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GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 23, 2009 by  



“Visually striking and beautiful and detailed CG animation and incorporating that cerebral storyline that one would come to expect from a film written and directed by Mamoru Oshii.  ‘GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE’ on Blu-ray features two English dub versions, the original Japanese soundtrack and another rare moment to hear Oshii talk about his film in detail via the commentary.”

TITLE: GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE

DURATION: 100 minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080P High Defiition, English Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1

COMPANY: Bandai Entertainment

RATED: TV PG-13 (Violence, Disturbing Images and Brief Language)

Written and Directed by Mamoru Oshii

Based on the manga by Shirow Masamune

Producted by Studio I.G.

Produced by Mitsuhisa Ishikawa and Toshio Suzuki

Music: Kenji Kawai

Character Designs by Hiroyuki Okiura

Art Director: Shuichi Hirata

Animation Director: Toshihiko Nishikubo

CAST:

Akio Ohtsuka/Richard Epcar as Batou

Atsuko Tanaka/Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as Motoko Kusanagi

Kouichi Yamadera/Crispin Freeman as Togusa

Tamio Ohki/William Frederick Knight as Aramaki

Yutaka Nakano/Michael McCarty as Ishikawa

Hiroaki Hirata/Robert Axelrod as Koga

Masaki Terasoma/Erik Davies as Azuma

Naoto Takenaka/Joey D’Auria as Kim

Sumi Mutoh/Stephanie Sheh as Girl

Yoshiko Sakakibara/Ellyn Stern as Haraway

The year is 2032.  With the advancement of medical technology humanity has grown into a more technologically driven creature, creating a breed of cyborg citizen.  Along with the development of cybernetics the world has seen rapid development in the field of artificial intelligence, making androids a commercially viable venture. A recent string of murders perpetrated by a prototype female android has drawn the attention of Section 9, a unit specializing in counter cyberterrorism.  With none of the victims families pressing charges, suspicions arise regarding the nature of the androids and their production.

Months have passed since the end of the Puppet Master incident, and with the Major still missing, investigative duties fall to her cyborg commando partner Batou and his newly recruited biological partner, Togusa.  Can the two overcome their differences and discover the truth behind the string of murders?

“GHOST IN THE SHELL” definitely made impact around the world with its release.   The film was one of the first animated films to blend computer animation with cel animation perfectly.   I remember purchasing every VHS release when it first came out, I remember watching it many times and just being in awe of its visuals but its cerebral storyline.

The same can be said with the second film “GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE”, the second film loosely based on the popular manga series by Shirow Masamune and written and directed by Mamoru Oshii.

But there is one thing about Mamoru Oshii’s work that hasn’t changed since the 1980’s (from the second “Urusei Yatsura” 1984 film titled “Beautiful Dreamer”) and now and that is unique storytelling and his keen eye for visuals.  And actually, visuals are his priority and storytelling and its characters come after.

But every film that he has worked on from “Beautiful Dreamer”, “Angel’s Egg”, the first two “Patlabor” films, “Avalon” and of course the “GHOST IN THE SHELL” films, his films are the type that I can never truly understand during the first watch.  In fact, I start to realize certain details during the second, the third and fourth watch because I feel that he’s a filmmaker that has certain intentions and things nicely placed that only those who really, try to analyze, you get a different and possibly a much better interpretation with repeated viewings.

I can tell you that “GHOST IN THE SHELL” required several viewings and I can tell you that this second film “INNOCENCE” required repeated viewings and after the third viewing, I was amazed how much I truly missed.  I feel that during the first watch, your eyes are so focused on the visuals, the details and also the audio (which I watched in English dubs, going back and forth with the two included English dubs).  By the second watch, you are now following the actually storyline much more closely.  The third was watching it with the director’s commentary and the fourth was watching it in Japanese.

So, suffice to say, repeated viewings were needed before I could fully review this film.

This sequel takes place several months after the first film and focuses on Batou (second in command under Major Makoto Kusanagi) who is a cyborg that has a ghost (think of “ghosts” as the human spirit).    He is now teamed up with a human named Togusa and both officers of the Public Security Section 9 are investigating a cyborg corporation known as LOCUS SOLUS and the gynoids it creates.

These gynoids are like the new technology of sex dolls but in this case, these gynoids have killed several people.  And Batou and Togusa investigate.

Meanwhile, Batou seems to develop a soft side since Makoto disappeared.  He hasn’t heard from or seen his partner and despite being a cyborg, you can sense that he truly cared about his partner a lot.  But now all he has is his pet basset hound (note: John Woo’s trademark in all of his films are the flying birds, for director Mamoru Oshii, it’s his use of basset hounds).

While both he and Togusa investigate, one one night it appears someone has hacked into Batou and he nearly kills innocent people and a shop keeper at a convience store.  It’s not known who may have hacked into Batou but somehow he gets some hints from his guardian angel.

This leads Batou and Togusa to the realm of the mastermind Kim of LOCUS SOLUS but unfortunately the two must go through virtual realities before they can reach the true reality, that is if they can survive.

Unfortunately, saying anymore can truly spoil the film but there is a very good story about why the gynoids are attacking humans.  And there are surprises along the way but a lot of it is revealed in the end.  If there is anything I can share is that Major Makoto Kusanagi makes her presence known in some way in this film.

But again, I don’t want to reveal too much about the overall storyline.

VIDEO AND AUDIO:

The video quality of “GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE” is just beautiful.  The video is featured in 1080P High-Definition and there is so much detail in this world.  From the buildings, the shops, indoors, outdoors, you name it.  Also, a variety of colors.

I know that this film was not the easiest to create and even the animators talk about their challenges that they had in this film and also during the commentary, both director Mamoru Oshii and animation director Toshihiko Nishikubo discuss the challenges in creating the film.

If anything, Mamoru Oshii’s films will always be expected to have awesome visuals and having anything less than that wouldn’t be an Oshii film.  So, “GHOST IN THE SHELL 2:  INNOCENCE” really has its share of breathtaking visuals that just look so vibrant on Blu-ray.   From the ambers of the sunlight to the blues and blacks showing the grittiness of the streets.  Overall, video quality was well done!

As for audio quality, Bandai Entertainment included a very well done English voice dub and also the Manga UK dub (which I didn’t really care for).  Both are offered in Dolby Digital 5.1.  And there is a Japanese audio track which is also Dolby Digital 5.1.

I am aware that the Japanese release of this film contains an uncompressed track that you would expect on a Blu-ray release.  And so far, Bandai Entertainment and Bandai Visual releases tend to be top notch for its delivery on the video and audio side of their Blu-ray releases.  So, I was surprised that HD audio was not included in this US release and it is quite disappointing because for Blu-ray, Bandai Entertainment has always delivered even on their DVD releases.

But with that being said, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is still very good.  There was good use of the rear channel tracks during the action and aircraft scenes and the front speaker channels brought out the dialogue and the music quite clearly.  And I found that the quality of audio was much better in the newer English dub versus the Manga UK dub.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

Included on the Blu-ray disc are:

  • The “Making of ‘GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE” – Quite a bit of information on this 16-minute featurette in regards to the making of this film.  From Production I.G. aligning with Studio Ghibli, the challenges that the animators had in making this film, interviews with Oshii, the voice talent and other key staff members and leading up to the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
  • Director’s Commentary with Mamoru Oshii and animation director Toshihiko Nishikubo – Personally, any commentary that you can have Mamoru Oshii be a part of is excellent. Both men had a lot to say in terms of the animation, what they were going for, what challenges they had, the use of music and voice acting and the challenge of trying to finish the film in under three years (most animated film takes two years) and knowing that time was running out.  So, I enjoyed the commentary.  It maybe technical for some who enjoy commentary that is fun and shooting the breeze, casual conversations but this commentary is pretty much focusing on the film and the people involved in making the film happen.
  • Theatrical Trailer – A 5+ minute promotional anime trailer

After watching the Blu-ray and taking in the visuals, storyline, commentary and special features, you get a good idea of the challenges that Oshii and crew had faced.

Part of the challenge in the beginning was the production budget of $20 million, so Production I.G.’s president Mitsushia Ishikawa asked Studio Ghibli president Toshio Suzuki to work with him as a co-producer.

And once the film was underway, the film surpassed the typical two year deadline and the film was going in its third year for completion.  And for an animated film to go in production that long, not only is that expensive but I can see how much stress it would put on the producers and the entire staff.

So, this film had quite an interesting storyline in itself behind-the-scenes and you learn a lot of this through the commentary and the featurette.

“GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE” is not going to be for everyone.  I’ve always felt that Oshii’s work could be deemed cerebral and possibly to intelligent for the casual animation fan to watch.

I really enjoyed this film but I suppose a film that featured around Batou’s character, especially for those who were so used to seeing Makoto in the first film, the manga series, the video games and even the television series of “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” may feel that something is quite missing without Makoto having a prominent role.

But nevertheless, I think that Oshii did a great job in showcasing that sense of sadness with Batou not having his partner but then knowing that no matter what, she will still be there for him in some sort of way.

And again, to truly grasp this film, you need to watch this film (or any of Oshii’s works) more than once.  In fact, Oshii’s films deserve repeated viewings because of the detail of the visuals of his films, the layers of his storyline and really, he has this philosophy about life and his own life that he puts into the film.  It’s complex.

But I think that’s what attracts me to his works is because it is intelligent but yet you manage to find beauty in the worlds that he creates.  “GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE” and the original “GHOST IN THE SHELL” are perfect examples of that complexity and beauty of visuals and storyline.  Some get it and some won’t.   But once you become a fan of his work, you realize that he’s a master storyteller with a keen eye of what he wants to accomplish.  And you know that you will need to watch his films again.

As for the Blu-ray, video quality is well done.  There is so much detail incorporated that the 1080P High-Definition really makes those details come out.  And really, beautiful sharp and vibrant colors. But on the flip side, there is also a bit of disappointment with no DTS-HD or TrueHD track in this US release but yet knowing that it’s in the Japanese release.  And that is quite surprising for a Bandai Entertainment Blu-ray release.

But the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is still very good but for audiophiles that want the best in their films on Blu-ray, I can understand why one would be upset that the uncompressed audio track(s) were not included in this US release.

With that being said, I did feel that this Blu-ray release was still highly enjoyable and to hear the commentary by Oshii discuss his work is always a major plus.

Overall, this is still a solid Blu-ray disc release albeit not perfect but for fans of Mamoru Oshii or “GHOST IN THE SHELL”, definitely give “INNOCENCE” a try!

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