If you're wondering what the hell that's supposed to mean, so was I. Today I endeavored upon my second experience of watching a cult classic on DVD immediately before going out to see its newly released sequal on the big screen. This spring, I watched the excellent Pitch Black before driving out to Wynnsong for a showing of the excerable Chronicles of Riddick. This time, Netflix delivered Ghost In the Shell, which I watched before going to see Ghost In the Shell 2: Innocence. I am happy to say that the pattern did not repeat itself. Innocence was, in my opinion, at least as good as its predecessor.
Both films are anime. If you don't like anime, well, I understand. I tend not to either. But in all honesty, neither film is particularly bizarre or incomprehensible compared to, say, Akira, which is just damn weird. Ghost In the Shell and Innocence are both concerned with the nature of the human soul, especially in the context of cybernetics and the virtual world. The director, Mamoru Oshii, is playing with the issues that the Wachowski brothers should have deal with if they weren't miserable hacks. I was reminded of Blade Runner (always a good thing) in the way that the characters had to deal emotionally with the questions of their own existence.
Innocence is a visual masterpiece. The animation is simply sublime, an expert combination of computer graphics and hand-drawn characters that is entirely seamless. There were a few times I just had to sit back and say, "Damn, that looks good." Oshii is not given to the frequent stylization found in amine: the people and landscapes look normal, even lifelike. I just loved Batou's basset hound. The buildings look futuristic, but they also look like they would adhere to the normal laws of physics and functionality.
There's something about having one of your characters buy dinner for his dog - and not that dry crap, mind you - that makes them seem more real, you know? Batou may be a cyborg, and the Major may be... umm... something... but both of them have souls, both in terms of the content of the movie and as characters. They care about things. People are important to them. This isn't a vibe you get from most anime.
But enough peripheral stuff. Innocence is essentially a murder mystery. A prototype series of gynoid (think "Not exactly something you brag about to the neighbors, but perfectly legal") made available by Locus Solus to select, important clients, has, well, problems. Of the sort in which they kill their owners before destroying themselves. Robots shouldn't be able to kill their owners (I detected a hat-tip to Asimov here), and certainly shouldn't commit suicide afterwards. One of the clients was a former government official, so Section 9 takes an interest in the case to rule out the possible, but unlikely, terror connection. Batou, from Ghost In the Shell, is assigned to the case, but being almost entirely cyborg and still remembering the Major from Ghost, his interest is more than professional. His own existence as a human being is so blurred in its edges that he cannot help but feel an affinity, almost a kinship, with all cyber-beings. Much of the movie's emotional resonence comes from this sort of question. If you are so completely cybernetic that the only connection you had with your humanity is your "ghost", an entity posited in Ghost, viewed as what makes us essentially human, but the metaphysics of which are ambiguous as best, are you really human? And if you are, with your e-brain and your cyborg body, why aren't sophisticated bots? And what if you could imprint bots with souls? Would they too be human? Are souls something that can be copied anyway? What the devil is a "ghost" to begin with, and how do we know it's there?
The movie does check out to lunch at one point. One of the characters has his e-brain hacked by a rogue electronics warfare expert, and the movie treats you to a triply recursive fugue. Quite clever, if a bit out there. But not nearly as bizarre as you could reasonably expect from something of this genre. In fact, I've just added both discs of Stand Alone Complex to my Netflix queue. Make no mistake though: If you don't like anime, you almost certainly won't like Innocence. It's certainly a huge cut above the rest of your anime, but it's still anime. But if you tend to like sci-fi, especially intelligent sci-fi, unlike some things I could name, then give it a shot. This may mean waiting for the DVD, but hey. If you get the chance, see it.Posted by ryan at October 13, 2004 11:08 PM