29 April 2009

GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE (Dir. Mamoru Oshii, 2004, Japan) - 'The less one forgets, the less one can remember...'

Do all cinematic science fiction roads lead back to Blade Runner? In the DVD extras to Mamoru Oshii’s incredibly beautiful and cerebral Japanese sci fi anime, ‘Ghost in the Shell II: Innocence’, the film maker acknowledges the debt one must continue to pay to the influential milestone that is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Innocence was the follow up to Oshii’s landmark cyberpunk anime, Ghost in the Shell, which was released in 1995 to critical acclaim and commercial success. Like Otomo’s Akira, it would go on to influence countless science fiction films including the Wachowski’s Matrix trilogy. Unfortunately I have still not managed to see the first film but was eager to watch Innocence, having been told that it may just be the most aesthetically pleasing anime film ever made. I can’t comment on the first film nor can I offer any analysis in terms of continuing themes, motifs or visual style, but I am pretty sure from all the interviews I have come across with Oshii, he makes numerous references to the explicit relationship that exists between the two films.

The story of Innocence bears a striking resemblance to that of Blade Runner. Special agent Batou who along with his equally downbeat partner are given the assignment of investigating a series of robot crimes involving gynoids (living dolls). The plot itself is very complicated and I'm not sure if Oshii is too concerned with constructing an appealing narrative. What Oshii's cinematic approach boils down to is an obsessive concern for the aesthetics and the visual representation of a dystopian future in which the line between man and machine is almost unrecognisable. One of the most memorable sequences takes place at night in a neonesque grocery store when Batou is confronted by what appears to be a manifestation of his personal anxieties. The future world Oshii depicts is a stunning architectural amalgamation of the dense, urbanised landscapes of dystopian science films like Godard's Alphaville and Lang's Metropolis. The allusions and references to the genre are intelligently constructed and Oshii's control over the textures and colours of the film reminded me of the importance of his contribution to the technological evolution of Japanese anime:

'It was Oshii, in the first Ghost in the Shell, who began anime's migration into a digital world, scanning images into a computer instead of photographing them. His decision allowed him to experiment, altering colours and backgrounds, and adding effects that made his animation seem more real. Without Ghost in the Shell, there would be no Steamboy, no Appleseed, no Spirited Away. Oshii's movie forms the vital link between the art of cel animation and the craft of CGI'

- Living Dolls, Jonathan Clements, 2005, Innocence DVD sleeve notes

Innocence is one of the best examples of the anime genre I have come across to date but it never shies away from saying that anime films can be as sophisticated, if not more so, than their Hollywood science fiction counterparts. Oshii creates an affecting and powerful title sequence, making haunting use of Japanese composer Kenji Kawai's original score:

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