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Rated 3.06 stars
by 2417 people


ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Philosophical Spectacle
by Jeffrey Chen

Are robots alive? Can they be used as a storytelling tool to explore what can and can't be considered being alive? We're past that now -- or at least we should be. That's what director Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence seems to be saying.

I, for one, am glad. Although it never really gets old, the original topic has been done to death, recently reaching a low point with the pop action/sci-fi I, Robot. Oshii seeks to explore a less traveled frontier, one where life's integration with the mechanical causes itself to no longer be strictly defined by its physical manifestation. In other words, life isn't confined to a body; as a "ghost," a life can interact via various "shells." As a result, the very idea of being human has become blurred. Oshii doesn't ask if robots can be human; rather, he wonders if the prevalence of robotics makes humans less human.

This is already sounding a bit too philosophical, but I think it only scratches the surface of the themes Oshii is attempting to play with. The problem here is how densely he presents his subject. Instead of smoothly integrating his ideas into a movie that can otherwise run on its own pace, he allows momentum to take long breaks as his characters, mainly the hulking cyborg Batou (voice of Akio ‘tsuka) and his partner Togusa (voice of KŰichi Yamadera), exchange philosophical quotes, referring to sources as varied as Confucius, John Milton, the Bible. A viewer may forget for many prolonged moments that these two are detectives on a case to find out why robotic dolls have begun to slay their masters.

Luckily for Oshii, his movie's visual style is striking enough to merit viewing without having to consciously think about all those heady concepts. His original Ghost in the Shell was an eye-popping landmark in anime, and here he seeks to set the pace again. The animation is a curious blend of computer-generated 3-D graphics and traditional 2-D anime-style drawings. It can be jarring to observe, but all of it lends well to its creation of a hypnotic atmosphere. Batou dwells in a cold, lonely world, true to the usual sci-fi standard of dystopia -- his universal human need for a connection is exacerbated by cold surroundings, and abated in small, bittersweet doses, first from his pet dog, then from an event late in the film. To compound this, Oshii fashions his environment as a more augmented version of the bleak, electro-lit future, a dark-and-light spectacle you can't take your eyes off of even as, with sadness setting in, it becomes apparent that the view is devoid of meaningful life.

That might just say it all, really -- Oshii seems to point out that the faster we head into the future, the further we leave behind our roots to humanity. Innocence is nothing if not ambitious, and that is its best trait -- it wants to hash out ideas first and provide action second, which leads to its welcome avoidance of the anime narrative habit of relying on apocalyptic crises. With its combination of existential speeches and great animation, it feels like the Japanese equivalent of Richard Linklater's Waking Life. Overloaded on both words and looks, it can be accused of trying to do too much, but, in the field of animation, I'd much rather see that kind of "flaw" than the alternative.

(Released by Go Fish Pictures and rated 'PG-13" for violence, disturbing images and brief language.)

Review also posted on www.windowtothemovies.com.


                                                                                                                                                                               
 
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