The Ghost Between Human and Machine

Ambivalent Humanity in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Taken from Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence Trailer

Summary: [SPOILERS] After a string of murders caused by malfunctioning gynoids (sex dolls), Batou and Togusa of Section 9 are called in to investigate. The case takes an ethical turn when they discover that the manufacturing company, LOCUS SOLUS have been trafficking young girls and dubbing (a form of cloning) their ghosts (consciousnesses) onto gynoids to make the dolls more realistic. The malfunctioning murders are revealed to be the effect of a tweak to the ethics code made by Jack Walkson, a shipping inspector who wanted to save the girls, and used the murders to attract the police.

Directed by Mamoru Oshii, Ghost In the Shell 2: Innocence is cyberpunk; a genre that often features advanced science and other high technology within a society that has had a breakdown of, or radical shift in social order. Through the interaction of these characteristics, cyberpunk questions the function of technology in our society and the effect of technology on our human consciousness.

When Batou and Togusa meet with Haraway (after Donna Haraway of the Cyborg Manifesto) the forensics specialist to talk about the gynoid malfunctions, Haraway refers to the doll’s actions as a “suicide”, a term to which Togusa immediately objects. In the subsequent dialogue, Haraway unpacks Togusa’s assumptions by pointing out the fragility of his assertions,

“Yes, if you assume that there is a clear distinction between man and machine…Humans and robots are different. But that sort of faith is nothing more than the recognition that humans aren’t robots” (Oshii, Innocence).
fig. 1

For Haraway, to say a human is not a robot is not a sufficient definition of what a human is either. She considers this definition weak, and easily disputed by the growing number of malfunctioning gynoids. This dialogue occurs, ironically, in a visual frame that positions Togusa in front of a row of robot dolls hanging behind him (fig.1). The eerie potential of Haraway’s question is reinforced by the visual resemblance of a very human Togusa to the completely lifeless dolls, a similarity that undermines the distinction he tries to assert when objecting to the idea that a doll could commit suicide.

The human consciousness in universe of Innocence is referred to as a “ghost”, an apparition of existence neither present nor absence. “Ghost in the Shell” gestures toward a fundamental split between human consciousness and the physical body it inhabits; a body that is no longer a marker of humanness.

The hacker Kim is the extreme example of this separation, as his consciousness exists without its own body in a mechanized doll. Within the virtual reality he traps Togusa in, Kim appears in a doll replica of Togusa himself, explaining,

“If you want to know what makes dolls so unnerving, it’s because they are modelled after humans…The fear that humans might be reduced to simple mechanisms and materials. The fear in other words, that the human phenomenon is fundamentally devoid of meaning and purpose” (Oshii, Innocence).
fig. 2

Togusa is forced to face the very embodiment of that fear (fig. 2) as the doll is his reflection but also the reflection of a lifeless phenomenon of simple mechanisms and materials. The advancing Kim in Togusa doll form produces an unnerving mirroring effect that threatens Togusa’s sense of humanness. This fear manifests when Togusa trips and falls within the virtual reality, and experiences his own body explode the way a doll’s body explodes. Although Batou cracks the hack immediately after and Togusa is disconnected from Kim’s virtual reality, Togusa’s terror at the disappearing distinction between his doll and human self is completely real, lingering long after the hack is diverted.

In both situations, the visual similarity between dolls and humans convolutes the relational distinctions between them. In the lab, Haraway asks, as the film shifts to a zoom in shot of a gynoid’s bright blue eye (fig. 3),

“Why does humanity go to such lengths to create these reflections of itself?” (Oshii, Innocence).
fig. 3

It is a question that lingers as Batou uncovers the illegal ghost-dubbing activities of LOCUS SOLUS. A question that becomes the heart of Batou’s internal conflict as he bursts out in the ship where he finds the trafficked girls being held,

“Didn’t it ever occur to you that there would be victims? I’m not talking about humans. Didn’t you stop to think about what would happen to the dolls that were given souls?” (Oshii, Innocence)

Batou, himself a cyborg, questions the assumption of difference between machines and humans that enables Jack Walkson to tweak the ethics code without considering the dolls’ collateral destruction as a form of death. In doing so, he treats the gynoids as human beings, inadvertently accusing the trafficked girl he has just rescued of a careless and selfish humanness. The little girl cries in response, “But I didn’t want to turn into a doll!” Her emotional defense is valid, as she possesses the same helplessness a doll does. The difference, however, is her current ability to make herself heard. The Major, Batou’s old partner who has become all ghost and no body, who returned briefly to help him with the case, speculates that if the dolls had their own voices,

“they would have screamed, ‘I don’t want to be a human!’” (Oshii, Innocence)
fig. 4

Her comment similarly prescribes equality for the dolls, and her comment recognizes their lack of agency to demand such equality for themselves. As the Major departs back into the web, the physical gynoid she had been possessing falls lifeless to the ground, and the shot of it’s eyes looking away from the camera (fig. 4) recollects the blue eyed close-up from Haraway’s lab, re-invoking the “Why” as a strong critique of the selfish desire of humanity that produces so much death for humans and machines.

This final combat scene is set to music called “The Ballade of Puppets”, which include three variations at different parts of the film. The first variation we hear narrates the beginning of the film in the opening CGI sequence of a robot doll’s construction, presumably a gynoid. The second variation appears in a fantastical festival parade Batou and Togusa experience while working on the case in a post-industrial neighbourhood. The last variation plays when Batou infiltrates the ship and has to fight off scores of gynoids to find the trafficked victims.

Each variation overlaps heavily with the other tracks, with small lyrical differences meant to represent a narrative progression. More importantly however, a crucial stanza appears in all three variations, layering the narrative with a philosophical questioning,

The blossoms beseech the gods
“Even though in this world we may know grief and suffering,
Our dreams shall never die,”
And they fall from the branch in anger. (Oshii, Innocence)

This repeated refrain echoes of a powerlessness voiced almost to the point of futility. Amidst the final sequence of chaos where the gynoids kill and inflict destruction on everything, we witness Batou inflict the same destruction on the gynoids, raging the senselessness of their deaths, as the blossoms sing of their resistance, and in their final descent, fall with anger.


All screengrabs taken from:

Oshii, Mamuro, dir. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. Go Fish Pictures, 2004. Film. 30 Mar 2014. <http://www.veoh.com/watch/v20819640XSGP3Wny?h1=Ghost in the Shell: Innocence sub>.