Revenge of the cyborgs

Philosophy and fan-boy fantasies mix well in "Ghost in the Shell: Innocence"

Tom Horgen

There are three kinds of Japanese-anime fans. There are the super-geek fans who watch every movie and every episode of every anime they can get, usually downloaded off the Internet. There are also the casual fans who borrow the more-popular stuff from the super-geek fans. And then there are those filmgoers who appreciate the style and innovation of the genre but only watch event anime films – the big ones – that make it into U.S. theaters.

“Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence” is one of those big ones. Filmgoers who find themselves in the third, less-informed batch of anime fans will be picking their jaws up off the sticky movie theater floor after witnessing the genre’s latest advancements with this sequel to the 1996 original.

The 1996 “Ghost in the Shell,” took one of the first cracks at seamlessly merging computer animation with traditional two-dimensional animation. It was a success, adding a visceral, realistic edge to the film’s cyberpunk story of cops battling terrorists in a future where people can transfer their consciousness (their “ghosts”) into cyborg bodies (“shells”).

The Major, the government’s top cyber-operative in the first film, is gone in “Innocence,” leaving her partner, Batou, as the film’s protagonist. He’s stuck with finding out why a new line of androids – designed for sexual purposes (i.e. very, very realistic blow-up dolls) – are going berserk and murdering their owners.

With “Innocence,” the guys at animation powerhouse Production I.G. (the masterminds behind the cartoon bloodbath in “Kill Bill Vol. 1”) have decided to digitally animate everything but the characters.

But director Mamoru Oshii doesn’t stop with simply one-upping the technical prowess of his original. This time, he pumps in a great deal more of his philosophical ponderings. These digressions mainly concern people losing their humanity in the age of information and why we obsess over replicating our image in inanimate objects, such as robots and creepy-ass dolls. Oshii’s characters constantly discuss these issues by dropping quotes from Descartes, Milton and the Bible.

But this is anime, so don’t think “Innocence” is all talking heads. In between the philosophy lessons, Batou still has time to blow away gangsters, super-cyborgs and a bunch of other cool-looking and painstakingly animated stuff.

Imagine getting in a gun battle with killer androids while your professor spits philosophical zingers at you. That’s “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.”