Released by: Madman Entertainment.
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 (anamorphic)
After a delay of ten years Mamoru Oshii returns to continue the story of Public Section #9, Major Kusanagi and humanities increasingly fractious relationship with technology. While I list the Major she really isn't the driving focus in the story and really only appears tangentally to the main story. That centers around Batou, Kusanagi's old cybernetic partner, who is still wondering what has become of the major even as he continues his job. In this case he is assigned to investigate a spate of killings all caused by a new model of gynoid (or sex doll) that is reknowned for it's lifelike simulation of a real woman. With the number of people killed begining to rise sharply Batou needs to get to the bottom of this mystery even as he grapples with how like a doll he himself has become...
In many ways this film is a thematic bookend to the ideas presented in the first film. Here Batou is now world weary, very jaded and not a particularly good partner to have - due to his holding everyone he is partnered with up to the high standard the major set. Togusa, originally the rookie in the first film, is now a seasoned and competant operative in his own right who is somewhat reluctant to be partnered with Batou. The film over all reeks of cynicism and an almost apathetic acceptance of the costs technology has had. Even Togusa, one of the least cyberneticly enhanced, has an external memory unit and is able to effortlessly quote philosophers, poets as well as facts and figures as required. But it is what they don't say, much of their own thoughts, that is so striking in the film. Why say what you think when you can easily find what some of the best minds in history have said on the same subject and quote them instead?
This ease with which people have begun to integrate machines into their thinking and are, in many ways, losing their own humanity just as fast as they are striving to create machines that replicate it is a central theme of the film. Indeed the most touching and emotional part of the film is a long sequence where Batou arrives to his safe house and has to take care of his pet basset hound, Gabriel. Any dog owner will immediately understand the point of these scenes in the way they force Batou to focus beyond his own wants and needs and actually relate with another being in anything but a clinical fashion. Here is the center around which Batou's humanity rests. It is especially contrasted by the cleverly designed briefing scene earlier in the film in which barely anyone present at the meeting was actually there.
Also being examined is a simple question, if we can endow a machine with human like reactions, instincts and drives - is that something that machine wants? Or are we simply engaging in a deep compulsion to recreate our own image over and over again? All in all there is plenty in the film to think about and it satisfies on the criteria of being a thoughtful film.
However where a lot of Oshii films, and indeed Production I.G. in general, is criticised is in the charge that the characters are lifeless and often unsympathetic as a result. I can't say I agree with that assessment except in this films case. The whole point of the film is how lifeless and apathetic the people have become. They substitute words for their own thanks to their enhancements and in many ways fail to actually live life even though they pass through it considerably enhanced compared to a regular person. It might be possible to argue there is no one likeable in the film but given the way Batou relates to his dog undermines that contention.
Plot aside the film itself is visually exquisite. Computer integration of 3D modelling with more traditional drawing techniques has been meticulously done resulting in a level of fidelity and detail that will be the high water mark for others to pass. Light drenches the film in ways that fans of film noire will understand immediately making the way people are lit as much a part of the storytelling as their expression. There is also an obsessive attention to detail with owners wanting to freeze frame to catch all the information packed into the overlaid displays we see frequently throughout the film. It is, in a phrase, gob-smacking. The DVD loses fidelity compared to the 70mm film print I was lucky enough to see but gains in colour accuracy as the print I saw had aged a bit. While there is detail lost nothing of importance is unclear or hard to make out and the transfer itself is clear. It will be interesting to see how much of difference the newer high definition formats make as I suspect this film will be a poster child for advocating them.
Unlike the R1 release we get an English dub for this film as well as the original Japanese dub. Both are solid pieces of work with the English dub being performed by the same cast who voiced the Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex TV series. While I miss the continuity Mimi Woods would have brought as the major her replacement, Mary Alice McGlyn, is a worthy substitute and with every other voice kept the same as the first film it is easy to listen to and enjoy. We also have a commentary track in which Oshii and Nishikubo vere from discussing concepts of the film over to practical difficulties they have in making the film as well as some light hearted banter. It is subtitled and worth spending the time working through to catch some of the layers of visual meaning that you might have missed in the film.
The second disc is packed with more usual making of fare, a first episode of the TV series and various interviews and trailers. Most buyers of the film will have the TV series anyway so it's inclusion is obviously an attempt to use the film's status outside the anime community in the wider movie going world to try and interest them in the series. While the film will be known in the arthouse circuit thanks to its apperance at Cannes I'd expect those to be the kinds of people already well aware of anime in general. It does seem a little superflous as a result but is a nice addition nonetheless. The interviews themselves are interesting to Production IG and Oshii fans but a lot of what is relayed in them is already talked about in the commentary track. Which again makes them a little redundant but still nice to have and especially nice to put a face to the name of the director.
All in all this is a worthy follow on film and it is something that I consider should be in all anime collections even as I accept it probably won't be. It is a high concept film and given that a lot of the characters and what we would consider normal staples of drama are subservient to that probably puts a lot of people off. But for those who want something that isn't merely pretty, with splashes of high intensity violence interspersed in it, and has plenty of concepts to get the old mental teeth into - then this film fits the bill.