Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) Movie Review

It’s difficult to dislike Mamoru Oshii’s sequel to his seminal anime work “Ghost in the Shell”, the cyberpunk sci-fi that influenced “The Matrix” and many others. Then again, it’s also difficult to completely like “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence”, if for no other reason except that it’s a ponderous, slow, and cumbersome 100-minute movie that feels like an over extended 30-minute episode. To be sure, the animation is superb — but then again, it would only be worth mentioning if the animation wasn’t fantastic. Like the Koreans when it comes to movie aesthetics, the Japanese owns feature length animation, and anything other than spectacular is a letdown.

True to its pedigree, “Innocence” is indeed a terrific film to look at. The sequel follows the adventures of cyborg cop Bateau (Akio Otsuka), a supporting character in the original “Ghost in the Shell”. Now partnered with the terribly uninteresting Togusa (Koichi Yamadera), Bateau is assigned to investigate a recent rash of murders committed by sex androids. The one thing the victims have in common is that they all got their androids from the same place. Bateau’s investigation leads him to a corporation churning out the product, but that’s hardly important because plot is something “Innocence” is barely concerned with.

What “Innocence” is really interested in is talking about the nature of humanity, and its clashes with machinery. Technology is threatening to run amok (literally, as in the case of the killer androids), and figuratively, as in the film’s surrounding environment. And no one does futuristic cyberpunk settings better than writer/director Mamoru Oshii, who has applied his eye for detail to the live-action “Avalon” and before that, “Patlabor: The Movie”. In this futuristic tale, technology is so much a part of man that it’s hard to tell the difference — and indeed, the film seems concern that there might no longer be any distinction between man and machine.

And if one was so inclined to approach “Innocence” from a cerebral point of view, there’s enough chitchat about souls and machines and their various corresponding analogies to make one tremble with overwhelming pleasure. But if you were looking for a futuristic action film, there are only about 10 minutes of “Innocence” that will meet your standards. In deference to the film’s themes of humanity becoming more cold and soulless the more we give in to technology, I suppose the fact that almost no one in the movie exerts anything resembling human traits is part of the “game plan”.

Then again, spending 100 minutes with unsmiling faces that have the bad habit of just standing around jabbering away all day about droll subjects such as the human soul does not an exciting film make. If watching live actors do this is bad, imagine watching animated characters, which quite literally stand/sit/pose in place for long stretches at a time without movement. I “get” the attempt at cerebral storytelling, but there is something to be said about not boring the audience to death while doing it.

While the animation is flawless and quite wonderful, as a sequel to 1995’s “Ghost in the Shell”, “Innocence” just ends up regurgitating a lot of the original’s themes, and indeed even some of the conversations get recycled. And while Major Kusanagi, the heroine of the original, eventually shows up to do battle toward the end of the sequel, she’s sorely missed for the other 90 minutes of the film where she’s only mentioned in passing. Too bad, because this means having to endure Bateau’s unsmiling face and the nagging Togusa, who between nagging is equally as dull and uninteresting as everyone else in the movie.

As far as action goes, “Innocence” offers a brief skirmish in the beginning, a loud firefight about 40 minutes later, and a final 10-minute battle with an army of sex androids to cap things off. Alas, not exactly the stuff “action movies” are made of. In-between the sporadic action (which, in fairness, are quite excellently rendered), there are a lot of conversations about the nature of man and machine and blah blah blah. If that is your cup of tea, you’ll get a kick out of “Innocence”, because it’s obvious that’s all Oshii seems to care about.

And without enough involving action to keep one’s attention, I’m afraid no amount of wild techno babble or scientific jargon is going to save the day. As a sequel, “Innocence” is far inferior to the original. In a funny way, just as “The Matrix” was heavily inspired by the original “Ghost in the Shell”, this sequel seems to give off the distinct aura of pseudo/faux philosophy that made large chunks of the “Matrix” sequels so blasted intolerable. But then again, at least the Wachowski brothers had the decency to supply us with groovy action in-between the gabfest. Oshii can’t even be bothered with that.

As a 30-minute episode, “Innocence” would have been just a tad too long. As a 100-minute feature length film, it’s simply untenable.

Mamoru Oshii (director) / Masamune Shirow (comic Koukaku-Kidoutai), Mamoru Oshii (screenplay)
CAST: Akio Ôtsuka …. Bateau (voice)
Atsuko Tanaka …. Major Motoko Kusanagi (voice)
Koichi Yamadera …. Togusa (voice)

Buy Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence on DVD