Batou, the mostly cyborg cop in "Ghost in the Shell: Innocence," is a solemn guy with a human spirit. He ruminates on the state of human existence and quotes Descartes, making it through the movie's vast, mesmerizing Japanese underworld without a sense of humor but with an unwavering mission to keep the peace. This is even after somebody hacks into his operating system and commands him to do such ho-hum things as shoot up a convenience store.
Not much else is ho-hum about Mamoru Oshii's sequel to his 1995 anime classic, which maintains a cultish hold on American video-store rats. The movies are based on Masamune Shirow's comic, and they're more vital than most police procedurals, fusing the metaphysical and the scientific into a pulp yarn with a gentle but bruising philosophical kick. "Innocence" introduces itself with a glistening sequence that gives us the rhapsodic impression of a cyborg's creation, then plunges us into the case of a sexbot that's killed its owner and some
cops. This is the world of 2032, where the line between flesh and technology has shrunk so the two are indistinguishably close. And an entire erotic fantasy industry has been whipped up to capitalize on their proximity. The sexbots are sick with a virus, yet nobody's filed a lawsuit. What's going
on? Batou and his mulleted partner, Togusa, investigate, trying to get to the bottom of the case. The movie tries its hand at a good cop/
bad cop relationship without turning it into shtick. Oshii wrote "Innocence" using Shirow's comic as his source, but he's not really concerned about genre particulars. He makes a character study of his android cop, whose face is stern and whose demeanor is contemplative and chilly in ways that recall Max von Sydow and a middle-aged Gary Cooper. And for all his talk of Milton and Confucius, he's still remarkably appetizing as an action hero. "Innocence" brims with foreboding, but it pulses with candy colors and the hum of neon signs. It has such exquisite play between human darkness and manufactured light that you often wonder who foots the electric bill. Yet for a movie so alive with opulent and inventive images and sequences, the cop feels more memorable in a kind of classic, black-and-white sense. What's great about Batou is the more his software is updated, the more he stays the same, content to sit at home and play with his basset hound. The parts might be new, but the soul's really old.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ghost in the Shell: Innocence
Directed by: Mamoru Oshii
Adapted by: Oshii, from the comic book by Masamune Shirow
At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (violence, sensuality)
In Japanese, with subtitles