Blade Runner, Subliminals, and Numbers in Innocence


While Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner served as an influence for the first Ghost in the Shell film, even more influence seemed invested into its sequel Innocence.  In particular, Oshii seems to have taken inspiration from the use of eyes in Blade Runner and Roy Batty’s quest for longevity (and perhaps immortality), both channeling a possible religious subtext regarding the Buddhist’s path to Enlightenment.  Although the question mainly still debated by Blade Runner fans is whether Deckard is a replicant or not, this mystery seems to not matter at all if the central idea director Ridley Scott was aiming for was to follow both Roy Batty’s and Deckard’s spiritual journeys.  Both hero and villain seem to eventually become “enlightened” as to who they really are (regardless whether they identify as a replicant or not) once their mortality is fully made apparent to them as the only reality that is enduring and true for them.  This is in likeness to Batou and Togusa coming to terms with this same reality as they undertake their investigation into the gynoids.  Aside from Deckard, it seems Oshii might have taken inspiration from the villain Roy Batty and J.F. Sebastian (who, like Togusa, is more human, more empathetic and emotionally responsive than the replicants he befriends) when returning back to Batou and Togusa in the sequel, especially when Batou’s character design changed to having white hair and wearing darker clothing like Roy’s character.


The eyes in Blade Runner have received various religious interpretations, and perhaps one involves the Buddhist belief that reality is illusory and it takes a heightened perception to see a truer and more ultimate reality.  In Innocence, Batou’s augmented vision can see all the information that composes his surroundings and so it serves to function as if it were his “Third Eye”, which in Buddhism is symbolic for a “spiritual awakening of knowledge and wisdom.”  In Blade Runner, Roy Batty tries to find a way to meet Tyrell, essentially his godlike “creator”, in hopes to finding a way of overriding the 4-year life span that his body is designed to last.  He seeks out information from the bioengineer Chew, who designs eyes, and Sebastian, both technicians recognizing Roy as a replicant based on their engineered features, especially their eyes.  Likewise, in Innocence, Batou seeks out one of his familiars, Lin, in order to get information as to where Kim can be found.  In reaching Kim, Batou and him enter into a discussion regarding immortality that Kim seems to believe he has attained in having transferred his cyberbrain into a doll’s body.  Like Roy finding out from Tyrell there is no way to redesign him to have more life, Batou also realizes that technologically prolonging life is just an illusion.

With the prevalent use of eyes in Blade Runner, Scott emphasizes the replicants’ fabricated eyes using red lens flares beaming into their eyes for distinguishing the replicants from the humans.  In Innocence, there are similar moments where eyes are seen glinting, such as Haraway’s computer monitors flashing off Togusa’s eyes.  The emphasis on Togusa’s eyes particularly seems important when his perception of events is constructed on what he organically, and thus naturally, sees, whereas Batou seems to see Togusa’s illusory humanity in its virtuality through his prosthetic eyes.  Blade Runner also plays on such a conflicted use of perception between Deckard, who only knows the replicants from a distance based on the information he gathers from photographs and police debriefings, whereas Roy Batty seems to have more enhanced vision with his engineered eyes.  Additionally, when the replicants are put under observation by their human examiners to test whether they are replicants, they are looked at through an eye-like Voight-Kampff machine, suggesting that the humans’ perception of the replicants is just as artificial as the replicants’ eyes.   As one commentator points out for Blade Runner, “Tyrell and Chew give the Replicants vision, enabling them to form identity, adopt a perception and to form their own memories and visions.”  The gynoids in Innocence have prosthetic eyes that do not seem to give them organically natural or augmented vision.  With fabricated green eyes, they are free from perception and thus free from any sense of self-identity and self-consciousness.


The connections between Blade Runner and Innocence are further noted in the scene when Roy talks to the eye engineer Chew and says to him, “if only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes”, suggesting that he is trying to broaden Chew’s perception in getting him to realize his own manufactured humanity.  In Innocence, the forensic specialist Haraway is seen in a freezing lab, much like Chew’s lab. The human characters (Togusa and Chew) can feel the cold but the biorobotic characters (the replicants and Batou) are unaffected.  Some of the gynoids in Haraway’s lab are seen with hollow eye sockets, and there is also a shot showing their green prosthetic eyes suspended and swirling in water, which seems like a nod to the scene in Blade Runner with the glass of boiling eggs the replicant Pris reaches her hand in to show her endurance to Sebastian.  The emphasis on this detachment of eyes in Innocence suggests the gynoids’ sight is not necessary for affirming their existence when perception only gives rise to this illusory subjective sense of self like the replicants in Blade Runner.


Other specific shot comparisons with Blade Runner include the voight-kampff scope showing the orange coloration in Rachel’s eyes while Deckard runs the test on her to determine if she’s a replicant.  In Innocence, there can also be seen faint orange lights radiating in the gynoid’s eye while it is under forensic examination.  Another important use of eyes in Innocence is the entrance to the gynoid ghost dubbing on the ship, which looks like a giant eyeball that is “awakening”.


Another interesting use of eyes in Innocence is the fact the forensic specialist Haraway has green eyes like the gynoids, indicating her sight and vision is fabricated as well but nevertheless her perception of events is not necessary for her to have any true “knowledge” of the events with the gynoids.  Haraway makes mention of child rearing with young girls and dolls to Togusa and Batou, indicating that maybe Haraway already intuitively knows why the gynoids are self-destructing is due to the gynoids possessing the souls of young girls.  It is interesting to further note that when Togusa leaves Haraway after their discussion, her fake green eyes lift back in order to look at footage of what may be the gynoids’ interior using an electronic visor.  Later on, Togusa is then seen trying to hack into the gynoid manufacturing ship with a visor covering his eyes.


The theme of severed sight and displacement of eyes is noted in Blade Runner when the replicant Leon Kowalski places artificially engineered eyes on Chew’s shoulders with his hands seen holding artificial eyes.  This becomes only more thematically significant when Deckard is later attacked by Leon and is almost killed when Leon tries to pierce his eyes using his hands.  And then later on when Roy kills Tyrell, he pushes his fingers beneath Tyrell’s glasses, killing his own creator by breaching through his own technological lens and disillusioning him of his own godhood to reaffirm he is just another mortal human.


With these riffs on eyes in Blade Runner, Oshii might have considered a potential theme of Buddhist enlightenment as present in Scott’s film.  He perhaps chose it as an influence when making Innocence in expressing how one internalizes what one projects onto their peers and close relations as based on choosing what they want to see in others that contributes to creating one’s self-identity.  As an armed cyborg with enhanced vision, Batou seems to consider himself invincible.  With his habitual trips to the grocery store, it stresses the mundane rituals in his life to where his very choices have become operatic.  It is not until he shoots himself in the arm, and seems to experience pain, when he realizes the ultimate reality of his mortality and breaks himself out from his own preconceptions as an enduring machine.

Batou comes to suspect that perhaps Kim hacked his cyberbrain, and so maybe this also means Kim has been wielding him like a puppet and thus Batou is Kim’s creation.  The narrative keeps it open as to who might be fully in control over Batou’s choices in Innocence when considering he is influenced primarily by the information that he receives through his augmented vision, and thus leaving open who is actually “creating” him in reanimating him.  It is Kusanagi who ultimately frees Batou from Kim’s virtual traps in sending the message of “death” to Batou, almost as if she, a pseudo-deity who has attained her own technological immortality, is freeing Batou from his implied fascination with immortality in getting him to realize it’s a lie.  Likewise, the scene between Tyrell and Roy in Blade Runner seems to have been an influence for Kim when Batou disillusions Kim that he has attained godhood in his freedom from the body and from relations in his isolation in his mansion.  It seems to allude to Roy Batty disillusioning Tyrell of his status of godhood in his own solitude in his ziggurat tower.  It is also notable that in both sequences, Roy and Batou’s more human allies, Sebastian and Togusa, are both watching from afar in unease at these confrontations.


After both Roy and Batou come to see there is no “truth” (the key to immortality) to be found, there is a similar homoerotic moment of the creation meeting with his creator that is followed by the creator’s death at the hands of his creation.  With Tyrell’s glasses and Kim’s prosthetic gold eyes, they are both blinded with their own technological sight in believing themselves to have attained godhood.  There also seems to be a similar use of sound effect with the sickening crunch of Tyrell’s eyes and also when Batou subdues Kim’s cyberbrain followed by them both moaning in pain.


The paneling and sizes of the doors to Tyrell’s bedroom and Kim’s study also look similar in design.  Additionally, both Kim and Tyrell are seen with what appear as their life support systems situated next to where they are resting that preserves their life and keeps them seemingly immortal.


When Leon attacks Deckard in Blade Runner, he says to him, “Wake up, time to die”, which is then later repeated by Roy when he says to Deckard, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe….Time to die.”  This parallel suggests that when fighting Leon, Deckard seems averse to admitting what he does not want to see, which is his death.  However, when fighting Roy, Deckard has a moment of pause and sympathy in seeing Roy’s humanity as Deckard sees his own mortality in Roy.  Innocence ends in a similar manner where Batou sees Kusanagi, who has become distant to him throughout the film, leaving him once again as if Batou is again laying witness once more to Kusanagi’s death when he saw her prosthetic body get shot up in the first film.  With these conclusions, both films convey that it is not until one witnesses the death in a familiar does one “wake up” from the illusion of one’s own life.


A notable scene in Innocence that seems to visually communicate that all existence is more relational than it is individual is the spiraling tower for the police headquarters in the northern district that Batou and Togusa journey to in their flight on the carrier.  The tower definitely seems modeled off the tower for the police headquarters in Blade Runner. An important detail to note are the statues that surround the headquarters.  They depict the Chinese warrior god Guan Yu.  Guan Yu statues can be found at police stations in Hong Kong, and are said to be associated with brotherhood, loyalty, and self-identity through group solidarity.  Additionally, Guan Yu has importance for foreigners visiting different regions in China, since “among the overseas Chinese community, the temples dedicated to Guan Gong [or Yu] also demonstrated how the traditional social ideals provided a model for migrants as they leave their homeland to seek opportunities.”


That Batou and Togusa venture to the northern’s police headquarters with Guan Yu statues accentuates a sense of brotherhood thematically contrasted with the social fragmentation found at their own jurisdiction’s police headquarters they visit earlier in the film.  The police officers in their jurisdiction are seen working at a distance from each other in their cubicles, their work environment stressing a disunity in a socially alienating setting.  Also note that the holographic projections of the officers during their debriefing with Chief Aramaki concerning the Yakuza, some of the officers are taciturn and distant in standing from one another.  It provides a real sense these officers do not even exist as they never interact or speak to one other.  This lacking sense of a brotherhood on the police force is also denoted by the tense exchange Togusa has with an officer who seems to comment on Section 9’s arrogance in interfering with their investigations.  The officer particularly mentions to Togusa an adage on persimmons, which “in Buddhism, the persimmon is used as a symbol of transformation. The green persimmon is acrid and bitter, but the fruit becomes very sweet as it ripens. Thus, man might be basically ignorant but that ignorance is transformed into wisdom as the persimmon’s bitterness is transformed into sweet delicious fruit.”  Togusa’s expressions of anger in Innocence always result either with his frustrations with Batou’s recklessness to whenever he is confronted with the reality of his own ignorance.  Togusa is always affronted by the very thought of being nothing other than a lifeless doll.



While the background details in many films can be of incidental aesthetic choice or recycling old footage and animation for production convenience, filmmakers have the tendency to take the opportunity in deliberately including hidden messages in their work. With the amount of creative control Oshii had on Innocence, this gave him great initiative to include more subliminals in Innocence than he has in any of his other films.  Subliminals are often defined “below the threshold of consciousness”.   They are images influencing the unconscious and then later are made fully conscious to the viewer without one realizing it.  The approach is thematically true to Innocence when its main conflict is centered on this disparity between self-consciousness and that which has none, the underlying innocence to all consciousness.  The very process of analyzing, drawing associations, and making deductions itself plays upon the viewer’s sense of consciousness.  Considering humans are unconscious 95% time and only conscious 5% of the time, Innocence completely stays true to this fact in playing off of how actively unconscious humans really are while consciously processing the information they see.  Below are some details in Innocence that could be taken as possible subliminals.


At the beginning of the film, when Batou first makes his grand entrance and steps out of his car, one can see a lit sign with the word “Life” with the red outline of a heart shaped around it.  Oshii has thought of Innocence centering on Kusanagi’s loss to Batou as a loved one reflecting a sense of life from those who are now dead, remarking, “The affect that a person leaves behind is the evidence that they have lived.”


When Batou walks into the alleyway to eventually confront the gynoid, his enhanced sight passes by a poster hidden in shadow that shows a gilded bird with a golden laurel arched beneath while it is seen soaring to a circular blue-white disc set above it.  This seems to serve as a subliminal for the golden bird in Kim’s manor.


As Batou returns home and opens his fridge, there can be seen “Silver Pitcher” labeled on a green bottle.  Batou chooses only the “Stray Dog” beer can as that is the only thing he seems to drink.  The “silver” on the green bottle may be setting the viewer up for Kim’s mansion where Batou’s dog is reproduced as a silver animatronic figure lying on an emerald green floor.  Additionally, In the Fan Wan Ching, which provides precepts for Japanese Buddhist clerics, it “prohibited the selling of liquor, a restriction which was applicable only to laymen since monks were not allowed to touch gold or silver.”  As the film suggests, Batou is akin to a Buddhist monk in his religious journey, so it is appropriate then that Batou drinks beer with “Stray Dog” labeled but doesn’t seem to touch the silver bottle and seems to not be at all allured by the beautiful gold interior in Kim’s mansion when seeing it as an illusion.


In the first half of Innocence, there are many shots of streets and narrow corridors with patterned tiles covering the columns, the walls and floors of various establishments, such as the elevator Batou and Togusa ride in and also the Wakabayashi.  Note particularly the scene where Batou is returning home.  He enters in and out of shadow while tiled flooring can be seen behind him.  This seems later paralleled with the strange mosaic corridor in Kim’s manor.


Before Batou shuts the door, one can briefly see outside a digital clock that reads 12:30 p.m.  Entering in the store, Batou passes by a box labeled “Midnight Dreams” that is set next to containers of tea bags.  It is also interesting to note that Togusa is later seen drinking tea in Kim’s manor.  In Masaki Yamada’s novelization of Innocence, Batou has late night dreams of having a son.  This play on dream states and alternative realities is further indicated with the checkerboard flooring in the store that alludes to Alice in Wonderland.  Another detail to take note by the store’s door is the sticker of a rabbit.  This is returned to later with the revolving globe in Kim’s mansion where a rabbit can be seen with the other animals.  The rabbit could be a small reference to the Buddhist tale of “The Selfless Hare” or possibly the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.


A “No Entry” sign can be seen on the steel door from where the Yakuza “crab man” emerges and then later on we see the same “No Entry” symbol on a sign in the convenience store that seems to prohibit stacking any cans there.  In addition to these common details, there is a diamond shaped sign on the front doors of the Wakabayashi and the store; there are television screens seen near the outside of the Wakabayashi that is showing the same footage as the television in the store; and there is also checkerboard flooring in both the Wakabayashi and the store.  These parallels between the Wakabayashi and the store suggest Batou’s battle against the Yakuza is an illusory battle and thus in vain. The Yakuza were not his real enemy in the grand scheme of his investigations but actually himself on a spiritual level.  Batou seems to come to this very realization when believing it was Kim who hacked his cyberbrain and not the Yakuza.


The Doll Head that is worn during Chinese New Year festivals is earlier seen in the convenience store in a picture for a toy vending machine.  Additionally, one can see what looks like a toy green dragon on top of one of the vending machines, and then later green dragons are seen imprinted on the flags that are part of the uniforms for the parade attendees wearing these Doll Head masks.


While looking around Volkerson’s house, Ishikawa lifts a portrait of a leaf set next to what looks like a funerary candle.  This could be a subliminal for the use of fallen leaves at the parade festival, where there is felt a sense of grief.


One last interesting detail to note is the use of fluorescent lights earlier in the film.  When Batou travels into the alleyway, the first feature shown is a flickering red fluorescent light, which seems later echoed with the neon sign of a red Japanese character flickering above Batou as he returns home.  Then in the convenience store, Batou looks up to see a white fluorescent light, suggesting his reality has now become more “illuminated”.



During the parade scene, there is an arcing shot of a street sign (with a large building sign on the far right behind it that features Oshii’s beloved basset hound).  The right electric sign seen above is headed with “Sec/M”.  Although it seems doubtful, this could be a discreet reference to “Sections” from the Book of Matthew (“M”).  For if one compares the chapter and verse numbers from the Book of Matthew with the numbers listed on the sign, it results in a series of Biblical verses involving the Lord’s Prayer that do not logically cohere.  Although some of these passages are strikingly synonymous with some of the film’s content and themes:

5:04: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

One of the film’s themes is grief and mourning as Batou is struggling with his own in having lost Kusanagi.

4:03 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

This seems not to relate to anything, but it’s interesting there is a brief shot of Togusa eating what looks like a loaf of bread at a temple.

5:03: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The “poor” in spirit referring to those with spiritual poverty that relates to material poverty.  Batou chooses a moderate living and seems to chastise the illusory wealth that Kim possesses.

6:09: “This is how you should pray…”

4:03 repeated

4:19: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”

The closing song at the end of Innocence is “Follow Me”, which may be in connection to Kusanagi telling Batou to “Follow Me” as his guide.

6:02: “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

This could be describing the parade attendees, such as the Buddhist monk seen in the crowd and there are two festival attendees who are playing trumpets, standing as if they were collectively in a state of ceremonial worship.

7:02: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

This verse is a befitting description for the use of doppelgangers and mirrors in the film.

6:09: “This is how you should pray…”

5:02: “ And he opened his mouth and taught them.”

Also note this symbol ( ϴ ) is seen on the top screen right above the one listing these numbers.  This could be Theta, which is the Greek letter symbolic with death and also associated with consciousness.  Theta has the numerical value of 9.  This is interestingly coincidental with the number designating Batou and Togusa’s unit, Section 9.  Also notice the number 9 is later seen in the below shot with Kusanagi (inhabiting the lifeless gynoid body) aiming her gun directly at the number 9.


That the above cited symbol is theta seems possible when one notes there are Greek letters mixed in with Japanese characters on a red sign seen above the fridges in the convenience store.  As to what message the sign translates to, I have no idea.


When looking at those possible Biblical numbers on the street sign, one can also see Buddhist dragons holding the flaming pearl of enlightenment pointing in opposite directions.  While the numbers listed and the dragons are directing different paths, they nevertheless both meet at this same intersection marked with a dragon seen coiled around the sign’s pole.  Oshii could be suggesting Buddhism and Christianity having a common theological basis in that they both seek this same spiritual truth to freeing oneself from the material world.  In considering Kusanagi quoted from Corinthians in the first film, and she communicates to Batou using numbers like 2501, then perhaps the guidepost is a message to Batou for his own spiritual journey.  This possibility seems more supported when one can see briefly scrolling out on the sign to the left the words: “ship to the water surface”, which could be a reference to the gynoid manufacturing ship Kusanagi and Batou finally physically meet or perhaps to the deep sea diving in the first film that precedes Kusanagi quoting from Corinthians.


The notion Kusanagi is perhaps communicating to Batou with numbers is supported when she is seen hacking into the ship’s system using a terminal that has numbers scrolling around it.  Also notice the above shot has wire cables in the background framed to where they seem connected to Kusanagi’s neck and her cyberbrain.  The shot suggests that she communicates through the network using numbers.  Another interesting detail is the virus being transmitted by the ship’s A.I. is Type 1052, which is the reverse of 2501, an appropriate countermeasure to Kusanagi’s use of numbers.  The future world of Innocence, like the present day world, is one built using numbers, characters and code to convey meaning where every communicative symbol seems easily interchangeable for another.  This is in line with Transhumanist thought in overcoming dualism in raising consciousness with technology that also seems to fulfill Nietzschean philosophy, arguing there are no objective values or truths to the world as one must try to seek these actual values outside constructed ones in order to overcome nihilism and see the apparent truer meaning to everything.

Sources Referenced:

  7. Graner, Paul (2000).  “Saich: The Establishment of the Japanese Tendai School.”

Nazis and Nietzsche in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence


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.”

Sources Referenced:

  1. Frédéric Clément, “Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence: Thinking Before the Act,” Cinephile 7, no. 1 (Spring 2011).
  8. Graphic Design Reader (2002) by Stephen Heller.
  9. Sultanov, Adilbek, “To What Extent Do the Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales Promote German Ethnic Nationalism?”, December 7, 2012, 2.
  10. Reason’s Children: Childhood in Early Modern Philosophy (2009) by Anthony Krupp, 14-15.
  11. Tokyo Cyberpunk: Posthumanism in Japanese Visual Culture (2016) by Steven T. Brown, 47.

Anti-Transhumanist Themes in Innocence

Amidst the various philosophies and ideologies Oshii invokes in Innocence, the one which he seems to take some subtle opposition to is secular Transhumanism.  The term having originally been coined in 1957 by Julian Huxley, the brother of Aldous Huxley (author of Brave New World (1932)), Transhumanism is a doctrine of thought that argues man’s evolutionary objective is to excel beyond his physical and psychological limitations with the use of his technology.  Of course, whether or not Oshii has actually taken Transhumanism into consideration is not clear when he has never specifically mentioned his views on this subject nor has he ever remotely referenced Transhumanism.  However, there are a couple of visual cues in Innocence which suggests Oshii may be quite knowledgeable about this ideology to some degree and that also indicates he is quite disenchanted with it.


The most prominent nod to Transhumanism in Innocence is the golem.  In Batou’s visit to Kim’s mansion, Kusanagi tips him off to take caution in entering the mansion with the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the golem.  Aside from its appearance in fairy tales, the mythic golem has also been construed as referring to many strange and interesting motifs underlying evolutionary and transhumanist thought.  Functioning almost as if it were a Promethean parable, the golem warns how man’s reach or acquirement for godhood far exceeds his grasp and could lead to adverse consequences in appropriating God’s power.  In Nick Bostrom’s History of Transhumanism, Bostrom considers the movement of transhumanism as having its roots in the tale of the golem as interrelated to Kabbalistic lore.  The Kabbalah was a system of Judaic thought that was a form of practice blending magic, science, and alchemy.  It is also part of the Torah that describes mystical creation and how God manifests his divine powers through his own creation.

As articulated in the book on Jewish esotericism, the Sefer Yetzirah, “human-made golems could be activated by the ritualistic use of the Hebrew Alphabet, bringing the golem into life and action.”  Lisa Nocks argues the golem could be an expression of the anxiety felt by man in using the “products” of his evolution in order to transition into new evolutionary states, what is seen with technological advancements made in society.  Nocks further looks at the works of Moshe Idel, philosopher of Jewish mysticism, in how he “points to the gradual secularization of society for the development of the Golem’s darker side….He suggests that a certain amount of guilt and lack of confidence burdens those who strive for such knowledge without the purpose of divine communion.”  Kusanagi uses the Hebrew Alphabet in order to invest Batou’s knowledge with the tale of the golem.  As there is no indication in the film that Batou had any preexisting knowledge of the golem story but rather he acquired it from Kusanagi, he acts with caution in Kim’s manor based upon this hint.  What Oshii thus seems to indicate is that Batou is the golem himself, for he is taking action in Kim’s manor in accordance to what Kusanagi forewarns him of through the use of the Hebrew Alphabet, the language of God.  Kusanagi, who is a divinity unto herself, is seemingly using Batou as her puppet in order to carry out the investigations into Kim’s manor, and thus he becomes her own creation.  When it is uncertain as to how much contact Batou and Kusanagi actually have in the film, this raises a very interesting question: who is really undertaking the investigation into the malfunctioning gynoids?  Is it Kusanagi or is it Batou?  If Kim’s manor is the mirror of the film itself in revealing its inner workings, then it could be Oshii is revealing Kusanagi as the one who is actually conducting the investigation and not Batou and Togusa.


Hava Tirosh-Samuelson also notes that the mystical abilities surrounding the golem as having the powers to change the human form has been adopted by some non-Jewish technoscientists in describing their own objectives with technology.  Samuelson further remarks that “computer scientists who build intelligent machines that deliberately mimic human behavior invoke the golem legend to justify their endeavor on religious grounds.”  With the ability to control human motions and life through a medium which is an imitation of the human image, this also implicates the ability to control human mortality with the promise of using technology to create an artificial immortality.  To cheat death is generally considered by scholars on the subject as one of the primary objectives of the Transhumanist.  As Batou explains to Kim and Togusa, Kusanagi’s use of the word “aemaeth” to bring the golem into life is the Hebrew word for “truth,” but when removing “ae” to form “maeth” it renders the golem back into clay and thus exposing this makeshift life as an illusion. This communicated transmutation from life to death is a key signifier to Batou warning him of peril in falling into the trap of the virtual simulations, and thence the very essence of his composition is unraveled and exposed when Batou and Togusa are fundamentally lifeless mediums that have been invested with life through the workings of animation.  Batou even goes on to remark, “That prophecy told me that no truth would be found within these walls.”  In other words, as related to the golem, the ability to overcome mortality through shaping and thus creating a sought after immortality through lifeless mediums, as Oshii shows with technology in how he expresses it through the medium of animation, is a false illusion, one that is alluring to its beholders due to this sensibility of immortality providing a pacifying delusion for us in negating the reality of our mortality.




Another symbol implicating an oppositional stance to Transhumanism relates to the Tree of Life.   A scholar of mythology, Joseph Campbell, distinguished two mythical trees, accounting, “The principle of mythic disassociation, by which God and his world, immortality and mortality, are set apart in the Bible is expressed in a dissociation of the Tree of Knowledge from the Tree of Immortal Life.  The latter has become inaccessible to man through a deliberate act of God, whereas in other mythologies, both of Europe and of the Orient, the Tree of Knowledge is itself the Tree of Immortal Life, and moreover, still accessible to man.”  Campbell’s comment provides some insight into why Oshii includes the Bodhi tree in Chief Aramaki’s office to where it seems both contrasted and mirrored later on in the film with the Tree of Life seen in Kim’s domain.  The Bodhi tree can be associated with the “Tree of Knowledge,” whereas the tree seen in Kim’s mansion represents the “Tree of Immortal Life” or what is described in Biblical scripture, and especially in the Quoran, as the “Tree of Life.”   Furthermore, another interpretation is that “the Bodhi Tree is a tree of the visible world. It symbolizes for the Buddhist the saving knowledge that releases the being from his illusions.”  As Oshii has portrayed the Tree of Life in Kim’s manor with holographic birds soaring to its peak as indicating the tree may be also mere chimera, and considering he has depicted the tree on a mural wall in Angel’s Egg and Ghost in the Shell, Oshii suggests this is a tree sought after and imagined by men but one which does not actually exist.


The reason as to why the Tree of Life in Innocence could perhaps relate to Transhumanism is because it has become a rather emblematic symbol for eugenics, which was a form of Transhumanism in the early twentieth century but one which modern Transhumanists claim they are not in support of.  Eugenics is a doctrine of belief that calls for controlling the genetic quality of humans by controlling sexual reproduction in favoring more desired genetic traits over less desired genetic traits, often by means of sterilization.  In her book on Eugenics, Christine Rosen examines The Tree of Life and how the “Eugenicists adopted the metaphor as their own at the Third International Eugenics Congress held in New York City in 1932.  Visitors entering the exhibit hall confronted a large mural depicting an enormous tree heavy with foliage and with a banner unfurled across the top that read, simply, ‘Eugenics.’”  Innocence seems to discreetly acknowledge these themes of Eugenics with Coroner Haraway’s discussion with Togusa on child rearing, her conversation on dolls and upbringing on how raising one’s progeny is like a form of genetic grooming in how the child shapes their doll in the process to understanding child rearing and obtaining “the ancient dream of artificial life.”  Furthermore, Batou casually mentions to his colleagues his pet dog was the “first of his line bred by artificial insemination,” a “high-maintenance hound.”


Another interesting moment in Innocence is the scene of the burning of the dolls.  In Japan, there is a temple where couples who bore children can go to and take a doll with them as their child’s surrogate to prevent anything bad to befalling their child.  This eventually led to couples bringing their dolls for getting rid of them.  They then arranged these pyres at the temple for burning dolls, since, “many residents are suffering over how to do away with their dolls.”  What Oshii once indicated in an interview, humans today are losing their bodies, and thus they seek out different ones to affirm their existence, thence transmuting into different forms and casting away their old.  For the Transhumanists, the human form is considered by them what has to be changed and surpassed in order to achieve a better life.  As explained in my book, Oshii puts forth the notion in Innocence that it is requisite to have physical ties to the natural in order to have any grasp or understanding of our own existence.



Additionally, in Innocence Oshii configures the angel seen in the first film when Kusanagi merges with the Puppetmaster.  He changes it from an ethereal divinity into an artificially rendered divinity in Innocence.  Thus, Oshii seems to suggest with secular transhumanism is that seeking after immortality in being free from the physical limitations through extending one’s being into the technological is just as unattainable and unsatisfying as the technical spirituality organized religions promise.  Oshii’s film thus seems to take an unfavorable stance towards secular Transhumanism, since Innocence visually suggests this with the golem and the Tree of Life that this movement is more of a pseudo-science, just another chimerical ideology.  In interviews, both Oshii and Shirow have expressed how religion and progressive technology are very similar in their pursuits to changing humans through expanding the human form past its physical limitations, how both of these doctrines of thought seem to be converging as one.  In Ghost in the Shell, Kusanagi merges with the Puppetmaster as if this was a technological singularity where human intelligence fuses with the artificial.  In Innocence, considering the film suggests Oshii is self-including himself in the role of Batou, it indicates that Oshii eschews the post-human form Kusanagi obtains rather than embracing it.  Thus, Oshii seems to articulate the objectives of Transhumanism is as deceptive and intangible to the limitations of our knowledge, just as much as the perfect spiritual state humans are after through their traditional theologies.  This is also implicated by Batou when he remarks, “Birds seek refuge in the heavens, fish dive deep into the sea.”  The birds that are seen soaring to the Tree of Life in Kim’s manor and in the skies, their forms are as transient and irreal as the human attendees witnessed at the parade.  It seems to suggest there is no substance found in those who seek after the heavens.  Also, towards the end of Innocence, Kusanagi states to Batou, “We weep for the blood of a bird, but not for the blood of a fish, blessed are those who have a voice.”  It’s almost as if she, speaking as a divinity, an equivalent to God, is showing pity on humans in vainly aspiring for what they believe is the perfect form of their spirit.

Sources Referenced:

  3. Transhumanism: A Grimoire of Alchemical Agendas (2012) by Scott de Hart & Joseph P. Farrell, 39
  4. Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement (2004) by Christine Rosen
  5. Religion and Transhumanism: The Unknown Future of Human Enhancement by Calvin Mercer & Tracy J. Trothen
  6. Lisa Nocks, “The Golem: Between the Technological and the Divine”
  8. Frederik L. Schodt, “Interview with Masamune Shirow,” JAI²,

Oshii’s Self-Inclusion in Innocence

One interpretation of Innocence I was the most reluctant in making centered on Oshii investing his more autobiographical sentiments into the character Batou.  Typically, one should be especially cautious when making claims or assumptions as to the private life, or even psychology, of the artist in relation to what they communicate in their work.  However, in order to better understand the filmmaker’s work, one has to take into consideration what might have been occurring in their personal life at the time they were involved in the film’s creative process.  I think this is a crucial facet to Innocence as Oshii manifested complete creative control over every aspect that went into the film’s production.  When the world of Innocence involves cybernetic characters living their existence through the bodies and minds of others, the technicality of the film’s medium merging with the expression is a befitting opportunity for Oshii to impress his more personal sentiments and experiences into the main characters.

egg bearer

Generally, Oshii’s inclination for self-inclusion was perhaps first fully realized with Angel’s Egg.  Yoshitaka Amano, who had a hand in the story, mentioned the film might have been influenced from what was going on with Oshii’s own life at the time.  Amano remarked, “Oshii was getting divorced and he had a daughter he couldn’t see.  So he felt that he was creating some unhappy memories and unhappy times for his daughter, and perhaps that experience resulted in Angel’s Egg.”  Incidentally, ever since Angel’s Egg, Oshii has often returned to protagonists who are haunted by a former lost love.  It is evidenced with Koichi and Midori in The Red Spectacles, with Inui and Tang Mie in Stray Dog, with Tsuge and Nagumo in Patlabor 2, with Batou and Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, and finally between Kannami and Kusangi in The Sky Crawlers.  In each film, emanating are melancholic overtones surrounding the more romantic dynamics between the characters.  That Oshii is conveying a long held melancholy with the separation of his wife and daughter seems particularly apparent with Major Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell and Innocence, a woman who Batou has lingering memories of and fleeting interactions with but one he has no real physical connections with.  The first Ghost in the Shell concludes with Kusanagi merging with The Puppetmaster (what Kenji Kawai’s score implies as their “marriage”), leaving Batou alone.  Batou attempts to resurrect Kusanagi by finding her a replacement cybernetic body of a young girl, who also incidentally leaves Batou behind with the promise of returning to him.


With Innocence, it is likely that Batou, a single man whose only companion is his basset hound Gabriel, represents Oshii at his current life while Togusa, the family man with a single daughter, was what Oshii was in his past life.  Major Kusanagi and the young girls in Innocence, as interrelated with Batou, could all perhaps be derived from Oshii’s personal sentiments regarding his distant relationship with his wife and daughter.  Innocence may thus mainly just be an inner conversation Oshii is having with himself.  Another funny possibility is that the character Kim could be based on an actual producer from the anime industry Oshii has bumped into in the past.  Take note that Batou and Togusa both have to venture to the second floor of Kim’s manor and also to the second floor of the Yakuza business “The Wakabayashi,” in order to meet with the head boss of both settings, what seems mirrored with Chief Aramaki’s office.  This reminds one of what Oshii once mentioned when meeting with a Bandai Visual producer for the first Ghost in the Shell film: “The second floor of the sushi restaurant is somewhere ‘special.’  It’s a very intimate room where you want to talk about something secretive.  It’s actually not a good thing when a producer offers to take you to sushi on the second floor.”  In Innocence, the Yakuza’s office, the Wakabayashi, even closely resembles a sushi establishment.  Now this may sound like a stretch, but the coincidence is just too striking enough not to consider the possibility Oshii is playing off of his experiences in the anime industry as expressed through Batou and Togusa, who are indicated in the film as being doppelgangers of each other.  Additionally, Oshii has expressed his desire in having creative control by working with fairly low budgets, and thus it seems Oshii has never really cared about making money in filmmaking but is nevertheless having to work with producers who do care about profits.  As Kim’s eyes are painted gold, he is thence depicted as one who sees only wealth, whereas Batou sees it for what it is, an illusory empty deception which yields no personal contentment.


After finding the kidnapped girls, there is a rather despondent moment when Batou looks upon the lifeless gynoid body which Kusanagi possessed after she leaves him once again but promises to always be near him.  It is suggested that Batou will still be haunted by his loss of Kusanagi.  However, in Batou having been separated from Gabriel and Togusa from his daughter, Innocence concludes with there being a sense of restoration with the children having been returned to their parents and thus a sense of peace is settled upon.  The film’s final scene even shows Batou waving farewell to Togusa with Gabriel’s paw as he remarks, “Hanging out with someone else’s family just isn’t my thing,” almost as if Oshii was bidding farewell to his former self, the family man he briefly once was but never actually became in real life.  Such an emotional transition for Oshii towards affirming a form of personal reconciliation comes across as being more evident with his next feature film, The Sky Crawlers.  In The Sky Crawlers, the female character Kusanagi has a daughter who is fatherless, but it is suggested the child is the daughter of Jinro, the man Kannami used to be but who he no longer is.  In reflecting on her experiences in working with Oshii on The Sky Crawlers, screenwriter Chihiro Ito said, “This has little to do with the writing process but Oshii-san’s daughter is coincidentally the same age as me.  He often told me about his feelings as he could meet again with his daughter after a period of separation.  This inspired him to make a movie that addressed young people.  Maybe that was partly it but every week we met, he seemed to gradually change.  He became more and more physically fit.  His fashion changed too.  I don’t really know why he changed but it seemed to me that Mamoru Oshii had started a new era.”  Indeed, in recent years, Oshii has changed aesthetically and thematically, as attested with Garm Wars: The Last Druid to Nowhere Girl.  That sense of loss for a former love no longer seems to be present in his work.




The Floor Decor in Innocence

  1. Chessboard Flooring


In the store where Batou has his vision hacked, and the dolls’ dinner table in Kim’s manor, one might discern the black and white tiled flooring in both scenes.  This checkerboard floor pattern can also be found in Angel’s Egg, especially when the “soldier” stands on the open field in the beginning as if he was a small chess piece, a bishop himself.  The sole interpretation I provide in my book is the checkered flooring derives from Solomon’s Temple and hints to a religious connotation.  In addition, and this is one for the conspiracy theorists, the black and white flooring can relate to masonic lodges, where ritualistic practices are performed and are often associated with the secret society “The Illuminati.”  However, in having thought about it more, I finally concluded the black and white floor tiling in Oshii’s films are mainly alluding to Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” than anything else.

There’s even a passage from “Through the Looking Glass” that uncannily describes the opening scene for Angel’s Egg:

“For some minutes Alice stood without speaking, looking out in all directions over the country- and a most curious country it was. There were a number of tiny little brooks running straight across it from side to side, and the ground between was divided up into squares by a number of little green hedges, that reached from brook to brook. ‘I declare it’s marked out just like a large chessboard!’ Alice said at last.”  (Carroll, pg. 18-19, 2016).

In considering Oshii has used mirrors in his films for conveying the fragility of identity and the self, and thus the characters enter “through the looking glass” and into Wonderland, it seems possible Oshii took the chessboard theme from Carroll’s novel to visually articulate this transition where the characters find themselves suddenly stuck between the real and the imaginary.  Checkered flooring and allusions to Alice in Wonderland are also found in the Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix, the film which Ghost in the Shell inspired.




2. Kim’s Study and Inspector Volkerson’s Home


During Batou and Togusa’s trip to Kim’s study, one can see there are spirals carved into the flooring.  Spirals are often used as a symbol in Oshii’s films, and the spiral can denote the cyclic processes of birth and death.  This significance of the spiral nicely ties in with Innocence’s theme of reanimation in shifting from the animated to the unanimated and vice versa.  Additionally, other cyclic imagery can be found throughout Innocence, from the holographic “Pursuit Vehicle Checking System” in Batou’s sight warning him of imminent attack, the gears on the Locus Solus music box, to Togusa’s tea inexplicably swirling in its cup after Togusa’s cyberbrain is hacked.


Interestingly, in Volkerson’s home, there is a brief shot of Volkerson’s blood where his corpse lied.  Take notice the carpeting has white flowers, each having eight petals.  Later on, in Kim’s office, adjacent to the spirals in the wooden flooring can be also seen eight sided figures that are similar to the images of the flowers stitched in the carpeting of Volkerson’s home.  This eight sided flower is likely a visual reference to the white lotus, an eight petal flower that, in Buddhist thought, is said to represent purity and spiritual perfection.  What is explored in Innocence is Batou’s spiritual journey that is not so different from a Buddhist monk’s.  With the spiral connoting to the cyclical process of life to death and then back to life, being juxtaposed to the white lotus, Oshii is likely invoking the basic principle of Enlightenment, where a “Buddhist finds the truth about life and stops being reborn.”  (Source:  With all the mirrors in Innocence, this expression of self-reflection evokes our own self-consciousness, what seems to be antagonized in the film, for “the only way to bring an end to the very possibility of enduring sorrows again is to stop being reborn as a conscious being” (Encyclopedia of Buddhism, edited by Damien Keown and Charles S. Prebish, pg. 558).

Furthermore, the pathway to Kim’s mansion, which is also checkered, may be alluding to “The Middle Way” in Buddhism.  The Middle Way is the “Noble Eightfold Path,” a principle teaching in Indian Buddhism, signifying the path which leads to liberation from the “Wheel of Samsara,” the eternal wheel of suffering.  The wheel of Samsara, and Batou’s spiritual journey in Innocence, are much more fully explored in my book.



The Many Reflections in Innocence

In Innocence, there are multiple scenes and several minor details Oshii seems to have set to deliberately echo against each other.  Most of these are mainly distinguished in Kim’s manor, since it serves as a mirror for the film itself.  However, Oshii uses these visual parallels throughout Innocence.  Having written about this in my book, I felt this visual method in the film warranted a short dissection of some key sequences in order to better show the intricate use of mirror images Oshii constructs and how fully realized it is.  Listed below are some of the many interesting parallels to be found in Innocence.

  1. The Virtual Togusa

Perhaps the most thematically crucial one is when Togusa examines Volkerson’s remains.   Funnily enough, before handing over the virtual footage of Volkerson’s body, Ishikawa mentions to Togusa that “This is the scene 22 minutes ago.”  22 minutes ago is approximately the running time for the film itself at that present moment when Togusa speaks with Ishikawa.  22 minutes ago for the film itself begins with a short intro explaining Togusa and Batou are investigating “grisly murders,” the “scene” 22 minutes earlier before investigating Volkerson’s body.

After Togusa examines the still shot of Volkerson, notice particularly in the following shot that Batou is pacing right behind Togusa after he examines the virtual projection of Volkerson’s body.  Later, during the third simulation in Kim’s manor, Togusa finds himself lying on the floor and seeing his body self-destruct.  The shot of this scene is a direct inverse shot of Volkerson’s body, one made clearer to Togusa than the static projection he witnessed of Volkerson’s corpse.  After Togusa is returned to reality, like in Volkerson’s home, Batou stands directly behind Togusa but this is now an inverse shot of the one above, thence mirroring the scene in Volkerson’s home.  Togusa perceives a gruesome and graphic visual of Volkerson’s corpse, but he is unaffected by this sight when it is a clinical part of his investigative routine, looking only through the medium which also constitutes him.  When Togusa steps literally through the looking glass, he transmutes into Volkerson himself in experiencing the virtual construct of his own self.  His shock upon witnessing his mechanical body is contrasted with his clinical detachment in examining Volkerson’s corpse.

Additionally, an interesting detail to take note of is the electrical light fixture which is seen hanging over Togusa’s head after his cyberbrain is hacked with the virtual simulations.  As one can see in the left image, there is only one light fixture on the bookshelf that is seen lit and situated above Togusa, indicating Togusa has been “enlightened” with this newfound self-knowledge of his technical existence.  In contrast, the image on the right shows only a single unlit bulb on the bookcase while the rest of the light fixtures are seen to be lit.  The dim light fixture is situated directly over Kim’s head, suggesting he is “unenlightened.”

2. The Underworld of the Autopsy

At the coroner’s office, the gynoids are seen put under examination, preserved in amniotic plastic wrap that is not so different from the holographic picture of the girl Batou discovers stored away in Volkerson’s library.  The orange color evincing a sense of warmth, it is displaced from the clinical cold white settings.  Take notice of the ceiling paneling in the coroner’s office, and how comparable it is to the grating in the flooring on the Locus Solus ship, where the kidnapped girls are stored in the ghost dubbing processing area.  The ceiling of the examination room is now the floor, as if it has been turned upside down.  With the freezing temperatures in both settings, it suggests the gynoids are held in some purgatorial limbo.  Interestingly, Togusa is initially seen at the coroner’s to bundle up in being exposed to the cold before getting used to it, whereas Batou and Kusanagi are completely unaffected by it.

3. Chief Aramaki and Kim

During the earlier parts of the film, Batou and Togusa make three visitations to Chief Aramaki’s office, the same number of times they revisit Kim on the top floor of his mansion whilst they are entrapped within the virtual simulations.  Interestingly, the content in each reiteration is also similar.  The first visit shows a general debriefing between all the characters.  In the second, Togusa is portrayed in the scene as a solitary figure, provoked by Kim and Aramaki in having a moment of self-reflection.  In the third instance, both Batou and Togusa endure an intense conflict with Kim’s office getting destroyed by gunfire that is similar to the battle against the Yakuza, followed by Aramaki chewing them out for being reckless.  These instances are visually comparable with Togusa and Batou seen to stand small in the frame’s background at the office door with Aramaki and Kim looming larger in the foreground to feel more authoritative and imposing.  Moreover, Aramaki and Kim are reclined back in their chairs with their hands later seen clasped before their chest.

Aramaki's officeKim's Manor Office


4. Gabriel


While Batou is getting repairs done on his arm after having shot it in the grocery store, Togusa takes care of his dog.  It is presumed his daughter is looking after Gabriel more extensively than Togusa and his wife.  This is noticed when Gabriel is seen whimpering while Togusa tries to restrain the dog as it yearns for Batou in not having seen him after getting maintenance done on his arm.  Later, when Batou returns from his leave from home, Gabriel yearns just as intensively for Togusa’s daughter, the affection she provided to him during Batou’s absence having been imprinted on the dog in the same way as Batou’s affection.


5. The Young Girls


When Batou visits his local store, he spots a child holding onto her mother’s coat through his cybernetic eyes, viewing the child from a detached distance.  In Kim’s manor, he sees the shadow of a young girl as he walks down a dimly lit corridor as if he were catching up to her as her fixed pose makes her appear as if she was running away from him, which is later mirrored by Togusa’s daughter running to her father at the end of the film.  Finally, Batou finds the kidnapped girl from the ghost dubbing processing area.  These moments are significant in how they chronicle Batou’s transitions in his investigations, getting closer and closer to the kidnapped girls before finally concluding on a sense of there being a return of the children to their parents.

6. Caveat: Reflections in Kim’s Manor