"History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it."-Winston S. Churchill

"The wandering scholars were bound by no lasting loyalties, were attached by no sentiment of patriotism to the states they served and were not restricted by any feeling of ancient chivalry. They proposed and carried out schemes of the blackest treachery."-C.P. Fitzgerald.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Innocence: Ghost in the Shell-the Fugstat Review 

Batou and Togusa ponder the case of the killer lovebots...

You couldn't ask the anime industry for a better movie, at least outside of Hayao Miyazaki's shop. However, despite my admiration for this art form, I missed the screening when the film Innocence: Ghost in the Shell opened here in Fort Lauderdale. However, one who didn't miss this film was my silent partner in this blog, Mr. Fugstat. He actually made his way to a theater in Sarasota, Florida, to sit down for a screening of Mamoruu Oshii's interpretation of Masamune Shirow's manga classic. Below then are his findings:

I ain’t afraid of no “Ghost”

The collective mind of assorted American fanboys has attacked this movie from day one of its U.S. release. It’s slow. It’s philosophical. Let’s deal with that.

Slow? No, you’re slow.
Mamoruu Oshii takes his time — and that’s fine by me. Jerry Bruckheimer he’s not. He settles into the story like a warm bath. When the action starts, it’s as fast as the human nervous system can process. You buy it, because the life surrounding the action feels real.

I’ll take philosophy for 500. What is: “A walk on the slippery rocks.”
Attacking science fiction (aka SF) for having philosophy in it is like attacking a western for the presence of cacti, cows and cowboys. SF is a primarily literary medium, primarily philosophical.
What’s happening here is current animation technology is just now catching up with certain ideas.

The ideas:
“Ghost in the Shell” is obviously a reretranslation of Koestler’s “Ghost in the Machine,” referring to Cartesian duality. I.e.: We’re spirits inhabiting mechanical bodies.
This notion is mocked by behaviorists, monists and other disreputable types. If the robot is complete, who needs a ghost at the controls?

Oshii, in the original film, took the ghost concept seriously and literally. Who-you-are = consciousness/volition inhabiting a physical system. (Batou, Kusanagi et al are still “human,” though they have doubts.) Whether the "shell" you're inhabiting is a meat or mechanical robot makes no difference. Oshii ducks whether God or the karmic slotmachine is the source of these ghosts. The “Puppet Master” indicates a ghost can appear in an AI of sufficient complexity.
“Ghost I” looked at how a machine entity could become humanized; “Innocence” viceversas that.

Essentially, it’s all about Section 9/Batou’s efforts to break up a ring of illegal sexbots, who get all slice-and-dice on their johns for reasons unknown. Turns out they’re dubbed with human ghosts – teenage waifs trapped in remote soul-broadcasting units. Seems that added human element in the boink machines enhances the experience. A scientist forced to engineer this horror removes the robots’ “Asimov” safeguards, and so they kill. (I’m not clear if it’s the bots themselves doing the killing or the nearly psychotic girls in the pods.)
The director’s attacking a certain technological obsession as a kind of psychopathia sexualis – and a perverted form of human reproduction at that. (See “Gravity’s Rainbow.”)

Remember the evolutionary chart in the museum at the end of the original? Oshii was saying that death’s randomizing effects are integral to life and natural selection. To be truly alive, the Puppet Master had to merge with Kusanagi. That’s the only way he could give birth to something new, something original, something unpredictable, which is what living things do. Alone, he can only make perfect, absolutely identical copies of himself. That’s not life.

Oshii’s first movie dealt with a machine entity that wants to come to life by creating bad copies of itself. His sequel deals with the human urge to make perfect, identical copies of ourselves. To Oshii, that explains our need to create anthropomorphic robots and dolls. We’re creeped out by dolls because they’re human and perfect, but not alive. Part of us wants to be like that. To be immortal. To be dead, perfect, unchanging. And we want the same thing in our love objects. Our living dolls.

Said before? Yeah.

But not with the visual poetry of this film.
What he’s getting that is how all this feels to someone like Batou, wrestling with the problem on the inside, in his soul, and wondering if he has a soul. Animated or not, the effects tech in this movie is only just now good enough to put that vision up on the screen. Which Oshii does.
I figure he’s wrestling with all that stuff because simulating reality is his job. (Like that book about Disney animation --“The Imitation of Life,” grinning, unblinking movie with a paintbrush on the cover. Just the thought. Always creeped me out.) Why imitate life in the first place? Why make a movie? Why a cartoon? And, for God’s sake, why a sequel? Oshii asks and answers these questions on every frame.
He could easily have made a dead, mechanical rehash of the original. What he’s made is new and alive.

My only problem with this movie is the art direction – a minor problem, but in the interests of fairness, I’ll mention it.
It’s good, but at times it goes too far. Movie suffers from artdirectionitis at the expense of story logic.
Two examples:
The rogue city goes beyond being Bladerunneresque to Bladerunner ripoff.
The ubiquity of 40s/50s retrocars (another Bladerunner ripoff) makes no sense whatsoever. Is it possible there’d be a fad for that kind of thing? Sure. But not every freaking car on the road. There’d be people in old models or people who didn’t like the oldtimey style. That style seems to be the look Oshii wanted. Look trumped logic.
Flaws, but the film’s still a masterpiece. (By its own logic, if it didn’t have flaws, it wouldn’t be alive.)

PS: I didn’t mind the dog.

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