As noted with the Kerberos Panzer Cop series, Gosenzosama Banbanzai, and The Sky Crawlers, Oshii occasionally references German history and aesthetics. And in Innocence, there are a number of references to Germanic culture, all of them strangely interrelating with the Nazi party’s attempts at cultivating a “Hitler Youth” during World War II. Considering what Frédéric Clément theorized that Oshii perhaps took inspiration from the horror film The Exorcist in thematically invoking the nature of evil, Innocence may also be invoking the horrors of dehumanization in the way it implies Nazi Germany’s systematic conditioning of youth.
The most significant reference to this is Inspector Jack Volkerson, who encourages the girls kidnapped by the Yakuza to start the gynoid uprising against their owners and cause disorder for the patriarchy in society. Volkerson’s character, who is never seen (not even his corpse is really shown), may arguably be either the main “villain” in Innocence for resorting to violence in the cause of disestablishing stability in the proletarian society or the actual “hero” in setting into motion the capitalist state’s self-implosion. Considering the rest of the characters in Innocence all have Asiatic names, the European name Volkerson really sticks out. Aside from the name Volkerson serving as the name for a German dog pedigree, the name “Volker” also means “people’s guard” or “people’s defender” in Teutonic German (folk, folc, “people”, and heri, “army, fighter, warrior”). Volkerson can be translated to “son of the ‘people’s army.’” In Nazi Germany, the people’s army was called “Volkssturmmann” and the Nazis “rejected the bourgeois culture of states associated with materialistic consumption, profiteering, and exploitative plutocracy.” The Nazis advocated for a nationalist socialism where all private industry was in the hands of the state, since “Hitler distrusted capitalism for being unreliable due to its egotism, and he preferred a state-directed economy that is subordinated to the interests of the Volk.” In Innocence, the yakuza, the elitist Kim, and the corporate gynoid manufacturer Locus Solus, they cumulatively represent the bourgeois class capitalistically exploiting girls into servitude for the wealthy elite and the high-ranking politicians. They are also the ones who are most harmed by Volkerson’s actions that incidentally leads to Volkerson’s death, which in turn provides Batou a lead in his investigations that results in saving the girls and putting a halt to their violent actions against the established patriarchal social order. Batou, teamed with Kusanagi and Togusa, become mediators in this class divide. As members of Section 9, they paradoxically represent the protection for the patriarchal conditions of the state even though they are also helping to dissolve the corruption within it. The same paradox of state agents commissioned to protect the public while also protecting corrupt state officials that Oshii also contemplated in the Kerberos series.
Another possible reference to the Nazi regime in Innocence is The Brothers Grimm’s tale of the Golem, which Kusanagi cites to in warning Batou of Kim’s deceits. The Nazi propagandists, as Joseph Goebbels, used the Grimm fairy tales for indoctrinating and conditioning children in showing hatred for the Jews by demonizing the Jew as they were depicted in a negative light by the Brothers Grimm in their tales. In particular, the story of the Golem of Prague, a creature shaped into anthropomorphic form from clay by Rabbi Loew, relates the golem could make itself invisible and have the ability to summon spirits from the dead. In the Bible, the golem is referenced in Psalm 139:16: “My frame was not hidden from You, / When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. / Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; / And in Your book were all written / The days that were ordained for me, / When as yet there was not one of them.” The passage precedes Psalm 139:17, which Togusa quotes to Batou in describing the infinite consciousness of God. The quote perhaps alludes to Kusanagi in having the omniscience of God and able to see fully Batou’s essence in the natural world and thus why she is able to lay out his fate in her premonitions and wield him like a puppet or a golem. Additionally, the golem was also a derogatory racial term Nazis gave to Jews in signifying them as subhumans (untermensch), thus dehumanizing them. It is interesting then how the golem creature is now a tale of inspiration for transhumanists who often invoke it for validating their objectives to transcend the human form through technology on religious grounds. One story on the Golem of Prague relates the golem was created to protect a Jewish community and was rejected by a woman he fell in love with that caused him to go into a violent rage. So the golem was put to rest by Rabbi Loew by smearing with clay on its head the word “met” or “death.” It was then later made legend in World War II that the golem was resurrected to fight the Nazis when they broke into Jewish synagogues. The golem to the Jews thus becomes associated with liberalization from oppression. It is interesting then that Kusanagi, essentially a divinity using the Hebrew language to communicate with Batou, leads him on in his investigations and thus continues to “reanimate” him in order to stop any further violence put into plan by Inspector Volkerson.
As one scholar notes with Grimm fairy tales, “The Grimm brothers wanted to see a unified Germany, they believed that German literature needed to find its way back to “Volkspoesie”, its origin, and they saw their role as unifying the Germanic peoples along linguistic lines.” It is thus oddly appropriate Inspector Volkerson’s fake bookshelf contains nothing but copies of the German book Fremdwörterbuch (or “Dictionary” in German) written by German lexicographer Johann Christian August Heyse. Writer Anthony Krupp notes there was a turning point for German encyclopedias in the nineteenth century that relates to intellectual movements. During the Age of Reason (1600s-1800s), children were not considered adult until they had attained the capacity for reason, since “higher cognitive faculties…define what it means to be fully human.” However, Krupp notes this perspective in Europe later changed in the 1800s. In citing Heyse’s dictionary definition of child, Krupp remarks, “Nineteenth-century German lexica depict children as possessing qualities of their own, qualities that adults lack: ‘love…gratefulness…obedience…innocence…’ in an 1833 definition….Within a century, the adult-centered prominence of reason in definitions of the human being had become problematic.” This Enlightenment Era notion that children were not considered adult and not fully human also seems invoked by the coroner in the film, Donna Haraway, when she remarks, “Children have always been excluded from the customary standards of human behavior, if you define humans as beings who possess a conventional identify and act out of free will. Then what are children who endure in the chaos preceding maturity? They differ profoundly from ‘humans,’ but they obviously have human form.” Haraway and Heyse’s comments in regards to the definition of children also suggests reformatting the very concept of a child, what was sought after by the Nazis to achieve Germany’s national solidarity.
Many scholars note Hans Bellmer’s dolls were designed in protest to the Nazi regime’s “cult of youth and the perfect body.” Oshii and his film crew even visited German and Italian toy factories to look at “dark side of doll manufacturing.” Interestingly, in what was called the “Borghild Project,” Hitler ordered for the manufacturing of sex dolls with synthetic flesh for his troops, the goal being to protect his soldiers from catching syphilis from prostitutes. This also involved giving these dolls made for Nazi troops the uniform appearance of blonde hair and blue eyes, what seems mirrored with the gynoids in manufacturing them to all have the same geisha girl appearance. Oshii even depicts all the children who are seen in Innocence with a very similar character design. The girl who is rescued from the Locus Solus ship and Togusa’s daughter both look fairly alike. It is also interesting that Oshii chose to end the film with Togusa’s daughter holding a European doll that has blonde hair and blue eyes.
Although if Oshii is suggesting Nazi Germany’s indoctrination of youth in terms of their own ideals of beauty, why would he be associating through Volkerson the fascistic indoctrination of children in an uprising against the proletarian society with Bellmer’s dolls which were made in protest to this? This possible thematic contradiction could be indicating what is also suggested with the same paradox of the state protecting the very political criminals who profit off of such institutional control. As Oshii suggests in the Kerberos series, there is an insurrection from within the state by its own state officials, arising when its agents are consumed by their own authoritative power. However, it could merely be that Oshii, as he did in referencing Communist Poland for his film Avalon, invokes the ghosts of the past which are part of this Jungian collective unconsciousness where certain images or ideas from history are easily recognized in the present because they have become archetypes due to reinforcing these scenes in the public’s mind. This is noted in Innocence, what amounts as a fairly strange connection to German’s history in Innocence with Volkerson, Haraway, and especially with the brief scene showing the pyre of dolls at the parade, what altogether seems associated with The Holocaust and the Nazi regime. And what also seems implicated with the linguist Heyes, showing strict deference to pure logic and reason in shaping the ideal of the adult through alienating oneself from innocence proves dehumanizing, whereas forming a communication between the adult and child in respecting natural innocence is to re-humanize.
Another possible association, which is not necessarily as direct but more inadvertent, with the Nazi regime in Innocence is existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Although Oshii never makes any clear allusion to this concept, Innocence seems to touch upon the basis of Nietzsche’s “Ubermensch” (or the overman). Nietzsche’s ideas on this indicate he would rather aspire for humans to not be enslaved to empty conceptions of their self and the imprisoning polarity of dualism but pursue infusing with the totality of all nature, and so he refuted ideology but lauded science as providing the means to ascertaining “the real world of nature.” Nietzsche considered there was mainly a “will to power” in humans to become an ubermensch, the term “used frequently by Hitler and the Nazi regime to describe their idea of a biologically superior Aryan or Germanic master race; a form of Nietzsche’s Übermensch became a philosophical foundation for the National Socialist ideas.” This objective seems mentioned by Kim when he states, “Determined to leave behind Darwinian natural selection, this human determination to beat evolutionary odds also reveals the desire to transcend the very quest for perfection that gave it birth.”
The ideas behind dualism and the absolutism of the self which Nietzsche rejected is accentuated by Oshii in Innocence in regards to the principles of duality in Taoism and freedom from the self and self-consciousness. For this reason, Oshii’s film seems to channel more of philosopher Georges Bataille in his conflicting views on technology in both improving man and yet also destroying him. Bataille argued, due to man’s transformative tendencies, there persists the discontinuity between nature and man in the posthuman world, and yet technology is the best means to reestablishing this lost intimacy with nature. What Bataille described as “beings in continuity” is perhaps the most befitting resolution for transhumanism in its futurist applications. As Jonathan York notes, Bataille saw self-consciousness as a “curse” and yet its limitations could potentially be overcome through the means of raising this consciousness into a superconscious. This seems like loyally carrying out Nietzsche’s idea of the “ubermensch” through subverting dualism the intellect deceives itself with in holding the belief there are no absolutes as attested by the Manichean good-and-evil conflict. Furthermore, York, looking at Bataille, considers how the human psyche as inbound by the ego is responsible for man’s discontinuity with nature, not because continuity has been lost but the conscious mind is separated from an experience in being one with all existence. York describes this as an enduring psychological state, and “the irony, for modern post-humanists like Bataille, is that the transcendental subject…is upheld as the epitome of wholeness, as an autonomous entity, when in fact it is the source of our alienation and inauthenticity. Hence humanity’s nostalgia for lost continuity.”
- Frédéric Clément, “Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence: Thinking Before the Act,” Cinephile 7, no. 1 (Spring 2011).
- Graphic Design Reader (2002) by Stephen Heller.
- Sultanov, Adilbek, “To What Extent Do the Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales Promote German Ethnic Nationalism?”, December 7, 2012, 2.
- Reason’s Children: Childhood in Early Modern Philosophy (2009) by Anthony Krupp, 14-15.
- Tokyo Cyberpunk: Posthumanism in Japanese Visual Culture (2016) by Steven T. Brown, 47.