I feel a little guilty talking about this movie right now. It’s a little like going to class without having fully digested the previous night’s reading assignment. Sure, you read it through fairly deeply. You take notes. Maybe you had a midnight BS session with your roommate or the kid down the hall.
Maybe you were a little drunk. For whatever reason, you think you might have missed something important. Image Hosted by ImageShack.us That’s more or less Ghost in the Shell 2’s 100 minute running time in a . . . ghostshell. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is in subtitles (the way it should be) and the animation is some of the most beautiful I’ve seen since . . . ever. Your eyes pull double duty, straining to digest polysyllabic words stacked 10 deep while soaking up animation of unrivaled scope and grandeur. Beauty and the Beast has nothing on this.
It’s a much more assured and revelatory work than it’s 1995 predecessor.
Credit Mamoru Oshii with improving upon every facet of an already intelligent and fascinating premise. Yes. Everything is better.
Much of the first Ghost in the Shell felt like a fleshing out of the various philosophical topics woven into the game of Artificial Intelligence. It was about debunking the line of demarcation between man and machine. It was about finding something unique in humanity amidst the clamour of our technological near-future. Oshii was struggling with this right alongside his characters, and it showed in a somewhat lackluster visual presentation, a jumbled thesis, and a messy ending. The plot itself, a techno-noir murder mystery, felt tacked on. Still, the original Ghost in the Shell was something to behold.
In the 9 years that have passed though, Oshii definitely did his homework. In a time when everyone needs a kickass firewall for that lumpy grey mass between their ears, knowledge is immediately available to all, and the section nine detectives Batou and Matoko use all the net has to offer in contemplating their place in the vast, jacked-in world they inhabit.
They drop anecdotes about Descartes, quote Confuscious, the Old Testament, reference Rabbi Judah Low ben Bezalel and the Golem of Prague. They quote Milton. I studied English literature and I can’t quote Milton.
But then, maybe it takes someone like Milton, someone with sympathy for the devil, to live as a human in a world where men are ever more becoming mechanized, and the machines they build take on the characteristics of their creators.
Maybe it took Oshii a few years slogging through the quagmire of western skepticism and self-doubt to realize that.
The plot this time–another nod to noir–is more focused and accessible, except for the beginning of the third act, when someone hacks Matou’s brain. Things get a little fuzzy then, but they’re supposed to.
I don’t believe the philosophy involved can totally reveal itself in one sitting. Certainly, trying to flesh it out here would be pointless and boring. Suffice it to say that in Oshii’s future, humanity has angst to spare and it looks like things are only getting worse.
Even the animation choices reflect a feeling of alienation, and shows such painstaking love on the part of Oshii. The movie is dominated by advanced computer graphics and lush matte paintings for its backgrounds and many of the dolls (see also: robots, see also: gynoids, see also: sexroids etc, etc). Cars, library Stacks, great post-apocalyptic landscapes are by turns vivid and dingy and exploding with detail. They burst off the screen. Batou and Matoko and the rest of the humans (as well as the gynoids who have been given ghosts [souls]), in contrast, are cell animated the old fashioned way. In this environment they seem helplessly two dimensional, out of place and almost inferior–which is just the way they actually feel. And when a gynoid, through pursed lips and with seductive langour, pleads “help me,” the hackles on your neck are at full attention. Brilliant.
I took notes during this movie. I felt compelled to. I think I’m going to find some pop-culture doctoral program and write my thesis on it. The depth and breadth and sheer complexity of the imagery and symbolism in Ghost in the Shell 2 is crippling. It feels at times like Heart of Darkness, but is careful to remain far less turgid and depressing. It fully warrants a second or third viewing, to mine the depth of what Oshii is offering.
At a time when the vast majority of films–even art-house flicks–opt for allegorical poverty rather than alienate potential ticket sales, it’s all the more refreshing to see a beautiful, self-assured movie that’s content to do more talking–about Milton for godsake–than shooting.
9 out of 10 stars