Fri, Nov 12, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Philosophizing sex dolls amid film noir

Mamoru Oshii's follow-up to 'Ghost in the Shell' is a poetic 2D vision of a wretched future, but one that reveals humanity if you look closely

By Manohla Dargis  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Androids don't dream of electric sheep in Mamoru Oshii's hallucinatory meditation on life in the shadow of the machine world, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. They dream of suicide, an unlikely act of violence that one android, or gynoid, a sexual pet with a tragic face and luridly flexible limbs, commits by clawing at its synthetic skin like a grieving widow.

In this plaintive, often stunningly beautiful anime, where sex dolls commit virtual seppuku against a swirl of film noir intrigue, philosophical speculation, eye-popping images and serious science-fiction cool, a toxic cloud hangs over all tomorrow's parties.

Written and directed by Oshii, the movie, which opens in Taiwan today, is a sequel to the Japanese filmmaker's 1995 anime, Ghost in the Shell, about a female detective who inhabits and then loses her artificial body.

Set in 2032, the new anime centers on her former colleague, the stone-faced cyborg Batou, a male cop in an unnamed government's antiterrorist division.

Called in to dispatch a gynoid gone amok, Batou enters with a ready gun and, in a photo-realist alley so authentically derelict that it's a surprise you can't smell it, comes face to face with a doll dressed in a peek-a-boo red kimono and a white gardenia. Push comes to catastrophic shove and, in time, what emerges is the familiar future-shock scenario in which machines seem more human than their human masters.

A study in earth tones and gum-shoe rectitude, Batou is a self-conscious cross between the detective played by Harrison Ford in Blade Runner and the runaway android played by Rutger Hauer. Drawn along the same solid lines as Hauer, Bateau comes clad in the classic world-weariness worn by Ford, one difference being that Oshii's tough guy keeps a basset hound. A floppy bundle of love and slobber, the dog is a link to the ghost (human identity) in Batou's machinery and, perhaps, as the hagiographic images of the hound suggest, something else.

Film Notes:

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Directed by: Mamoru Oshii

With: Akio Otsuka (Batou), Atsukko Tanaka (Motoko Kusanagi), Kouichi Yamadera (Togusa)), Tamio Oki (Aramaki), Yutaka Nakano (Ishikawa) and Naoto Takenaka (Kim)

Running time: 99 minutes

Release date: Today (chinese subtitles, no english)

Oshii squeezes charming laughs from Batou's relationship with the dog, but the hound's more essential function is to circle the film back to the fundamental question of what makes us human. Like Sean Young's replicant did with Ford's blade runner, the dog humanizes the hero and becomes the occasion for some philosophical riffing.

Although Oshii doesn't try to answer the question of existence, in between plot points that take Batou from a forensics lab to a yakuza den and rapacious doll company called Locus Solus (Latin for a solitary place), the filmmaker tosses in quotations from Descartes and Milton, nods to Jakob Grimm, Isaac Asimov and Jean-Luc Godard, lines from Psalm 139 and, most startlingly, references to the German artist and Surrealist fellow traveler, Hans Bellmer.

Inspired by Tales of Hoffman, Jacques Offenbach's opera about an automaton, Bellmer began constructing, then photographing, his fetishistic ball-joint dolls in the early 1930s. Machine-made rather than handcrafted, the dolls in Innocence are more streamlined than Bellmer's and significantly less perverse, but their ball-joints construction gives them a similar off-kilter, disturbing physiognomy.

The dolls in Innocence have bodies as bendable as that of a G.I. Joe toy, having been designed for sexual pleasure, while their faces remain frozen in Barbie-like supplication. Like many artists, Oshii clearly derives enjoyment from the image of the female form in all its mutations, but in this film that delight also comes with a little politics. Unlike Bellmer's dolls, Oshii's dolls sever their bonds and the occasional male head.

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