of the movie, it's probably best to summarize it with a paraphrased quote that originally described the music of Wagner: "Innocence has beautiful moments but awful quarters of an hour."
Overall (dub) : N/A
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : A+
Art : A
Music : A
+ A true masterpiece of animation technique, with a haunting music score to match.
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