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Inosensu Kôkaku kidôtai (2004)

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Director: Mamoru Oshii
Writer: Mamoru Oshii, based on the manga Kokaku-Kidotai by Shirow Masamune
Producers: Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, Toshio Suzuki
Composer: Kenji Kawai
Production Companies: Bandai Visual Co Ltd/Buena Vista Home Entertainment/DENTSU Music And Entertainment Inc/Kodansha Ltd/Production I.G./Studio Ghibli
Principal Voice Cast: Akio Ôtsuka, Atsuko Tanaka, Kôichi Yamadera, Tamio Ôki, Yutaka Nakano, Naoto Takenaka, Go Aoba, Eisuke Asakura

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The second instalment of Mamuro Oshii's excellent near-future cyberpunk saga (following the theatrical Kôkaku kidôtai (1995) - the TV series Kôkaku kidôtai  Stand Alone Complex (2002-2005) was made without his involvement) very neatly split audiences down the middle between those who revelled in the metaphysical musings and often meandering philosophical debates and those who were completely perplexed by the whole thing. Both camps agree, however, that visually the film is quite simply stunning.

As with the previous instalment, Oshii proudly wears his influences on his sleeve, lifting liberally from the usual suspects, William Gibson and Philip K. Dick, though Oshii himself has hailed Theodore Sturgeon and J.G. Ballard as particular favourites. From the former he borrows the densely imagined future milieu and the melding of man with machine and the consequences that can wrought, while from the latter he takes one of the author's favourite obsessions - just how much can you take away from a human before they stop being human? Oshii also quotes early surrealist Raymond Roussel, whose novel Locus Solus (1914) not only lends its title to the name of the shady, Gibson-like zaibatsu that manufactures the defective gynoid prostitution robots that get the storyline moving, but also shared some of the film's philosophical concerns.

The storyline is complex and involving - too complex and involving for some - and demands close attention, but in an age where storylines are simply throwaway devices to keep the effects sequences moving, that's no bad thing. The ruminations on the nature of humanity and how close to us the various robots and cyborgs in the film have become are a major preoccupation, the one that alienated so many viewers who were either baffled or bored by it all.

And admittedly, a lot of it is incomprehensible to anyone not well into their final year of a philosophy degree but you certainly can't fault the film for ambition. Charges of pretentiousness were levelled, perhaps with some justification, but there's a danger in dismissing anything that tries to raise the bar when it comes to intelligent narratives and point-blank refuses to dumb-down for commercial popularity. If we're too quick to damn ambitious, elaborately plotted and scripted films like Inosensu  Kôkaku kidôtai, we could be in danger of ending up with flashy, soulless summer blockbusters all year round - and I'm sure no-one wants that.

What makes Inosensu  Kôkaku kidôtai so fascinating is how much of Oshii he himself has poured into the project - it's an intensely personal vision of the future, one that Oshii uses to explore his own fears and discomforts about our relationship with technology. He's claimed that the leading character, the cyborg cop Batou (still pining the loss to an electronic afterlife of his partner Major Kusanagi at the climax of the first film) is himself, exploring this relationship and his highly ambiguous feelings about our increased reliance on the technology and gadgets we fill our lives with. His claim that "With cell phones and the Internet, people's perceptions have expanded, but they're unaware of how this has made their bodies obsolete" underpins many of the central concerns in the film.

For those who find the more philosophical aspects of the film simply too much to take, there's still much to enjoy in Inosensu  Kôkaku kidôtai, not least of which the quite stunning visuals. The original Kôkaku kidôtai set a new standard for anime and the sequel not only matches that standard but raises it higher still. The seamless blending of traditional cel animation with computer generated backgrounds is nothing new but its taken to whole new levels in Inosensu: Kôkaku kidôtai. It is, quite simply, astonishing to look at, containing whole sequences that will leave you completely awestruck. The festival sequence alone took over a year to animate and the many action sequences that pepper the lengthy introspections are jaw-dropping, making the Matrix sequels look even more pathetic by comparison.

Intellectually stimulating (you might want to read up on René Descartes before venturing into the world of Inosensu  Kôkaku kidôtai and the less well read might miss many of the literary allusions and quotations), thematically fascinating and visually stunning Inosensu  Kôkaku kidôtai is not only a fine example of anime, it's a damn good science fiction film. It's the sort of genre movie those of us who love the more cerebral and demanding end of the spectrum crave and so rarely get, a true gem, a worthy successor to the excellent Kôkaku kidôtai and anyone who passes it up simply because it's a "cartoon" is doing it and themselves a grave injustice.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 December 2009 07:05