Okay, so it’s 2032 and humans live along side cyborgs and the Net, the Matrix or what have you is everywhere and in everything. Even some humans have been modified and outfitted with enhanced cybernetic whatamathingy’s. And despite the beautifully strange and surreal intermingling of 2-D and 3-D animation, an elaborate story about special section, super cyborg cops, corporate cover-ups and robotic murder, what is really important for Mamoru Oshii in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, is the nature and notion of the soul. Innocence is serious Sci-Fi. Nine years ago Oshii raised the bar for animÃ© with his existential masterpiece, Ghost in the Shell, and the man’s got waymore to say on the subject.
The story of Innocence follows Batou, a cyber detective for Public Security Section 9. He’s got clearance. Assigned with a new partner to investigate a series of homicide-suicide cases involving a sexualized brand of androids (Gynoids), he starts looking for leads, taking out the Yakuza and quoting Descartes on the essence of being human. But this is motion for the movie, and the bigger battle is fought in the complicated ways that Oshii explores how we define humanity or even how we know we exist.
The “Ghost” in the shell is the spirit or consciousness of self. For Batou, a fully equipped cyborg, this sense and his memories are the only human parts left. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is even more textually dense than the original; offering by far the most literate and serious cyborgs ever, and the film is closer to techno-film noir than full-on blazing robot wars. Though Innocence has some of those moments, it really is an art film complete with long lingering moments of reaction-less expression countered by expansive and beautiful wide shots of the worlds. Blending the traditional 2-D animations with perspective tricks and 3-D environments, the film is pushing the conventions of its own traditional form.
Philosophically, Oshii is asking timeless questions about our relationship with emerging technology and about human nature itself. If we can copy and replace the body, what do we do about the soul? Is there a soul and are we as humans bigger than the sum of our parts? His world is one where the technological web begins with our own DNA and continues through to our fascination with making androids–“dolls”–in our own image. What happens when the machines we have created begin to feel emotions and no longer need us? Classic. The future is the present in Oshii’s films, and the questions concerning the capacity to understand what makes us human are left in the hands of machines. Both Ghost in the Shell films, though obviously indebted to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, as is most Sci-Fi since, are equally philosophical in their examination of the soul and its indelible relationship to our identity of self. The films are closer to Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic Metropolis than the Wachowski brothers’ Matrix trilogy, and Innocence atleast forgoes the collective unconscious’ quest for a new cyber-saviour, and instead offers that the key to life is self-awareness and the freedom and capacity to feel. Somewhere amidst the circuitry of our own minds are memories, and somewhere beyond good and evil there is innocence, and somewhere even further than that is just a film about a man and his really well drawn dog.
Ghost In The Shell: Innocence is now showing.