Review for Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
The double dip is a phenomenon that all collectors must be familiar with by now. Every time there is a new version of your particular obsession, you're compelled to spend again just to keep up with the changes. It's all the more imperative when there is a change of format. It happened with music, and I actually still have a few albums on vinyl, tape and CD as I've re-bought them over the years. It also happens with movies, and while the move from VHS to DVD resulted in a massive upgrade in my collection, the move from DVD to Blu-ray hasn't yet elicited the same panic buying, which is probably annoying the studios no end right now. DVD is just about good enough, even for this high definition, big screen TV age of ours. What it does mean is that now, the double dip is selective, those titles that had a really lacklustre DVD to begin with, and of course the selective obsessions that still require the best possible quality for your treasures. In my case, that's anime, and given the quality of some early anime releases in this country, it's a very timely upgrade. As soon as the Blu-ray player was delivered, I had a host of items ordered, anime movies that hopefully in high definition would leave a grin plastered on my face. It wasn't long before I had a pile of brown packages courtesy of the Royal Mail, but as is usually the way with such impulse buys, my reach exceeded my grasp. Six months on, I now have Mount Blu-ray to climb, and believe it or not, of all my Blu-ray purchases, I've only had the time to watch four titles. That's four out of nineteen, and Mount Blu-ray is a molehill compared to Mount DVD.
I'm finally making inroads into Mount Blu-ray, and the next stage of my ascent to the summit is Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. Ghost in the Shell is a multimedia phenomenon; the Masamune Shirow manga has begat films and TV series. The concept of a cyborg police unit investigating cybernetic crimes has a whole lot of appeal to it, and its first appearance on the big screen, the Mamoru Oshii directed Ghost in the Shell movie, rewrote what anime was all about, in the same way that Akira did a few years earlier. That movie begat the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series, which itself stretched to a second series and a spin-off movie, Solid State Society, currently pencilled in for a Blu-ray release from Manga Entertainment in 2012. The Stand Alone Complex Series drew such fan attention, that it was no surprise that Production IG would look at the original feature again, and in 2004, Mamoru Oshii revisited that universe (separate from the Stand Alone Complex universe) for a sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. Manga Entertainment released that on a very lush DVD in 2006, which I have already reviewed for this site. In 2009, it was time for the high definition upgrade, although I'm somewhat belatedly looking at it now.
3 years have passed since the events of Ghost In The Shell and the Puppet Master case. The Major has been presumed missing since that time, and it is now Batou who must rise to the challenge when a series of brutal murders takes place in the city. Gynoids, pleasure robots built by Locus Solus are slaughtering their owners then self-destructing. When Batou visits a crime scene, he faces a robot that goes berserk before attacking him, but before it self-destructs, he hears it cry plaintively for help. Section 9 Chief Aramaki assigns him and his partner Togusa to track down the cause of these attacks. However the trail leads via the Yakuza, hackers, corrupt bureaucrats, up the corporate ladder and into serious danger. Potentially fatal danger, when everyone is cyberised to a degree, and devious hackers can reprogram your own senses to betray you. However Batou has a guardian angel watching over him.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is also available in a Blu-ray twin-pack, bundled with Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (the Lucased version of the original Ghost in the Shell movie).
Almost six years ago, that DVD looked pretty sweet, but time and repeated exposure has acquainted me with its flaws. I certainly was hoping that the Blu-ray could provide a significant upgrade over the SD version of the film. Certainly, at first glance the 1.85:1 widescreen presentation of the film at 1080p resolution looks astounding. The detail gets a significant boost over the DVD, and the colours are bolder, more vibrant. Closer examination does reveal some issues however. The contrast is never really at its best, with darker scenes losing detail and merging into a generic greyness. There is aliasing on fine detail, and grain can be excessive at times, mostly in those darker scenes. Most disturbing is the digital banding, the gradation of shade and tone broken up into discrete bands. It happened with the DVD, and it happens to a lesser extent on the Blu-ray. What makes me scratch my head is that it didn't happen on the Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence Music Anthology DVD that was released by Beez Entertainment at the same time as the film.
But then when the film gets to one of its set pieces, of which there are many, all these concerns vanish. Seeing the Etorofu parade sequence, Batou's slow motion shoot-out in the convenience store, the 'music box' mansion sequence, the raid on the Locus Solus factory ship, seeing all these in high definition stimulates the optic nerve in a way that the DVD could never manage.
That DVD was no slouch in the audio department either, offering Dolby Digital and DTS audio tracks that were top notch for the technology. The Blu-ray blows all that away with DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio, which takes the aural experience to a whole new level. Sounds are represented with greater clarity, the action sequences have much greater resonance and definition to them, while the subtler, quieter moments get much more space to breathe. You have the options here of DTS-HD MA 5.1 English, Japanese, and Spanish, as well as a PCM 2.0 Catalan track. Subtitles are provided in English and Spanish. I was happy enough with the Japanese audio as always, but I gave the English audio a try and coming from the Stand Alone Complex cast, it also was of high quality. It's a tad louder than the Japanese audio, and I can't tell which dub it is off hand. Two dubs were recorded, first for the UK Manga Entertainment release, then again for the second US release. The US Blu-ray had both dubs on, but the UK commissioned dub was reported as problematic, which makes me assume that the English dub here is the second English dub.
Once again, the subtitles for Innocence are awkward, with the suspicion that some lines go by un-translated, an inconsistency in naming, and a lack of clarity over who is speaking. It makes trying to fathom a dense script all the harder. Also, a signs only track is sorely lacking.
You get a disc in a Blu-ray Amaray case with a sleeve with artwork on both sides.
On the disc, you'll get the option for English and Spanish menus at start up, and the animated menus are quite fine looking and simple to navigate.
The extras themselves are all culled from the DVD release.
The Making Of Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence lasts 16 minutes and is a brief look behind the scenes. There are interviews with the cast and crew, as they talk about the characters and the story. There are plenty of browbeaten animators shown slaving away over a hot computer screen, although some of them still use the occasional pencil. It's subtitled of course.
You will also find the audio commentary on this disc, with director Mamoru Oshii and animation director Toshihiko Nishikubo discussing the making of the film and other aspects of the story. They are pretty critical about the film, things they could have done better if they had more time or things that worked out well, and there is little of the mutual admiration that marks a typical Hollywood yak track, but it is still informative. Optional English subtitles are provided, although for me they were compulsory.
Next there is another UK exclusive, a 'Face to Face' Interview with Mamoru Oshii. This lasts 24 minutes and he answers questions about the film, how he feels about the dubbed versions, the differences between the film and the series, the success of the first film and more, and of course he talks about the influence of Blade Runner.
The featurettes are presented in HD, but are quite obviously up-scaled from an SD source.
It seems a pretty lush assortment of extras, but the 2-disc DVD has much better presentation. Its Amaray case was a little more robust to the feel, and it came with a very nice card slipcover. Also on those discs were some Manga trailers, a sneak peak at an episode of Stand Alone Complex, and the theatrical trailer for Innocence. Most missed from this Blu-ray is the eight-page booklet with author Jonathan Clements introducing the film.
It's been six years since I first saw Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, and I recall that I was very positive about the film, writing "Innocence is a film that rewards repeat viewing, but it's one that makes a deal with the audience. You get out what you put in."
How wrong can one person be? Over the years, I've had the chance to live with Ghost in the Shell 2, have re-watched it on a regular basis; indeed last night's Blu-ray experience was my sixth time watching the film. There are films for which your affections grow with each new viewing, films that subtly change in meaning and character as you change as a person. Most films however stay pretty constant with each viewing. Then there are the other films. Ghost in the Shell 2 is one of the other films. Other than that first viewing, where I watched it glued to the screen, taking in something brand new, and unwilling to miss a single frame, I have never managed to sit through this film without falling asleep. Last night was no exception, although it did give me a reason to watch the last half hour again, this time with the English dub.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is dull. It's preachy, it's monotonous, and worst of all, it's pretentious. It thinks it's smarter and more relevant than it actually is. The first time I watched, I was comparing it to the original film, and dissecting it, analysing it, searching for meaning. I thought that like the first film, it would unveil more with each new viewing, that my initial viewing just scratched the surface of what it had to offer. Later I came to realise that this is all there is to Innocence, that it is all surface and no depth. In an effort to recreate the appeal of the first film, it takes the elements that made the first film work, and increases everything by 100%. The first film was a sublime blend of philosophy, action, cyberpunk and sci-fi, and eye candy. Innocence tries to double all that but in the same space. There just isn't room.
The action scenes are intense, but aren't exactly necessary to the plot, the sci-fi concepts are obtuse, intense, but rarely made clear, the eye-candy is drop dead gorgeous in this film, but instead of acting to elevate the story, tries instead to distract from the lack of story. Worst of all, the philosophy is thrown at the screen, rarely has anything to do with the movie, and instead just results in the action pausing, while the characters quote literature at each other. It wants you to think that it is deep, thoughtful, and relevant, but repeated exposure only reveals just how pompous it is. In Ghost in the Shell, the philosophy actually meant something in terms of the story; it drove the story, but not in Innocence.
That's the trouble with reviewing to a timetable. You never have enough time to re-watch a film, one shot is all you get, and you have to rely on first impressions. Most of the time, first impressions are good enough, but sometimes, years later you read what you wrote and wind up kicking yourself. At least this time I get the chance to chastise my younger self, although I wish that I had rented this Blu-ray, rather than purchased it. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is a one time only deal. Watch it once, revel in the eye-candy, let yourself be taken in by the pseudo-depth of its script, and try not to think too deeply about it afterwards. Make that mistake, make the mistake of watching it again, and you'll realise just how flimsy and hollow this movie actually is… oh but look, the Bassett hound is doing something cute again…