November 13, 2004 on 3:08 pm | In Ghost in the Shell | 1 Comment

Nine years since the release of his hit film Ghost in the Shell, Oshii Mamoru follows with Innocence, which is close to the perfect sequel: it’s the second half of a beautiful whole.

Three years after the events of Ghost in the Shell, Togusa has been assigned as Batou’s partner. Despite Togusa’s misgivings about working in Kusanagi’s shadow, they’re a strong pairing, and are placed exclusively on the case of a string of sexaroid cyborgs who have been malfunctioning, performing gruesome murders and then “committing suicide”.
The case takes them far up north, where they discover a ghost hacker who has abandoned his body …

Innocence is a mirror of Ghost in the Shell: it shows a different side of the world that is in many ways the opposite of the last. The infusion of technology into humanity and the blurring of the lines between artificial intelligence and genuine individuality was key to the first. Here it’s the other way around: the infusion of humanity into lifeless figures.
While a large part of the film is Batou and Togusa driving around, exchanging increasingly unlikely philosophical quotes, there are some incredibly crowd-pleasing moments that never degenerate into simple pandering. Innocence is not a film of “highlights”, nor is it one big highlight, but it has a couple of especially amazing scenes amongst all of the just standard great ones.

Despite the near total lack of Kusanagi, Innocence is more of a love film than the first – and because of that it strengthens the themes of its predecessor. Batou is an intensely lonely character. You can see this through his basset hound. The way that he dotes on the dog shows both his humanity and his lack of human contact. Togusa is the other character who is given depth. He fears that he can not live up to the high standards set by Major Kusanagi as Batou’s new partner – but this is simply because he underestimates the man. While Togusa is mainly human and Batou is mainly cybernetic physically, they are both very human. The way they play off each other is one of the joys of the film. The ending provides a strong sense of camaraderie and a very different feel to the first. It’s not a “buddy cop” movie, by any stretch of the imagination, but these partners are a great team – strengthened by the fact that they’re onto a tangible case here.

Technology has been kind in the creation of Innocence: a large part of it is CG work, which plays off the organic nature of Ghost in the Shell versus the more artificial, manufactured world of this film. As with Ghost in the Shell, there is a sequence of pans over the city where Solus Locus is located set to Kawai Kenji’s haunting score. The difference is that this sequence is quite clearly “faked”. Ghost in the Shell showed real city life, whereas this segment is a festival of make up, masks and illusion.
This scene illustrates the point of the film perfectly: it’s about forcing life into that which can only truly be described as humanoid. The characters remain true to their roots; perhaps too true, as Togusa’s mullet does him no favours. A perfect coup of design is that the suicide robots are modelled after geisha – a profession that even for humans is about knowing illusion and deception. The blending of CG and hand drawn digital animation is generally well done and the movie is a delight to watch even for those who don’t particularly enjoy computer generated work. It is uncertain whether Oshii would have used this much CG on the original film had the technology and budget existed, but it turned out to be very convenient in conveying the message.

Kawai Kenji’s score is similarly moody and atmospheric, and the opening music is a sequel in itself – the opening credits are one of the chief examples of polarity: the ancient Japanese song plays over the construction of an android – from the inside. It is important to note that androids and cyborgs are two entirely different things – they are built for opposite reasons and meet in the middle. This is why everything in this film is a twisted version of the first, including the music. Kawai allows some action music to shine through, but he keeps his general moody atmosphere intact.

Such interplay of films, such a contrast of themes, like two anime singing to each other across the void of years: Innocence is a brilliant film. At times it may be as pretentious as that last sentence, but deliberately so – Oshii’s characters are quite willing to make fun of themselves and their own eclectic knowledge. Despite one really trippy sequence, Innocence is a brilliant movie. Oshii used all of his skills in his production of this film, and it shows.

Images taken from GITS2, the official North American Innocence website.

Innocence Premiere Sydney

November 7, 2004 on 11:51 pm | In Ghost in the Shell | Comments Off on Innocence Premiere Sydney

Madman Director Tim Anderson with site author Alexander Doenau

Tonight at the Valhalla cinema in Glebe, there was a one night only showing of Innocence (Ghost in the Shell 2) at 7pm. This screening was presented by the Japan Foundation and Madman Entertainment, and introduced by director Oshii Mamoru and Production I.G. President Ishikawa Mitsuhisa.

Tim Anderson, director of Madman Entertainment, began by saying that Production I.G. had made many stunning anime that had brought the form to the fore in Australia and the world. While they are promoted chiefly as the animation studio that worked on Kill Bill, they have made many instantly recognisable landmark anime. Tim said that he was looking forward to seeing Innocence as he had yet to see it himself.

The director of the Japan Foundation came up yet and said that anime was a great way to spread awareness of “the contemporary way of Japanese thought” and hoped that the audience would find it enjoyable and a fine example of culture.

Oshii Mamoru himself came onto the stage, and with the aid of an interpreter told what he said the film was about. Oshii prefaced his speech by saying that he had planned to come to Australia around the Olympics in 2000, but his cat died and he could not come due to his sadness. For this he was truly sorry. However, the death of his pet was the catalyst for Innocence. When the cat died, he felt that a hole had opened in him, and that he had lost something. He still feels this way. It reminded Oshii of what his father had said when his mother died: that a hole had opened, and that he had lost half of himself. Oshii said that in Innocence, he wanted to portray a woman who has given much of herself to the net, to the point where she does not know what her “self” truly is. Oshii wished to show such loss in this film.
It had been suggested that animation was not the right form to tackle such issues as Oshii wished to take on. However, he felt that animation was an excellent form for his ideas as he could express them in as versatile a manner as he wished. Oshii feels that films are not to be “understood” or “interpreted”, but that they should produce a “vague feeling” in oneself. He hoped that the audience would be able to appreciate the “vague feeling” and watch the film as many times as they needed in order to fully absorb the messages.
Oshii said that the film had taken him three years to make (compared to Ghost in the Shell‘s one), and while he was not sure if he would make another animation, he had used all of his skills and efforts into making Innocence. He sincerely hoped that the audience would enjoy it. Oshii was a soft spoken man, but the audience listened with great intent to his words.

Finally, Ishikawa came on and said that because he wished to live in Australia soon, he would give his speech in English and keep it brief. Ishikawa lamented that there was not enough time in the country and that it was largely a business trip, but he would go to shops and buy many gifts for his wife. With that, he hoped that we would enjoy the movie and left the stage.

As for the film itself … it was excellent and well received by the audience. That will follow.

After the showing, Tim Anderson said that full licencing of Innocence was 90% done, and that Dreamworks was happy to licence out to them. If all goes to plan, a theatrical run can be expected around January or February, and a DVD release around the April mark. While this is conjecture on his part, it seems likely.

Look for more similar “Australian Anime News” articles when the opportunity arises.

Ghost in the Shell

November 7, 2004 on 1:52 pm | In Ghost in the Shell | Comments Off on Ghost in the Shell

1995’s Ghost in the Shell was a big film in anime history, and also symbolic of the time when Manga Entertainment held some swing. They co-produced this film and orchestrated close enough to a world premiere. And this was Manga Entertainment UK.

In the year 2029, human body parts are replaced with cybernetic components when necessary. Section 9 is part of the government that monitors technological crimes, particularly “ghost hacks” – hackers who break into the bodies of people and control their actions. One of the most charismatic members of Section 9 is the fully cybernetic Major Kusanagi Motoko, who is on the trail of the “Puppet Master” – a hacker who has been manipulating ghosts to his own ends. Government conspiracy abounds and, of course, so to do questions of what makes an individual.

Ghost in the Shell, at 82 minutes, is remarkably brief. Considering that for the past twenty years most of the “good” anime films have been at least 100 minutes (most tipping the scales at 120+), it’s refreshing to see such a compact, effectively told story. The characters are easily recognisable even if the viewer is not familiar with the manga (although this was likely not the case in Japan, where Masamune Shirow’s work is very popular), and the themes are easy to pick up because they’re oft repeated in anime. Any fan of Blade Runner is likely to find Ghost in the Shell an enjoyable film.

Oshii Mamoru hit all of the right spots when he directed this film; he never goes for the supremely obvious. The showdown between Kusanagi and a tank is not accompanied by strong action tunes, but rather a slow suspense filled score. Oshii lets the film pan the streets of Hong Kong for minutes at a time while the haunting theme of the film plays; a move that would be seen as indulgent in many other directors, but Oshii shrugs it off. He did this movie his way, and because of this attitude it works. There’s some graphic violence, but not a lot, and there’s a bit of nudity, but there’s not enough of this stuff to satiate those who came specifically to see those elements: people have to be interested in the brief moments that the characters spend waxing philosophical for this film to work.
It’s only a little bit heavy, and not really overbearing. Those who can bear ten plus hours of this stuff will have no problems with the roughly ten minutes it occupies here. The only real aspect of this film that seems outdated is that, despite promoting a society in which all of humanity is connected, the technology is not as wired as it could be expected; that is, of course, one of the best things about science-fiction films: they provide a vision of the future consistent with the time of their production.

Ghost in the Shell is a beautiful film, and this is never more obvious than in its invisible knife fights in shallow canals. That may sound weird, but any melée that occurs over a water lined surface is just that much more exciting. Hong Kong is beautifully realised, and is not weirdly desolate: it’s a largely bustling metropolis filled with the poor and the rich, and quite a bit of the action takes place during the day, which is nice and refreshing. Only in the last few minutes does Oshii resort to the cheap and static, which is a little disappointing but ultimately forgivable.
The use of early digital imagery is impressive, and the CG works are obvious yet functional: maps and such that would likely appear that way anyway.
For such an early application of the technology, Ghost in the Shell is surprisingly close to mastery.

The score is a large part of what makes the film, and is quite possibly the defining point of Kawai Kenji’s career: the theme is written in an ancient Japanese dialect and eerily fits with the opening sequence depicting the construction of a cyborg body. Kawai never sweeps, but rather feels the atmosphere, and plods around the landscape of Hong Kong in the nicest possible way. The tension inherent in the movie works much better than any crash bang opera could possibly do.

Voice work is good, and the seiyuu continued to portray the characters into the two recent sequel properties. Tanaka Atsuko is an excellent Kusanagi, who does not betray her origins as a woman and in one remarkable scene demonstrates her control. Ohtsuka Akio, who frequently rocks out, is excellent as Batou, the Section 9 agent who is allegedly in love with Kusanagi. This is one of the least played parts of the film, but he does a good job of the concern necessary. Beyond that, the rest of the cast are good, but these two make their characters and the film.

Ghost in the Shell is a quiet, contemplative science fiction film. It handles itself deftly and is not afraid to take a few minutes out. In many ways, it represents the end of an era. In others, it represents the beginning. This is a film that is frequently quoted as a keen way to get into anime, and that’s a fair analysis (although I hated it six years ago). Its appeal is a mystery: it’s a combination of many things, but not one stands out quite enough for a clear definition. Ghost in the Shell is an excellent whole, a deceptively simple mastery.

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