Anime expert Fred Patten takes a look at the highly anticipated anime feature Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, talking over the film with Production I.G producer Mitsuhisa Ishikawa.
The 1995 Ghost in the Shell is one of the most prestigious Japanese animated features ever made. It received almost unanimous critical praise for its intellectual cyberpunk sci-fi plot. (Some critics dismissed it as an imitation Blade Runner, which it is only superficially.) It was acknowledged as one of the creative influences on the Wachowski Brothers that led to The Matrix. It won the 1997 World Animation Celebration's Awards for both Best Theatrical Feature Film and, for director Mamoru Oshii, Best Director of Animation for a Theatrical Feature Film. When it was released on video in America, it became the first anime video to reach the #1 position on Billboard magazine's sales chart (August 1996).
With all this acclaim, it is hard to realize that its American theatrical release (March 29, 1996) was an art-house limited tour in only one theater per city. Its theatrical gross was just $515,905 (according to Box Office Mojo).
Let's try again! Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence was released in Japan on March 6, and will be released in America on September 17. This time the distributor is DreamWorks' Go Fish Pictures division, and it is scheduled to play in 70 theaters. This may not match the 3,043 screens of Pokémon: The First Movie's release or even the 2,411 screens of Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Movie, but according to the press release, this is "the widest theatrical opening release ever in the United States for an adult-themed anime film." We will take what we can get!
The first movie was based upon Masamune Shirow's award-winning 1989-1990 Ghost in the Shell sci-fi manga novel. Set about 40 years in the future, it depicts a global society so tightly integrated by the computer network and international corporations that separate nations were little more than an archaic legal fiction. Biomedical advances are so common that people routinely have skull-jacks implanted to allow them to plug their brains directly into the Internet. This future world is presented from the viewpoint of the Japanese nationalized police's Section 9, in charge of computer crimes, in several stories blending action with intellectual, high-tech white-collar crime. The central character of Section 9 is its top agent, Major Motoko Kusanagi, who appears to be an attractive young woman but is actually little more than a brain with a cynical personality installed in an artificial super-body constantly being upgraded by government techno-geeks.
Production I.G, a new studio specializing in computer graphics imagery, picked Ghost in the Shell for a theatrical feature to showcase its talents. Director Mamoru Oshii was given carte blanche by Shirow to build the movie around the subplot in which Section 9 discovers computer tampering with the minds of people plugged into the Internet. After a lot of action involving the question of whether a sufficiently sophisticated, self-aware Artificial Intelligence is morally any different from a biologically "natural" person, Kusanagi abandons her body and transfers her mind, her "ghost," permanently into the Internet.
When Shirow began new Ghost in the Shell manga stories, the fans immediately asked when these would be animated. Production I.G planned a two-part sequel for both TV and the theaters. The TV series, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, debuted on Japan's SkyPerfecTV pay-per-view satellite channel on Oct. 1, 2002, at the rate of two episodes per month for 13 months. Ratings were high enough that by the time episodes #25 and #26 aired on Oct. 1, 2003, a 52-episode sequel was in production. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig debuted on Jan. 1, 2004; episodes #17 and #18 were aired this month. In America, GitS:SAC began a bi-monthly DVD release in July 2004. It will start airing on The Cartoon Network's late-night Adult Swim block on November 6 at 11:00 pm.
The TV series, directed by Kenji Kamiyama, is a more straightforward police procedural series about the detectives of Section 9 and their cases. It is intended to be seen as a "parallel world" version of movie stories, neither a prelude nor a sequel. Kusanagi is still one of Section 9's top cops, but several others are elevated to major roles as well. More background is given on how she came to be "a brain in a tin can," and her feelings about it are not so morose.
The true sequel to the 1995 movie is Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. It is a direct sequel, not counting a three-year gap from 2029 to 2032. Kusanagi has been missing for three years, but her ex-partner Batou is confident that she is alive and well within the Internet. Batou, a brawny muscleman, is as cynically intelligent as Kusanagi was. He is only about 50% human; the rest is cyber-enhanced prosthetics with weaponry hidden inside him. He is now the top cop of Section 9, and his new partner is the rookie, Togusa, who is the star of the TV version.
Batou and Togusa are assigned to a case in which an experimental model of female robot servants manufactured by the Locus Solis mega corporation have been going berserk and killing their new human owners. The owners include politicians and important industrialists, so Section 9 must determine whether the murderous glitch is an accidental programming error or deliberate sabotage. The latter seems likely when Locus Solis's inspector who approved the deadly "gynoids" (a.k.a. sexaroids) is murdered by a Yakuza gang before he can be questioned. The Yakuza's crime boss was one of the recipients of a killer sexaroid, and his successor was never told what the top-secret link between the gang and Locus Solis is. Batou's and Togusa's investigation leads to the same type of computer/mind manipulation that Batou and Kusanagi had experienced three years earlier, involving the criminal implantation of false memories into innocent people to dupe or kill them. As the case grows more violently deadly, it appears as though some "guardian angel" is protecting Batou. It is not giving away much to reveal that Kusanagi has been watching over her old friend, and that she makes a dramatic reappearance at the climax.
Production I.G again uses Ghost in the Shell as a showcase for its latest spectacular advances in computer animation. The opening sequence could almost be a "live action" shot from Blade Runner, except that the buildings are higher and the futuristic sleazy urban ghettos even more detailed. Batou, without Kusanagi to hold him back, seems to be a trigger-happy nutcase running wild through an extremely cerebral, emotionally frozen scenario. The movie is intellectually admirable but there is little emotional comfort in it. My impression is that Conan Doyle's Professor Moriarty would have loved it.
A special preview of Innocence was held at the DreamWorks studio with Producer Mitsuhisa Ishikawa (the I in Production I.G) and director Mamoru Oshii present. Oshii answered a few questions for AWM.
AWM: The presskit describes how you developed the plot around human dolls because of your interest in the ball-jointed dolls of Polish-born surrealist artist Hans Bellmer (1902-1975). Masamune Shirow is not mentioned. How closely did you work with him, as the creator of Ghost in the Shell, on Innocence?"
I only met with Shirow-san about 10 minutes before the production of the movie began. We just had a brief discussion, and that was it. There was no collaboration between us. Shirow-san is a most ideal creator of manga compared to any others I have worked with, because he will let me do whatever I want to do.
AWM: How closely did you and the TV production team for Stand Alone Complex work together? Did Production I.G decide from the beginning that the Ghost in the Shell sequel should be both a TV series and a second feature, or did it start out as one or the other and later turn into both?
MO: They were both planned at the same time. I was not involved with the TV creation at all, although in the second season of Stand Alone Complex, the 2nd Gig, I was involved in writing some plots.
AWM: Are there any plans for further sequels, either immediately or in the distant future? I am thinking of the way the third Patlabor movie was made 10 years after the first two.
That depends on the studio president's decision, but basically I don't think there will be any. Of course, I can't firmly say "no" to any sequels to Ghost in the Shell 2, especially what may happen years from now, but I am not intending to direct any myself. A sequel usually works well if it is a Part 2, but a sequel to a Part 2, a Part 3, does not. I personally think we should not make another one at all.
Ghost in the Shell hints at the transfer of the "ghost," the human consciousness, from biological bodies into a vast electronic network. Have you considered (or do you know if Shirow has considered) a story set 100 or 200 years or more further in this society, showing how it may evolve further?"
MO: Making a story set 100 or 200 years from now is not all that difficult, but it is always easier to set it just 30 or 40 years from now because not many things will change vastly. I have a feeling that 100 or 200 years from now, things will have changed very much. But whether it takes place 30 years or 100 years, whenever I write a story that takes place in the future, I am not really trying to write a realistic story about the future. It's the future of an imaginary world."
AWM: Both Innocence and Stand Alone Complex seem designed for more intellectual viewers than the usual movie and TV sci-fi market. Was this a financial gamble for Production I.G?
MO: I think that Stand Alone Complex has been a good success, or they would not have gone ahead to make the second TV series. It did not really have a philosophical plot. It has more of a realistic plot. All of the problems that the modern world is having or is facing right now are being explained or talked about. Innocence has a philosophical plot, but the Stand Alone Complex is closer to actual events that are happening. So these kinds of stories can be more easily accepted by the TV audience than a complete fantasy or science-fictional story, which has no association to the real world. So in that sense, Stand Alone Complex is a huge success in Japan.
As for Innocence, whether a production is marketable does not depend only on how well it did at the theaters. Movies are not evaluated by how many people showed up at the theaters at its first release. It can be enjoyed even three or five years afterwards. In order to be able to have a memorable and long run, a movie must have a heavy theme. If it is too simple and easily understood, then you will not remember it and want to see it again.
People say that Innocence has a very philosophical plot. I tried to make the story as simple as possible, but maybe if people do not understand it the first time they see it, they will still have liked it enough to want to see it again and again to understand it completely. What is important in a movie is not really the plot, but how beautiful it is and how well that quality of beauty is maintained throughout the movie.
AWM: What are your next projects?
MO: Right now, I am exhausted and not thinking about anything at all. Certainly not another movie yet. Maybe I might write a novel.
Fred Patten has written on anime for fan and professional magazines since the late 1970s. He wrote the liner notes for Rhino Entertainment's The Best of Anime music CD (1998), and was a contributor to The World Encyclopedia of Cartoons, 2nd Edition, ed. by Maurice Horn (1999) and Animation in Asia and the Pacific, ed. by John A. Lent (2001).