Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Not sure if it is really worth reviewing this. The copy I saw was, to be blunt, pretty poor. Not a fansub, they take more pride in their presentation, and not off the internet because the quality wasn't that great. So I consider this review a placeholder until I see the movie again, ideally on the big screen. No picture either, I couldn't capture one that I felt would do it any sort of justice.
Public security section 9 is an elite security squad that takes on the tasks the police can't handle. As such they need high level investigative skills to identify, street smarts and experience to find and and a mastery of weapons and warfare for when their opponent doesn't play nice, which they generally don't. In other words they are skilled, experienced and tough individuals who have seen every sort of crime and corruption humanity can invent. It is also clear they have paid a very human cost along the way, bodies cybernetically enhanced, continuously wary and on guard, souls burdened with all the things they have done, seen and lost.
In this particular case expensive proto-type robots are going berserk and turning on their owners and those around them. It is not a technical fault, for within the minds of these robots is a cry for help, a suggestion that their production has been tampered with, their innocent robot minds tainted. Who would do such a thing, without any visible gain from the robots actions, and why is their production so secretive? It's up to Batou and Togusa (the squad rookie) to follow the trail and find the answers. And the trip will be much stranger than they imagine.
... indeed it will be much stranger than even I imagined. Ghost in the shell one was relatively straight forward sci-fi / action, albeit with a nice serve of Shirow's odd philosophy. This story is based on "robot rondo" from the ghost in the shell manga which is also relatively straight forward. Of course they need to do some switching of characters because Motoko Kusanagi, the female lead of section 9, underwent a transformation at the end of the first movie, based on a story which occurred at the end of the manga. This will be a disappointment to many and requires Batou to be gifted with a lot more subtlety that he is credited with in the manga in order to absorb her role as well.
The first movie was also a commercial success. Shirow's strong and detailed vision of a cyberpunk world, his intense characters and even his slightly wacky high tech philosophy translated pretty well to the big screen. It was also compatible with the a western audience since cyberpunk is a largely universal genre. Thus I was pretty surprised to find that this movie was taking some pretty impressive risks. Partly because it matches the interests of the director, partly because the story needed expansion, but perhaps mostly because the creators were determined to make something deep and dense.
In other words the action, the most sellable element of the film, recedes. Style, both visual and in the script comes forward. The atmosphere is dark, almost film noir, and tinged with a sort of unreality. It is as if, with so much of the spirit contained within the cyber-brain network, the world has become full of a dark dreaming. The fact that the world is constantly overlaid with a digital analysis of perceived reality giving another layer of meaning. In a similar fashion the dialog between the characters is complex, full of obscure references and hidden meaning. This material is not from the manga, and not as tech fetishist as Shirow, but it's fairly compatible with some of the themes raised in the first movie.
At several stages in the film visual imagery over-rides reality. There are shots of a northern city dedicated to information processing, and thus the favored lair of hackers, that has a strong dream like air to it. Enough so that it doesn't really feel like human reality. Some of the supporting visuals are also given so much dramatic intensity that they seem too aggressive to be real. It becomes more like an artwork than a vision of a believable fictional world. It does work on that level, but you have to be willing to suspend disbelief and follow along where it is leading. This culminates in some cyber-brain hacking which allows them to escape reality altogether and create an entirely dreamlike world full of strange portents.
In other words enjoyment of this film will depend on what you expect and want. If you wanted a direct continuation from the first film then the quite arty and stylised treatment might not be satisfying. If you wanted an action film you almost certainly will be disappointed. There is some action here, Batous "questioning" a yakuza hideout being a highlight, but it's not really a main course. And the final fight is oddly unattractive (a very good interpretation of hacking though). Of course if what you wanted was an art-house style and exotic philosophy piece then this should be right up your alley... but I wonder how many people that actually includes. I will also mention that the philosophy is definitely not gibberish, it does make sense and fit the environment, but not always the story and some of the references are extremely obscure. The characters, and presentation, do achieve a powerful sense of dramatic depth and complexity but this comes at a cost in accessibility and energy.
For myself I quite enjoyed it. Just sort of sit back and let the images and thoughts roll across the minds eye. Some of it was a little over-blown and illogical but these movies are always going to be pushing the boundaries of credibility in order to see how much intensity they can wring out of every scene. I do think it is not going to be everyones taste though and would not be at all surprised if it doesn't get a mainstream release in the western market. Nor can I honestly say it's going on my list of favorite movies, it is more like an experience you have and then move on from than something you would re-watch repeatedly.
The production seems every bit as heavy as the script. Characters sculpted out of planes of light and moving around the screen with either the implacable nature of icebergs or over exaggerated physicality where everything moves at once and objects blur from the speed of movement. On the copy I had I couldn't really see the rich visual texturing or visual light effects, but I know they're there. It is somewhat inconsistent, the intense reality of the leads dog, the ethereal nature of some of the architecture and the dark backgrounds for much of the rest, but it's certainly interesting and skillfully done. I can't help feeling it probably sucks up a great deal of money without really adding much to the story and character though. Voices are superb and the music retains the ghostlike chanting and exotic sounds that were introduced in the first movie.
Cybernetic cops in a cyberpunk future are challenged when some high tech robots suddenly turn on their human masters. What would cause them to do so and who would gain from their actions. War-weary Batou and the still idealistic Togusa are the cops assigned to the job, but the movie is dominated by a powerful visual style and layers of meaning only indirectly connected with the story. It's quite enjoyable as a rich and artistic sensory and philosophical experience if you can cope with that sort of thing.