Innocence, sequel to Japanimation’s standard bearer Ghost in the Shell, is a film with a weight of expectation on its shoulders. Ten years on, it attempts to duplicate the hugely successful blend of existential philosophy, breathtaking artistry and mind blowing action of the original. Successful on a relative scale, of course.
In 1995, when the previous version appeared, Anime, as this type of Japanese animation is often called, represented little more than a cult subset of the film world; times have changed a bit since then.
Animated films have moved firmly into the mainstream, tracing a direct line from Toy Story to The Incredibles, to full blown adult respectability. Anime has been no exception; Hayao Miyazaki’s brilliant Spirited Away won worldwide acclaim a couple of years ago and the follow up, Howl’s Moving Castle, was given a more or less general release last month, whereas ten years ago it might have gone straight to VHS (remember that?). A good time then for Mamoru Oshii to produce a sequel to one of the most famous Animes of all time.
The year is 2032. Cyborg cop Batou (Akio tsuka) is still working the beat in the Section 9 Counter Terrorism unit, still living alone and still thinking about the loss of “the Major” in the first film. The delightfully named Sexaroids, cyborgs created for physical pleasure, have been going rogue across Tokyo, killing their owners and themselves. Batou, accompanied by his bewildered sidekick Togusa (Koichi Yamadera), needs to find out why, all the while pondering the difference between himself, humans, and the robots he’s sent to kill.
The focus is a hugely philosophical discussion on the nature and definition of life, combined with breathtaking animation and some gorgeous action sequences. The plot is certainly as impenetrable as ever, though it’s mostly just a vehicle to for the philosophy.
The whole thing is highly conceptual and, frankly, a little hard to follow at times; as a tangle of virtual experience hacks into Togusa’s e-brain I found my poor regular brain hurting in sympathy. I was certainly reminded of the inaccessibility of the original, though this is just par for the course with Anime. The thing it really lacks, is something it has in common with most other sequels – originality.
Its existential musings are essentially the same as they were in the first, and the fine line between man and machine is hardly a novel dilemma, having been posed everywhere from Short Circuit to Blade Runner. It doesn’t even really attempt to add any conclusion to things not tied up in episode one, and in a way feels a little more like a remake, or maybe a feature length trailer for a TV series, than a full blown sequel.
Sequels have a curious parent-child relationship, and the apple very rarely falls far from the tree. Crucially, for one to really work, there needs to be something left to say that the original film didn’t and I’m not sure this is the case here.
Having said that the animation is still a pleasure to watch, and you certainly aren’t short changed on depth. No trailblazer like its dad, but a worthy addition to the genre; just watch out for your e-brain.