Giving Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence a second chance

When I first saw Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence I left the screening unimpressed. At the time, it felt like a confusing trip through a philosophical morass. I disliked the Major’s lack of screen time as I loved her central role in the associated TV series. Still, when I heard that Bandai planned to stop releasing material, I knew I should pick up the Ghost in the Shell movies I did not have, including Innocence. Shortly thereafter I had a long trip to take and decided to give Innocence another look.

Mamoru Oshii directed Innocence and he structured it as a detective story, but it lacked the resonance I felt with his earlier Patlabor 2. A good mystery story should keep the audience on the edge of its seat, guessing at the outcome. I never felt invested in the outcome of Innocence. I could follow logically as the heroes tracked down the perpetrator, but I just did not care. In Patlabor 2 the investigation into the mastermind behind a terrorist attack formed a central part of the movie. Whereas in Innocence the plot mattered little, only the action scenes and the interaction between the characters mattered.

The highlight of the film lies in its visuals. It looks great, especially given its age and it’s one of the nicest examples of animation I’ve seen. The producers invested time and money in adding background detail and moving people in areas where other films use matte paintings. The backgrounds and the visuals kept me engrossed in the story.

My only regret is that I didn't nab this on Blu-Ray

The action scenes are amazing as well. Lots of guns. Lots of explosions. Lots of hand-to-hand combat. The choreography looked fluid and the various aircraft, cars and boats looked great. The vehicles blended in with the rest of the animation, rather than sticking out as computer generated vehicles often do.

This reminded me of the paper bird in Read or Die TV

The artists produced seamlessly blended visuals, but the writers failed to create a similarly integrated script. Instead, the writing felt like two different works. One part included standard movie dialogue. The kind that moves the plot along and deepens the audiences’ understanding of the characters. The other part takes the form of a philosophy journal with famous quotes inserted haphazardly. The movie’s fixation on philosophy overwhelmed me at times. A little philosophy in anime gives the plot added significance. Here, the references overshadowed whatever message the movie tried to convey.

"Like an Elephant in the Forest." Part of one of the many philosophical lines the movie trotted out.

Overall though the quality of the Japanese production impressed me and Bandai did an admirable job keeping the English dub at a similarly high level. The cast from the Ghost in the Shell TV series returned for the movie and sounded comfortable in their respective roles. The movie exists in a different continuum than the TV show, and therefore could not take advantage of the character building from the show. However, the voice actors still benefited. The actors sounded at home in their roles, unlike the stiffness of the acting in the first Ghost in the Shell movie.

Overall, I highly recommend the movie, even with its uneven script. The attention to detail of the animators shows through. If you are deciding which Bandai releases to pick up, this deserves a place on your list.

5 thoughts on “Giving Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence a second chance”

  1. It’s one of those movies you gotta see more than once, I guess. I’ve seen it once. All I remember is:

    Batou and mullet-guy quoted a lot of philosophy in between action scenes.
    Batou had a big slobbery dog.
    Mokoto shows up in an anime doll and kicks ass.

    I really must watch it again and see what all the philosophy was about.

    1. Agreed. I liked the movie much better the second time in. My advice would be to ignore the philosophy or at worst just right down quotes. You can always go back after and figure out what Oshii was trying to say. The funny thing is that Oshii spells out the show’s message in a “making of” feature that comes with the DVD and it’s rather simple. Maybe he intended much deeper messages as well, but if so those messages went over the head of the movie’s audience.

  2. I haven’t seen Ghost in the Shell yet, but I’ve been curious about it for a while. I asked people to recommend me anime and that was the most popular suggestion!

    1. I’d agree with the suggestion, but I’d recommend you ask the people who recommended Ghost in the Shell which of the show’s incarnations to watch first. I’d suggest you start with either the first Ghost in the Shell movie or the first television series (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex).

  3. I think you cannot judge this movie as “entertainment” as that´s not what it´s trying to be. It´s a compilation of art pieces from past works, like a gallery.
    People always react this way to contemporary art because it demands them to make an effort.
    Like, you have no idea who Hans Bellmer is, who Donna Haraway is, you don´t see how Batou and Togusa are like Dante and Virgil, moving from one chamber of hell to the next, and to you “philosophy” is just this one big vague thing.
    There´s nothing wrong with that. I can´t read Nature magazine because I lack the culture to understand the language used in it.
    You don´t get Innocence because you judge it as entertainment, demanding it to be something like Polansky´s “Chinatown” a film that takes you by the hand and tells you what to think every step of the way.
    I don´t want to be agressive, but sometimes a little humility goes a long way in regards to showing character. Nothing wrong with being ignorant about this or that, but dismissing something you don´t understand at all in such an arrogant way is not very becoming.
    There´s many great articles on things like “mechademia” about Oshii and Innocence in particular. There is a LOT going on on many many level in this film, it´s really high level culture. If you look them up and read some of them a whole new world of beauty will open before you (like in Aladin)

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