Many may not have heard of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, or even the film’s predecessor. This is a film that channels the classics without ripping off the classics.
Imagine a city of darkness and light. Horizons and temples that belong in the Bible, the angelic glossed with the demonic. There’s a lot of gloss, but not the traditional Hollywood fast-food gloss. This is a necessary gloss, a sense of future achieved by balancing the styles of anime and CGI, noir and sci-fi, creating an original piece of cyberpunk.
Balance is a big part of the film’s story (which doesn’t require a working knowledge of the first Ghost in the Shell), whether dealing with the balance of human and android, the imbalance of dubbing souls on a machine or the all important “nutritional balance” necessary to maintain your dog’s health (and by proxy your own). Technological advances, the film believes, must be constantly re-evaluated in order for man to understand his place in a universe where the synthetic is merging with the natural, which begs the question, if the synthetic is compatible with the natural, is anything really natural?
But the best part of director Mamoru Oshii’s balancing act: It feels original … unless you’ve seen the first Ghost in the Shell. The story is new, but the philosophy is familiar, which seems to be a chronic problem among cyberpunk movies these days. Yes, we know, reality isn’t what it appears to be. Yes, robots with souls are freaky and oddly erotic in a way we shouldn’t talk about, and they call into question the nature of humanity, but if cyberpunk creators want to continue their unique status as the genre of intellectual popcorn, then it’s time to start fusing their works with new theories and philosophies. What would Marxism have to say about replacing working-class folks with robots? What would subaltern studies or any other theory concerned with oppressed folks have to say about robots themselves?
But familiar elements aren’t necessarily a bad thing, particularly for the anime novice. It’s the how — the excellence of execution — that raises Innocence above the microchips and cigarette butts of the sci-fi landscape. The cybernetic Batou and his partner Togusa are two police officers in your typical genre story: find out why the androids are going postal, who’s behind the androids going postal and spank the corporate big-bads responsible. The story needs simplicity in order to support the various philosophic riffs. It’s dense and cerebral. If you enjoy a challenge without feeling like a peon, this is the film for you. If you love cleavage and skin-tight outfits, then you’re out of luck unless you make it a double-feature by watching the original.
FSView, Florida State U.