Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Ghost-Dog: The Way Of The Shell

At the Toronto Film Festival three months ago, it was raining dogs.

I saw (I kid you not) eighteen straight films which featured dogs!

Hou Hsiao-hsien's contemplative Tokyo-set Ozu homage Cafe Lumiere? Dog.
Olivier Assayas's druggie-mom-child-custody drama Clean? Dog.
Claire Denis's unclassifiable global dream-journey L'Intrus? Beaucoup dogs.
Mamoru Oshii's anime Ghost In The Shell II? Big, sleepy-eyed basset hound-dog.

In fact, when asked about Ghost In The Shell II at the Cannes Film Festival, Oshii said that it was an "homage" to his own dog, a basset hound and the role model for the cine-canine pictured above.

I wrote a little about this terrific film after I saw it in Toronto. And because I liked it so much, I went back to see it again on the big screen when it opened here in town.

I love it when directors hijack genre movies and take them to strange, original places. Sam Fuller did it all the time, and Oshii does so here, blithely.

Let me illustrate.

Two cops step into an elevator. One of them speaks. "The mirror is not an instrument of enlightenment," he says, "It is an instrument of illusion."

Nice. But quite irrelevant to the plot of the film. And yet, a moment quite typical of this film.

Ghost In The Shell II is a sci-fi policier but Oshii uses the genre simply as a pretext to spin out a series of poetic aphorisms and heady dialogues that recall 1960's Godard.

The film is visually stunning--all backgrounds are in 3-D and the characters are in 2-D, making for an interesting visual texture. At one point, the plot (not uppermost in Oshii's mind, bless his experimental soul) grinds to a halt and a gorgeous New Year procession unfurls, a kaleidoscopic pageant that takes your breath away. (It apparently took an entire year to create the sequence).

When you've got images and words this strong, it has the miraculous effect of rendering the need for plot quite superfluous.