Review: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Director: Mamoru Oshii
Screenplay: Mamoru Oshii
Producers: Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, Toshio Suzuki
Starring: Richard Epcar, Crispin Freeman, Travis Willingham, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn
Distributor: FUNimation Entertainment

When the original Ghost in the Shell film was released in 1995, nobody really anticipated that it would turn into a franchise series, years later. Sure enough, by 2002, the film had spun off a television series, the excellent Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex anime series, with an excellent crew at the helm, namely screenwriter Dai Sato and Yoko Kanno supplying the awesome soundtrack. But this wouldn’t be the end for Mamoru Oshii and Kenji Kawai, as their work with this series was far from over; enter 2004’s Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, a direct-in-sorts sequel to the original 1995 film, and one that’s filled from top to bottom with Oshii-isms, for better or worse. Welcome to the second installment of our Ghost in the Shell film retrospective, and easily the “most Oshii” of them all.

Set three years after the events of Ghost in the Shell, there is still large unrest and criminal activity for the crew of Section 9 to investigate and take down, namely involving a series of deaths due to large explosions of gynoids, or more bluntly, sex robots, malfunctioning. The Major (Mary McGlynn) is still nowhere to be found, however, after the events of the first film left her, by all accounts, MIA, so it’s all up to Batou (Richard Epcar) and Togusa (Crispin Freeman) to uncover the mystery of the exploding gynoids, and whatever motives there may be behind these incidents. Togusa isn’t too pleased about working on this case, however, but a job’s a job, especially when you’re the hand-picked guy from the Major. Whereas the first film was all about the Major’s story and her, as I’ll put it, existentialist crisis, this time around it’s about Batou’s story and his philosophical crisis. The events with the exploding gynoids and the company that manufactures them, LOCUS SOLUS, all have some deeper ties, namely with the yakuza, a mysterious invalid named Kim (Travis Willingham), as well as a dark secret revolving around the gynoids, and as the story is uncovered more and more, things turn from a simple intelligence case to a fight for survival. With lots and lots of philosophical pondering included, as well.

The film’s story is, for the most part, the above synopsis, but there are a few twists and turns to be found throughout the ride. Don’t think for a moment that the Major is nowhere to be found in Innocence, though, she’s gonna show up when the time is right. Trust me on that. On a larger scale, though, there isn’t much of an emphasis on Section 9 kicking ass, save for a really great scene of a yakuza shootout, but instead, there’s a larger emphasis on more of Mamoru Oshii’s views on philosophy and existentialism – more on that later. There’s a scene early on with Batou returning to his home, going through his home life by caring for his dog, sitting in his recliner, and taking in the silence of his setting. It reminds me a bit of the song “Routine” by one of my favorite musical artists, Steven Wilson, wherein you’re living the same routine every single day, whether or not you are content with the mundaneness of your setting. Innocence also enters “mindfreak” territory toward its third act, where Togusa and Batou find themselves within an alternate reality, looking to come back to the real world to finish their case and job. At least it looks pretty, which brings me to my next point; Innocence has some of the absolute best 2D animation I’ve ever seen from Production I.G. There is a large attention to detail present, with the framing and execution of these beautifully animated scenes, but I can’t really say the same about the 3DCG animation; it may just be a personal gripe I just have, but the 3D animation scenes feel more like pre-rendered PlayStation FMV graphics, to my eyes. (Remastered in HD, of course.) It doesn’t help when a scene has both 2D and 3D animation clashing with one another, either.

But the biggest gripe and criticism I’ve heard people give Innocence centers around the more philosophical elements of the story, due in part to Mamoru Oshii’s writing of the film, as opposed to Katsunori Itō’s screenplay of the first film, or even the series composition of Stand Alone Complex from Kenji Kamiyama. In short, with the first film, there was a filter to Oshii’s philosophical madness, but here? Not so much, and it is everywhere in Innocence. From his worldviews, to his philosophies, to quotes from Greek mythology and Buddha and the Bible, to his fascination with 1950s automobiles, Innocence is completely painted with Oshii’s essence, and depending on your own personal opinion about the man, this can either be a large positive or a large negative. I’m more in the middle; I can appreciate some of the philosophical dialogues and elements presented in Innocence, but at the same time, the film tends to slow down during these moments. And I mean it really slows down, to the point where things are too quiet and dull. But then things pick up with a yakuza clan shootout, and that makes me very happy. Credit to the dub cast, though, for working their hardest with the dialogue they’ve been given.

Also, there’s a basset hound in this movie, and she’s a good dog. (Brent.)

The music score, once again, is wonderfully crafted by Kenji Kawai, calling back to the score of the first film with plenty of percussion, chimes, and Japanese choir singers, both in the opening of Innocence and towards the film’s climax. Rolling through the credits, I noticed that Lucasfilm and Skywalker Sound were brought onboard to do work for Innocence, along with many from Studio Ghibli, and to a lesser extent, the credits made sure to give special thanks to Pizza Hut and KFC. I don’t know if they were sponsors or if they were catering the production crew, but that brought a smile to my face. And speaking of Ghibli, the president of Production I.G., Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, asked the president of Studio Ghibli, Toshio Suzuki, to come onboard as a producer for the film to secure additional financing for the film, with the total production sum coming to roughly ¥2 billion, or roughly USD$20 million. Unfortunately, Innocence did not make its money back, with only a total worldwide box office gross of USD$9.7 million to its name, $1 million of which was in the US.

And speaking of, Innocence has had an unfortunate existence, here in the States, stemming with its original 2004 DVD release, from Dreamworks Home Video, due in part to their GoFish Pictures label having been the one to acquire and distribute the film – and as a side note, it was only one of FOUR films released by this label, with one notable title among the four being Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress. It was a terribly bare-bones DVD, with no English dub and only a standard closed-captioning track in place of proper English subtitles. It would take five years for Bandai Entertainment to acquire and release the film, reportedly through a licensing arrangement with Paramount Pictures (which had since acquired Dreamworks), and complete with an English dub… but even THAT got screwed up, somehow. The original English dub, funded and produced by Manga UK and Madman Entertainment (Australia), was released in their respective regions back in February 2006, but when it came to the US, three years later, that entire audio track was pitched down, due in part to the differences between the PAL (25p/50 HZ) and NTSC (24p/60 Hz) video formats and requirements. So, ANOTHER dub had to be produced, this time on Bandai Entertainment’s bill, with some minor recastings and, sure enough, everything sounds correct with the pitch on that track. The film had been out of print for years, though, before Funimation acquired the film and released it on DVD and Blu-ray, this past February, although without the UK/Australia dub.

As it stands, I am having a really hard time trying to recommend Innocence to everyone. While it is a very welcomed part of the larger Ghost in the Shell franchise, it is a very difficult film to get through if you’re not fully invested in it. The pacing is a lot slower than the first film, just about 40% of the dialogue is made up of philosophical quotes and musings, and the shift in focus to said philosophical musings can be a very tough sell, even to more devoted fans of the franchise. But in spite of those shortcomings, the film is excellently directed, impressively acted, and as a whole, has a level of importance and significance to it. It’s just buried beneath a lot of superfluous philosophical pondering, and it’s just a hard film to get through when compared to the first, thanks to its differences and departures from the original.  And even though it’s technically considered to be a direct sequel, it’s not completely a sequel, as Oshii never intended on Innocence to be a continuation of the 1995 film. So, with that in mind, if you’re interested, go into this as a stand alone (pun intended) experience and see what it does for you. But I’d still tread lightly.

One last note, before I head off: this movie has shootouts with blood and guts, it has sex robots, and it has disturbing as all hell imagery – HOW is this labeled a PG-13 movie? You’ve never made sense to me, MPAA.

Verdict: Diehards and casuals alike are probably better off renting it. Not a complete must-own.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital HD from FUNimation Entertainment.

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