Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for TIFF’s Techno/Human: The Films of Mamoru Oshii. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
Sequels often by their very definition have the unenviable task of bearing the weight of expectations of their predecessors and also a certain baggage of pre-conceived notions along with it. Innocence, the follow-up to the 1995 animated cyberpunk classic, Ghost in the Shell is less of a direct sequel and closer to a stand-alone film of its’ own. There are elements in the form of the setting of Japan in 2029 and characters of Section 9 which reprise their roles after the events of the original film, but that’s all the connection it has to it. Innocence is its own affair, by and large a police procedural with a philosophical concept embedded in the core that’s quite different from the original. Even Mamoru Oshii admitted his intentions behind making it were more of a technical challenge in portraying his personal philosophy in a unique manner which went beyond mere animations.
Innocence is its own affair, by and large a police procedural with a philosophical concept embedded in the core that’s quite different from the original.
While it may seem like a jarring shock to its fans initially, those who have watched the anime TV series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex will be in familiar territory here as Innocence is firmly placed in the shoes of a procedural with occasional forays into philosophy. It follows a fairly straight-forward arc involving the rogue hacking of a series of gynoids turning against their owners by killing them before committing suicide. Largely focused on the duo of Bato and Tegusa, the former largely a cyborg, while the latter a human with a lone cybernetic component live in an age where the lines between human and cyborgs have become increasingly blurred often resulting in philosophical introspections on “What it means to be a human?”. Where the original reveled in abstract, poetic imagery and complex plot, Innocence is for large parts satisfied with a more direct form of narration and largely noir-esque literal imagery. The sheer quality of animation and the aesthetics ensure that Innocence is still visually striking but the under-usage of its visual storytelling component works against Oshii’s chief strength.
As the central duo, Bato and Tegusa take the place of Major Kusanagi, the traditional protagonist of Ghost in the Shell adaptations and they have adequate working chemistry to spark off moody banter underlining their metaphysical difference as a cyborg and a human. This difference is underlined in some of Innocence’s most exemplary scenes but again they’re a bit too direct and on-the-nose to be complemented with Oshii’s poetic direction. The dissonance between the narrative with little patience for the meandering visuals robs Innocence of the complex depth the original film or even Stand Alone Complex sometimes showcased.
Even when Innocence delves into extended philosophical conversations, the subject matter of them is more verbose and less interpretative than the original. The imagery of doll is repeatedly compared with human children throughout the film underlining the eponymous characteristic of them both and essentially tying human and cyborgs in a very specific manner. But while the original ties these philosophical dialogues with character development arcs, Innocence uses them as mere “food-for-thought” with the characters never really evolving beyond where they started.
Innocence banks fairly heavy on action sequences and while they are entertaining to watch with its fluid switching between intense action sequences and stylistic first-person as viewed through cyber-interfaces, they also lack a punch that has become so characteristic to the series.
Instead, Innocence banks fairly heavy on action sequences and while they are entertaining to watch with its fluid switching between intense action sequences and stylistic first-person as viewed through cyber-interfaces, they also lack a punch that has become so characteristic to the series. Even if there are some pretty big action momentsthroughout the run-time of Innocence, none manage to come near the two big action sequences of the original film. On top of it, Innocence suffers from tonal inconsistency particularly in its second-half when it fills up most of its long philosophical conversations in-between the large action sequences.
A sequel has to bear burden of its esteemed predecessor and while Innocence smartly plays off those expectations as a stand-alone film, it doesn’t quite match up to the original in terms of philosophical heaviness. Instead, it offers a visually striking noir procedural that occasionally explores the invisible lines between human and cyborg and whether there is indeed any difference between them. In an age, where humans like Tegusa begin wondering exactly why would cyborgs commit suicide, the imagery of dismantled cybernetic dolls – a representation of innocence – plays out poetically in Mamoru Oshii’s trademark fashion. But for all its attempts to distinguish itself from the original classic, the legacy bearing down on Innocence overshadows it even if it is a solid and a considerably more accessible watch for newcomers to the series.
For all its attempts to distinguish itself from the original classic, the legacy bearing down on Innocence overshadows it even if it is a solid and a considerably more accessible watch for newcomers to the series.