It's been an extremely long time since I last laid my eyes on the awesome Ghost in the Shell, and while a sequel and an animated series have spawned a much wider universe, it is up until now that I've finally picked something up to continue where I left off. Written and directed by Mamoru Oshii, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence just about shows why Japanese Anime remains a cultural force to be reckoned with, boasting fantastic looking visuals, and a deeply engaging storyline that just begs to be watched multiple times in order to appreciate it.
There's something keenly missing from this film though, and that's the presence of Major Kusanagi, who had disappeared at the end of the first film. I suppose it's a tremendous void to fill and thought she was primarily what was interesting as a character, and not to forget her prowess during action sequences, and this sense of loss gets translated wonderfully by Oshii into the character of Batou her cyborg sidekick, who becomes the protagonist we follow in Innocence. Being very much his story and his piece of investigations, together with new partner Togusa, we journey once again into the fictional Japanese city of New Port, which is modelled more after Hong Kong, and what more, Cantonese seems to be the order of the day as well in the finale action sequence.
The main plot here involves the investigations into a series of gruesome murders by what would be illegally made sexbots known as gynoids, which have gone berserk, killing their principals before committing suicide. Made by the company Locus Solus, it brings Batou and Togusa up against the Yakusa as well, which provides for some crazy gun battle sequences, as they get close to the truth behind what these gynoid dolls seem to possess - a ghost - that demands attention to what goes on behind the scenes.
And what is a Ghost in the Shell movie, or a Mamoru Oshii film, without a dabbling in philosophy that almost always boggles the mind and in some ways, bogged down the film unnecessarily. Some dialogue felt forced, especially when the two investigating partners address their testy relationship, with Togusa constantly doubting his own abilities, and trying hard to measure up against Kusanagi in being the perfect partner for Batou. They exchange sayings and philosophies as quoted in famous books, sayings and philosophers, and will probably pique your interest enough to find out more on your own, and their relevance to the context of the film.
In addition, there's the usual talk about hacking, and an incredible sequence involving Batou's routine in an old supermarket involving revenge hacking and some good ol' slow-motion shoot-em-up, while giving us a first glimpse into Batou's oft-touted guardian angel which suggested the return of an iconic GITS character. And any GITS film will not be complete without the mind-numbing portions of the narrative, which involves repeated sequences with a dash of subtle changes that will keep your mind on its toes in deciphering the many layers or reality and fantasy that Inception did best in.
A challenging film brought to another realm by music from Kenji Kawai, the visuals here are a mix of the traditional hand drawn, as well as computer generated CG and 3D, which I think will be gorgeous if transferred into the 3D picture format of today, a technology that has been used by lesser films to milk more money at the box office. They are extremely detailed, especially a phenomenal sequence involving an extended showpiece of a Taiwanese-inspired festival somewhere in the middle of the film that razzled and dazzled, presented together with a haunting piece of music that will make your hair stand on its end.
The Region 1 DVD by Dreamworks Home Entertainment comes presented in a widescreen anamorphic transfer that gorgeously brings to the screen all the intricate animated 2D and 3D details. Audio is presented in its original Japanese soundtrack where you can choose between a Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 Surround option. Subtitles are available in English and French, and Scene Selection is over 20 chapters.
There are only a handful of Special Features on the disc. First is a Commentary by Director Mamoru Oshii and Animation Director Toshihiko Nishikubo, where non Japanese language speakers like me can read off their conversation on the making of process through subtitles, as they share plenty of what went on behind the scenes, and the decisions that came off to make the final product. Don't come to expect some reading off of what transpires on screen that plagues most commentaries, but expect the duo being critical of their own work as well! Incredibly detailed for any animation fan keen on learning what goes on behind an award winning film.
The Making of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (16:00, letterbox format, in Japanese with English subtitles) is filled with interviews of the voice cast on their roles (Akio Otsuka, Atsuko Tanaka and even Naoto Takenaka!), including a talk with writer director Mamoru Oshii, as we get that glimpse at how animation in the studios are created through conversations with the various designers working on the film. This segment ends with a montage of the red carpet, reception and post-screening thoughts at the Cannes Film Festival 2004 where it was in the running for the Palme d'Or which eventually went the way of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.
The Japanese Trailer for Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (5:35) is fairly interesting as it is extended, which plays off exactly like a music video of the title song Follow Me.
Rounding off the disc is a section that Previews titles Coming Soon to DVD, presented in Letterbox format of the the original Ghost in the Shell (2:02), Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (1:29) and Millennium Actress (1:05).