Any movie co-produced by the powerhouses that are Production I.G. and Studio Ghibli is bound to have certain expectations. And Ghost in the Shell: Innocence does not disappoint. Combining the high quality of Ghibli with the already iconic Ghost in the Shell created a sequel that is not only on par with the original, but just as thought-provoking.
Innocence is the story of one cyborg and his dog… and homicidal sex dolls.
It starts with Batou, former partner to Matoko Kusanagi herself, arriving at a murder scene to find that a fellow cyborg was the perpetrator. She gives out a cry for help and attempts to self-destruct, but not before launching an attack on Batou. Section 9 begin to investigate a chain of these cyborgs, called gynoids, who all murdered their owners. Batou teams up with Togusa, to find out why these artificially created women were driven to kill.
Innocence deals with very serious topics, one of which being human trafficking. These gynoids are given ghosts, or the souls of humans, to seem more realistic. As a result they become much more popular than the alternatives on the market, which are merely empty shells. But human consciousness needs to come from somewhere because it’s the one thing that can’t be faked. So real people were kidnapped in order to upload their ghosts into sex dolls: specifically young girls.
Questions of identity arise, as these girls fight against losing their humanity to cyborgs. This desire to retain their souls overrides the command to never harm a human, reinforcing the concept of humanity being superior because of their emotions. This relates back to the Major, as Batou and Togusa discuss her ‘belonging’ to the government. It’s been a while since she uploaded her consciousness and memory into the mainframe, and the authorities are only interested in reclaiming it for themselves rather than any concern for Matoko herself. In her current state, she can live freely without being controlled, so why would she want to give that up? Comparing her with Batou, who is vulnerable to people hacking into his e-brain and taking away his control over his own body, proves this point.
The gynoids have very limited control, having been created solely for the gratification of their owners. They have had moral codes installed purely for the protection of the people who use them, but giving them enough consciousness to feel things conflicts with these rules. It brings up the question of whether they can really give consent, as they are artificially created for this purpose. But how human does a cyborg have to be to be considered a person? If a ghost is all that’s needed, then they would qualify, but they’re treated like objects despite having this consciousness of what’s happening.
The further implications of this could be even darker. If they can upload the girls’ consciousness into the gynoids, how far can this actually go? Would they be aware of what is happening? A bi-directional link between girl and doll would be horrific. The answer to these questions lies in Matoko Kusanagi. Given that her consciousness can now be uploaded into various different empty shells, to what extent can she feel what they feel?
The parallels between the dolls and children are evident throughout the movie, but the cyborg technician Haraway says it best when she compares creating artificial life to giving birth to children. She states that it’s human nature to give life to progeny in order to further the species’ survival, and the fact that these cyborgs are made in the image of their creators is no coincidence. Being able to upload the human element (the ghost) into the shell allows the species to carry on without the vulnerable body. But she also compares cyborgs to pets, created as subservient to the human race, especially in the case of gynoids as they’re intended to be glorified sex dolls with no other purpose.
Batou, however, knows the value of having a pet because he would live alone if it weren’t for his dog. Despite the others thinking that a man in his position having a dog is ridiculous, the relationship between the two makes perfect sense, as they’re both synthetically created to an extent. Batou has been augmented into a cyborg and his dog is one of the first clones born through artificial insemination. Plus, Togusa has a family, which is arguably more irresponsible and means that he wouldn’t understand Batou’s need for companionship. The dog also serves to lighten the mood, something that’s needed in such a serious film. But there are times which he’s used as a plot device, which is foreshadowed relatively early on in what seems to be an off-handed comment about dog food. Quite a lot of the time in anime, the animal sidekick is used as mere comic relief and this is not the case for Ghost in the Shell, which makes the bond between dog and cyborg feel much more heartfelt and meaningful.
While Innocence’s antagonist, the mastermind behind the illegal capture of young girls, may have deliberately uploaded human consciousness into his gynoids, he definitely doesn’t agree with his customers. Rather than valuing an artificial body with a soul installed, he states that he prefers the empty shell of a human with their ghost removed. Which raises the question: which is more repulsive? Both are literally objectifying the female form to the point where they’re being used only as tools for gratification. As a result, it’s not surprising that these gynoids would want to fight back. The girls are fighting to reclaim their humanity, and in return the gynoids are fighting to become machines again so they do not have to be aware that they’re being used. As stated earlier, being in control of one’s own body is a prevalent theme in practically all the characters, from the Major, the kidnapped girls, the dolls, Batou, and even Togusa to some extent. While collectivist cultures like Japan value duty and working towards the greater good, there is a limit to how much sacrifice can be made, and losing one’s humanity crosses this line. So isn’t the reverse true? These cyborgs have lost an intrinsic part of who they are – something different from humans – so wouldn’t this also cross a line and make them rebel against the people who create or support putting ghosts in their shells?