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Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence (2004)
Wrieter and director: Mamoru Oshii

review by Amy Harlib

When Japanese director Mamoru Oshii's SF anime feature Ghost In The Shell (1995) debuted in the USA, it became a hit, an instant classic building on the success of an earlier, equally classic stateside SF anime release, Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira, opening the door for wide acceptance of this genre art form in the western world. Nine years later, the long-awaited follow-up to Oshii's ground-breaking film arrives: Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence (aka: Inosensu: Kokaku Kidotai).

Like its predecessor, this sequel blends traditional cel animation with 3D CGI, but the technical advances between 1995 and now generates visual results noticeably more dazzling than those of the impressive first picture. Both Ghost In The Shell productions, complementary without slavishly aping their manga (graphic novel) inspirational sources, with the new opus doing so with greater intensity than before, explore the ever-fascinating, often-examined themes of near-future humanity interacting with AIs, many virtually indistinguishable from their makers - the stories riffing off what it means to be human and whether identical-seeming constructs have souls.

Set in 2032 Hong Kong and environs, Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence takes place a few years after the plot of the first film ended and shares the same Blade Runner-like, hi-tech noir, densely urban milieu. Here humans and cyborgs (part-person, part-machine in greater or lesser proportions) intermingle, divisions between the organic and the mechanical - blurry and ill defined. The predecessor production ended with its heroine Major Kusanagi's consciousness absorbed into the enormous welter of the ubiquitous, electronic data-net, leaving on his own, her ex-partner Batou (Akio Otsuka).
Batou takes a nap in Ghost in the Shell 2
Both Kusangi and Batou, being officers of Security Police Section 9, have had their entire bodies enhanced with durable cyborg components, their former selves' minds now 'ghosts' within equally cybernetic brains. Batou, now teamed up with newly-transferred, minimally cyber-augmented, Togusa (Koichi Yamaderu), now gets assigned to solve the recent surge of serial killings perpetrated by apparently defective 'gynoids' - android sex slaves made to resemble perfect-looking young women.

Soon, Batou and Togusa discover that the maker of the faulty, deadly femme-bots, the powerful, yet reclusive Solus Corporation, maintains its operations aboard a decommissioned battleship off the South Coast of China. The protagonists' investigative efforts to uncover whys and wherefores propel them into a complex and dangerous underworld of yakuza gangsters, corrupt corporate upper echelons, and foreign-born, former 'black ops' computer hackers. Batou's and Togusa's deeds get depicted in a thrilling, futuristic police procedural adventure that leads to an exciting, satisfying finale that includes a surprise reappearance of Kusanagi.

On another plane, while the game's afoot and the action unfolds, the film's dialogue barely dwells on forwarding the plot, rather, discussions ruminate on the fragile divide between natural and artificial intelligence, cultural artifacts mimetically designed based on structures found in nature like spider webs and honeycombs and living wood, the purpose of existence or lack thereof, children and artificial creations endowed with life-carrying genetic essences into posterity, the made as much as the birthed equally expressing human yearning for immortality, how we define the nature of life, and more in that vein. Some viewers overly used to Hollywood slam-bang superficiality may find the philosophising tedious, but open-minded folks will appreciate the adroit blend of intellectualising and action in which both the ideas and the pacing prove riveting.
Batou with Bassett hound, Oshii's mascot canine breed
On yet another level, Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence visually dazzles with eye-popping, intricately designed backgrounds for the distinctive, dimensional lead characters - all realised through the amazing 2D and 3D CGI mix. The film opens with an astonishing sequence showing the blended organic/electronic creation of one of the controversial gynoids so central to the story - the emerging figure inspired by the doll sculptures of the famous German surrealist Hans Belmer (1902-75).

An additional gorgeous set-piece occurs near the climax when Batou and Togusa, aboard a snazzy ornithopter-like aircraft, fly over a Chinese city in which a traditional, holiday parade fills the streets with hi-tech versions of floats and giant puppets embodying images that make a significant statement about the connectedness of past, present and future and the survival of cultural expressions adapting to change. Another great earlier scene illustrates Batou's basic humanity by showing him home alone caring for his beloved pet Bassett hound, director Oshii's favourite animal companion that he always inserts somewhere into all his creative endeavours. The film also features a lush, excellent, atmospheric score by Kenji Kawai who blends the traditional with synthesiser and chorus to perfect, complementary effect.

With its stunning images, memorable characters, fascinating speculations and exciting plot, anime rarely gets better than this brilliant work of art. Mamoru Oshii's Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence, surpassing its predecessor, deserves to be another classic.
Ghost In The Shell 2

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