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Man machine

Mamoru Oshii is one of the key figures in modern Japanese anime, having created the extraordinary Ghost in the Shell (Kôkaku kidôtai, 1995) and made probably the only (so far) near perfect live action live action anime in Avalon in 2001. Since the release of that film, a darkly brilliant melding of Japanese comic book structure and story with an East European visual sense, tinged with elements of Cronenberg and Lynch, all eyes here have been on what he would do next. Animation, live action, or both? Oshii has returned to animation, and more directly his most acclaimed film, Ghost in the Shell. The title may not give this away, but Innocence is essentially a sequel to that film (its original title was to be simply Ghost in the Shell 2). And it's quite something.

Batou is a cyborg, a human with a robotic body, giving him enhanced strength and combat abilities. In a time where the difference between what is human and what is robotic has become blurred, Batou hangs on to a memory, a vision of a woman, for whom he searches in the hope of reclaiming his own sense of what it is to be human.

Just as Avalon mixed computer animation with live action, Innocence has traditional, cell-drawn 2D characters interacting with complex, computer generated 3D backgrounds. Whereas in Avalon the mix made perfect narrative sense – the characters were taking part in a computer game, and the artificiality of some of the graphics was very deliberate and effective – here the choice is purely a stylistic one, and whether it works or not will depend very much on taste. I found the effect at first a tad jarring – the opening shot is a magnificent, 3D cityscape, and the first appearance of the cell-drawn characters comes as a real surprise after this – but soon warmed to it and in a short space of time began to enjoy the mix a great deal. As you'd expect, some of the computer generated images are genuinely gobsmacking, but this should not take away from the excellent work visible in the cell animation – just watch Batou unstrap a girl from a pod in which she has been trapped and look how every move of his and her body has been realistically rendered.

Complimenting the visuals is a rich and atmospheric DTS soundtrack, the star of which is an excellent score by Avalon composer Kenji Kawai, who also composed the memorably frightening music for Ringu and Dark Water. Full of sinister chords and rhythmic chants, it is as much a part of the film's feel and structure as the visuals.

Innocence draws on many sources, including its on film lineage. Ghost in the Shell and Avalon are both referenced heavily, in character, design and plot elements, as well as pacing and a compelling use of stillness punctuated by sudden action, but you will also find elements of Blade Runner, The Matrix, Robocop, William Gibson's Neuromancer trilogy, and even the Final Fantasy computer game series. It's a heady mix that for the most part plays seamlessly, and amidst the brooding dialogue scenes and dark cityscapes, there are bursts of sometimes electrifying violence and action in the traditional anime style – Batou enters a bar and everyone has just enough time to reach for their weapons before the entire place is sprayed by his machine gun.

The film reaches a satisfying conclusion, and if the end seems a little tidy (with the hint of something darkly remembered), then the journey there is as dark and sometimes intense as anything in recent anime, and the complete flipside of the revoltingly jolly, song-infested animation of Disney's recent output. This is a true cyberpunk movie, and one destined to follow both Ghost in the Shell and Avalon into cult status.

This is a preview rather than a full review for two reasons – the film has not yet been released in the UK and as yet is waiting for an official release date, and the print viewed was a Japanese one with no subtitles. I know enough of the language to follow the plot and some of the dialogue, but am nowhere near fluent enough to understand the more detailed intricacies of the interaction between the characters, and without this it is impossible to fully judge the film. As for a UK and US release, this seems to have been designed in from the ground up – the opening credits are in English, as are most of the on-screen computer graphics, suggesting that a western release has been planned from the start, as just by dubbing the voices (and in animation, lip synchronisation is rarely an issue) the film would be ready for a western release. But I do hope the original Japanese version will also become available. The voice work here is particularly key to the characters, and the thought of Batou's deep, gravelly voice being replaced by an American "Hey you guys!" type one really fills me with horror.

Innocence (Ghost in the Shell 2)
Inosensu Kôkaku Kidôtai

Japan 2004
99 mins
Mamoru Oshii
Mitsuhisa Ishikawa
Toshio Suzuki
Mamoru Oshii
from the manga by
Masamune Shirow
Kenji Kawai
production design
Yohei Tanada
Akio Ôtsuka
Atsuko Tanaka
Kôichi Yamadera
Tamio Ôki
Yutana Nakano
review posted
23 April 2003

related review
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence DVD review

See all of Slarek's reviews