I finally watched Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence the other night. I'm a big fan of the original movie and the magna comics it developed out of, so while I was excited about it I was also nervous.
This film focuses on Batou, a cyborg cop who appeared as a secondary character in part 1. His partner Motoko Kusanagi vanished in part one; questions still sit unanswered on whether she died, ran away, or even had her soul uploaded to the net. As with anyone left behind, Batou is lonely and director Oshii makes good use of that. Wonderful little moments of him remembering his partner or taking care of his near-helpless Basset hound open up his character in some subtle but complex ways the first film didn't even attempt. The action comes through by way of gynoids, androids designed to be fully functional females, killing their human owners and then committing suicide. Batou and his new partner Togusa set out to investigate the case, sending them out through back alleys and villages of Japan checking out Yakuza and hackers alike.
Visually, the film is stunning. The cityscapes are pulled from sources like Bladerunner and the original Ghost in the Shell film while the gynoids are wonderfully patterned after the fetishist sculptures and photographs of surrealist artist Hans Bellmer (coincidentally one of my favorite artists). There have been some fantastic advances in animation over the last decade, allowing Oshii and his team to create images even more vivid, even more than the first film. The background scenes developed through CGI couldn't be more crisp, and the hand-drawn characters connect well to the style of the first film.
The ending is not quite so enigmatic as the first; whether this was done to connect more with western viwers or not, I don't know. But it certainly helps. I like that the end of the first movie raises all sorts of questions, but you watch a sequel to get at least some of those questions answered and they are (no, I won't give the answers away...you have to watch it for yourself). Oshii tackles some similar issues as the first--man's relationship to technology, gritty future life, etc--but a new idea is added. Creating things within in our image, be they art, technology or something inbetween, will not only show the bright, beautiful side of ourselves, but also the ugly, terrible, evil side. Thematically powerfully and visually perfect, this is not just the best anime I've seen this year, but probably the best movie I've seen so far this year. I actually want to pop it back in the player right now and watch it again, and it's been quite some time a movie's done that to me.