Ghost in the Shell: Innocence is a unlike anything you have seen before. The viewer is lost in a sea of lush visuals that seamlessly blend a Blade Runner noir future with traditional Japanese iconography. The level of texture detail is astounding with even the wood grain of a door frame revealing varnished depths. CG is integrated seamlessly. A set piece in a convenience store simply has to be seen to be believed — then confirmed by a friend. Anime has never looked so beautiful. Innocence is such visual feast that after, I felt like I needed to go on an anime diet.
With the disappearance of Major Kusanagi, the story centers around two of her colleagues, the cyborg enhanced Batou and the human, Togusa. The film is infused with a beautiful melancholy, a love story subtext that reflects Batou’s feelings for the absent Major. This feeling is only enhanced by the monolithic skycrapers that cast the city in perpetual shadow and a golden smog-diffused sun.
The direction and staging are truly awesome. Action sequences recall John Woo circa Hard-boiled. A visit to a coronor’s office is inspired in its contrasting minimalism and a traditional parade in the free trade zone is just magnificent in its detail. The wonderful female chorus from the first film is revisited giving the experience that otherworldy quality.
Of course with human and cyborg characters in place, Mamoru Oshii can indulge his continuing exploration of what it means to be human. The film is filled with humans who crave technological perfection and cyborgs that want biological continuity. As themes, these are fine. However, in the second act, Oshii has his characters engage in didactic tracts. The principals quote Milton and Keats, and there are so many animal metaphors for life that the film feels like a trip to an existential zoo. These exchanges sound like Oshii’s musing rather than the character’s beliefs, and have the twin effect of taking the viewer out of the experience and becalming the film. The third act thankfully shakes viewers with a bang. Oh yes, Oshii’s beloved basset hounds also return – and was that an implication that bassets are the highest form of consciousness???
One thing that struck me watching Innocence is that Oshii’s female sex robots, with rolls of baby-like fat, seem intentionally sexless. Simply from a commercial point of view it seems odd. For all his thoughts on the processes of life, desire does not seem to be part of Oshii’s equation. Even Batou’s longing for the Major is sublimated.
Although Innocence is not a perfect film, it is a sensory experience that has to be seen. The film’s visual splendor more than makes up for Oshii’s pace-killing theorizing and its finale saves it from dropping too far back in the pack. After Innocence, you won’t look at anime the same way again.