Kôkaku kidôtai 2: Inosensu (2004)

Writer/director Mamoru Oshii creates a future where technology and nature collide in Go Fish Pictures’ GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE. Photo credit: ©2004, Go Fish Pictures.

In his review of Federico Fellini’s masterpiece, “8 1/2,” Roger Ebert wrote:

A filmmaker who prefers ideas to images will never advance above the second rank because he is fighting the nature of his art. The printed word is ideal for ideas; film is made for images, and images are best when they are free to evoke many associations and are not linked to narrowly defined purposes.

Mamoru Oshii has transcended the boundary of strict narrative. The conventional westerner will pay attention to the laborious, and at times detached, dialogue that is typical of sci-fi and noir. One might hear a line about dog food, and mistakenly think the characters are actually discussing dog food.

Visual and auditory metaphor, often lost on Western audiences, is choreographed as carefully in this film as it was in Fellini’s “8 1/2”. In one instant, you can actually find yourself counting the lines in the painstakingly animated woodgrain on a door sill. The pacing of the film gives you time to revel in these details that make this world believable in the same way that Isao Takahata’s attention to character in “Grave of the Fireflies” makes that world believable and, more importantly, a world to which we can connect, despite its idiosyncrasies.

I caution the viewer to regard “Ghost in the Shell 2” not as anime, but as pure cinema. In the way that Ebert discusses the power of cinema to explain things that can’t be explained in words. The average viewer might perceive the pseudointellectual asides as the center of the narrative thread, missing all the imagery. It’s easy to get fixated on the dialogue without realizing that, in a film so visually stunning, it is impossible for dialogue to be anything but superfluous. Kurosawa’s “Dreams” is a perfect example.

Consider the very essence of the message of the film: What is the nature of being? Shakespeare used class conflict as a stage on which to challenge the audience to think about the difference between seeming and being. There is a certain philosophical irony in the lifelessness in the eyes of the gynoids in a particularly heightened action sequence where one of them, I will not spoil why, attacks the others. Voices are heard from certain cyborgs, but the mouths do not move. Movements and moods are evolved directly from the painstakingly deliberate choreography of Japanese Kabuki and No theatre.

I don’t want to go into detail about the particulars of the plot. Again, in a film like this, plot exists almost exclusively to give the audience something to do in between zen moments that force you to just sit and contemplate—so rarely a priority in western culture.

There is one compelling attribute of the plot that involves distorting the line between reality and virtuality. This device is incorporated throughout the story in different ways, but I found one sequence particularly fascinating: Togusa and Batou find themselves in a déja vu moment bizarre enough to confuse Salvador Dali.

A woman sitting next to me noted that she found the CG animations very distracting. “Ghost in the Shell 2” conveys a message in multiple levels, and if you are distracted more by the dialogue than you are the visuals, perhaps the projectionist matched the audio track to the wrong film. If you are disappointed by the distraction of certain visuals, perhaps you haven’t considered that, possibly, distractions exist for a purpose…

This commentary was originally written following the US theatrical release of “Ghost in the Shell 2”, September 17, 2004.

Kôkaku kidôtai 2: Inosensu (Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence) • Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief language. • Released by Dreamworks SKG & Go Fish Pictures