Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

When creating a sequel there’s a few key things that you need to keep in mind. First, you want your sequel to have all the things that made the original great, yet on a grander scale; you want a better story, better special effects, better action, better everything! But you don’t want it to be the same, or else it’ll become bland and predictable, meaning that you’ll want to strive to do something different, breaking the status quo. You want it to remain true to the original and not break continuity so that it may truly be a sequel and not just a random movie with the same characters. However, if it were as easy as these last few sentences make it then we wouldn’t have this “bad sequel” pandemic we have now. Lastly, you’ll be needing to drop in your little dash of Chemical X to provide the cherry; add that secret ingredient and your sequel will be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, only a select group of writers accepted into the most secret circle of the Illuminati at birth know of this most important puzzle piece, and even they need to earn it. Others stumble upon it through sheer dumb luck. The secret of good sequel-making may be a mystery forever.

Despite this lack of knowledge, however, we are still somehow blessed to experience good sequels every once in a while, and on the rarest occasion we get one that even surpasses the original, such as The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, and Terminator 2. Well, one more we can add onto that list is Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.

This was certainly a sequel I was not expecting to succeed, or even reach the same level as the original Ghost in the Shell movie, especially considering how much it has going against it. It was produced in 2004, nearly ten years after the original; the iconic protagonist of the 1995 film, Major Kusanagi, is instead replaced by her former partner, Batou; at the time of release, the Ghost in the Shell anime, Stand Alone Complex, had already been airing with director Kenji Kamiyama; and most importantly, it’s a goddamn sequel! So many obstacles stood in the way of making this a good movie, yet somehow it managed to be brilliant.

The film is based some years after the events of the first, and Major Motoko Kusanagi is still missing having disappeared into the net. Batou takes the lead role, newly partnered with Togusa, as the two investigate a series of murders committed by “sexaroids”—sex androids. However, the murder mystery gets deeper when it is discovered that each of the victims had connections to or were the members of the Yakuza, political agencies, military branches, and the like. Could the murders be the workings of terrorism? Could they just be random anomalies among the pet androids? Or could it be part of something much bigger?

Like the original film, Innocence is very serious in tone, but, with a new protagonist, takes on a new and different style. The animation, as expected from Production I. G., is remarkable. One of the first things you’ll notice is the heavy usage of CG, in combination with cel animation. A lot of people are split over this detail, but I personally think the CG pushes the same boundaries the original did, and uses it to heighten the atmosphere and better the experience for the audience. It’s not entirely seamless, but it’s very beautiful nonetheless. And despite being a 2004 film, Innocence still reeks of that 90s roughness and atmosphere that made the original so brilliant; this movie could easily be confused for being a 90s release with advanced computer graphics based on the art style alone—this is one small detail I find most impressive with this belated update.

The 1995 Ghost in the Shell posed to us a philosophical question dealing with artificial humanity, and what it means to be human as opposed to a machine. Innocence turns much of the focus onto artificial life itself, and what it means to be a machine, a doll, and a tool for humanity. This movie tackles a whole lot of philosophical depth, gripping with multitudes of ideas and questions that certainly pay homage to the great Isaac Asimov, but also cross over new lines and frontiers. The dialogue is packed to the brim with numerous quotations and references of many different historical people and documents, such as Confucius, Descartes, the Holy Bible, and Richard Dawkins. The dialogue and philosophical tone becomes so convoluted and so engaging that it may turn many people away, but for those of you who revel in this sort of stuff, you’ll love every minute of it. This movie is not intended for casual viewing.

With increased depth in philosophy and dialogue, one assumes there will be increased attention to detail and development, especially with the characters—gladly, we won’t be disappointed. While the only characters really getting any development are Batou and Togusa, the development is really good nonetheless. We get to learn so much more about these two characters, and their development really continues where it left off in the original, particularly with Batou. Through their development, we also get more insight into the world of Ghost in the Shell, and how things work in this highly cyberized reality.

Lastly, Kenji Kawai once again brings his musical talent to the table, and provides us with all the auditory glory we loved in the first film and continues to impress. He didn’t do too much different this time around, but this is much more of a good thing than one might think. In much the same way his music settled the atmosphere of the original, Kawai really fills in the gap between the two by providing us with that same atmosphere in the right moments, proving that we really are in the same world and that this truly is a sequel. From his eerie chants, to soft melodies, the music engages us in the most appropriate way for identifying with the characters and attaching us to the story.

So, what is it that makes this film such a great sequel to the 1995 classic? Well, it simply has all the right stuff. It has bigger, better action and philosophical themes; it stays true to the original, yet takes its own liberties; and it adds that secret ingredient that just makes it perfect. Mamoru Oshii has certainly outdone himself this time, because Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence easily earns a 10/10 above its predecessor. While the original is a classic, Innocence simply outdoes it in every way and perfects the philosophy attempted in 1995. However, without the original, Innocence does fall short, and would not work as a stand alone (which shows how well of a sequel it is). Only together, in perfect harmony, can the combination of the Ghost in the Shell movies reach sheer brilliance. I highly recommend this film to fans of the original, and for those who haven’t seen the original: watch it before watching this film.

Until my next review of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, this has been the Geek With Taste, rockin’ it once more!

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