Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Honesty up front. The original Ghost in the Shell was a much-revered film that I didn't much care for. Although it was beautifully animated, the plot holes, the incomprehensible dialogue, the character designs, and the overall feel just didn't stand up against Masamune Shirow's original manga.

It's been a long time since I've read any of Masamune Shirow's work, and also a long time since I've watched Ghost in the Shell. So I went into Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence with a mixture of hope and trepidation, knowing that Mamoru Oshii was back in the director's chair. Maybe it's my distance from the source material, or maybe it's just the effect of the new film, but Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is better than its predecessor on every single level. It's not a perfect film, but it is a beautiful, haunting one that every anime fan should see at least once.

Innocence begins a while after the first one ended. Batou, former partner of "disappeared" Major Motoko Kusanagi, is mostly a cyborg. His newly assigned partner, Togusa, is mostly human. The twosome winds up dealing with a bizarre case of gynoids run amuck. A rash of feminine robots have decided to go crazy, killing their users as well as the police when they come to sort out events. However, nobody's filed suit against the androids' manufacturer. Because these automatons are actually designed for sexual purposes and their owners have all been in positions of power, the ramifications of a public airing of grievances would be too dangerous. But why are these robots turning into killers? As Batou and Togusa investigate, they find a web of deceit that may wind up destroying them both.

Innocence is possibly the most beautifully animated film I have ever seen. Mixing the very best computer animation I have witnessed with stunning hand-drawn work, this film sets a new benchmark for other anime. (I say this still fully a fan of other masterfully animated films such as Akira, Millennium Actress, and Spirited Away.) It is simply gorgeous to look at. Even if you don't like science fiction, even if you didn't like the first film, you must simply experience the way Ghost in the Shell 2 looks. It's that sumptuous.

Innocence also overcomes many of the previous mistakes of its predecessor. For one, its plot is easy to interpret, despite some twists along the way, for anyone really paying attention. Second, it establishes an atmosphere better than the first film: whereas the original was cyberpunk, this one is just downright creepy. The foreboding of this film is surprising; though it is not scary, it is moodily effective. Finally, the character interaction in this film is better. Togusa is an interesting foil against Batou. Togusa is our link into the film; he reacts humanly to situations that Batou handles with nary a thought. We have a better perspective into the whole world of the film through his character.

Unfortunately, there is one huge drag on the film, and that is its pacing. Many viewers may find the dialogue difficult to follow, seeing as it quotes from a variety of philosophical sources. However, that didn't bother me. What did bother me is just how slowly Oshii is willing to let the story progress. The dialogue only drags the story down because of its languid pacing. The same dialogue in a faster movie would work better and not need significant editing. I appreciate what Oshii is trying to do here; he is trying to get the audience to slow down and actually think, to actually remove themselves from their rushing from one entertainment to another to really dive into his discussion of what it means to be human. But Oshii pushes the limits of how slow things can move in a film and not lose the audience. He's always been methodical, but I can't help but think he could have picked up the pace and still gotten his point across. In fact, my grade fell a full letter on this matter alone.

The good news is that, if you found the first film fascinating, I believe you'll find the second film more so. For me, it was a strong improvement and an amazing movie to watch. Though I'm not sure I could watch it often, as slow as it moves, it's one I will want to watch again soon. There is a lot of beauty and mystery here that I would like to unravel further.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence -- rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, and brief language -- B+