In recent years, Japanese anime and manga have broken through the perceived cultural barrier separating “East” and “West”, developing into a billion dollar industry and transforming the popular image of Japan in the process. Yet while the Japan presented in mainstream anime and manga is a far cry from the Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) image that dominated in the 1980s, neither does it have much to do with the social, political, and cultural realities of 21st century Japan. Fans of anime are wont to point out that, in Japan, animated films are not just for children, but, while this has a certain degree of validity, the number of non-pornographic animated films aimed primarily at critically thinking adults is extremely small. The number of films that reflexively use animation as a vehicle for complex social, political, or philosophical commentary is even smaller. Indeed, the very nature of the animated medium – which requires dozens, or in many cases hundreds, of animators working around the clock – and the Japanese animation market, which is driven almost exclusively by devoted fans and children, seems to preclude such personal statements. Seen in this light, the moody, sophisticated films of Mamoru Oshii are of singular importance, both because they challenge the placid formal assumptions of conventional animation and because they constitute a unique, deeply personal, and increasingly relevant meditation on the changing face of personal and national identity in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Oshii emerged in the darkness of the 1980s when the Japanese studios, trying to stave off imminent collapse, were avoiding personal projects from unknown quantities and focusing instead on lame retreads of franchise favourites like Godzilla and Tora-san. Like recent critical favourites Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Miike, Oshii made his mark by injecting personal, auteurist signatures into video-oriented genre films where the studios, expecting little return on their nominal investment, gave directors free rein. Like Kurosawa and Miike, he eventually found funding for his own projects, and his films, which are engaged in a dialogue with themselves and the audience, have been increasing in complexity ever since. Although he has never attained the popularity of Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, who have become household names in Japan, Oshii is now regarded as one of the major animators of Japan, and one of the most interesting filmmakers of his generation. He is also regarded as a major influence on the young animators of today, despite the fact that, stylistically and thematically, his films have always been anomalies. In place of frenetic editing and a sharp narrative focus, Oshii has created meditative, self-consciously difficult works that move slowly, end ambiguously, and are as concerned with the light at the edges of the screen as they are with advancing the plot. As with Hayao Miyazaki, Oshii’s work is marked by a remarkable unity of themes and style, but where Miyazaki sees himself primarily as an entertainer, smuggling personal nuance into films designed for children of all ages, Oshii makes films for mature adults willing to do the work of interpretation themselves (1).
Oshii’s films raise a variety of complex issues but never provide reductive answers; instead, they include enigmatic endings that poetically recapitulate the thematic and formal concerns of the rest of the film in final images poised tentatively on the precipice between hope and despair. Oshii’s plots are often byzantine, but his focus remains on the quiet, internal quest of the tacitly introspective protagonists for a sense of meaning that seems just out of reach. It is telling that four of his major films (Patlabor , Patlabor 2 , Ghost in the Shell , Innocence ) focus on police investigations that lead the characters into confrontations with themselves marked by invocations from major religious texts, while two others (Angel’s Egg , Avalon ) are variations on the classic Grail quest motif. Indeed, one way to view Oshii’s body of work is as a sustained meditation on the slippery nature of personal identity, the ways in which the frontiers of being are transformed by active searching and delineated by constant change.
After working on the long-running animated television series Urusei Yatsura, Oshii made his critical and commercial breakthrough with Beautiful Dreamer (1984), a clever amalgam of Japanese mythology that Oshii made his own. Released the same year as Miyazaki’s landmark Nausicaa, the film that led to the creation of Studio Ghibli (which remains the most influential animation studio in Japan), Beautiful Dreamer was a watershed for the burgeoning anime consciousness of the early ’80s and established Oshii as one of its avatars. Even at this stage, Oshii’s direction is remarkably assured, and his use of animated dolly shots, a distended sense of time, and structural repetition (Oshii uses many of the techniques of Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day  a decade before it was released) give the film a dreamlike texture. There are, unfortunately, some genre elements, including a facile happy ending, that seriously mar the film, but it was an exceptional beginning and it gave Oshii the clout to create Angel’s Egg, his first major work.
A steadfastly uncommercial personal project that could only have been made at the height of the Bubble economy, the direct-to-video Angel’s Egg remains obscure even in Japan, but there are many critics and fans of Oshii who would call it his masterpiece (2). The film is a 71-minute animated tone poem that features only four minutes of dialogue, includes several unbroken “long takes”, and focuses on slow movements through and across dimly lit urban tableaux filled with dilapidated architecture, shadow figures, and hollowed-out symbolic forms. The plot follows a nameless wanderer on his quest to communicate with a young girl who is carefully guarding an unhatched egg; the two travel, barely speaking a word to one another, through a cave full of fossilised skeletons and a half-lunar city filled only with shadows. Late in the film, the man shatters the egg with his staff, and the devastated girl falls, intentionally or otherwise, into a pool of water where she sees herself and drowns, after which a group of eggs appears on the surface of the beach at the end of the island. The final sequence of the film is a long, two-minute reverse zoom away from the island that, much like the final sequence of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972), gradually reveals that the island is isolated in the midst of a vast, empty ocean.
Angel’s Egg is the purest distillation of both Oshii’s visual mythology and his formal style, and, as such, it functions as a sort of Rosetta Stone for interpreting his work. Many of Oshii’s directorial signatures appear here for the first time, unfettered by the increasingly complex narrative that Oshii would use in his later films. These stylistic trademarks include sustained lateral tracks, the slowing down of human motion, a rhythmic alternation between long takes and montage-style cross-cutting, and a tendency to frame objects so as to maximise their contrast with the light sources on the edges of the screen.
Patlabor 2 is more sophisticated, Ghost in the Shell is more important, and Avalon is more mythically complex, but the low-tech, hand-drawn Angel’s Egg remains Oshii’s most personal film. It has been well-documented that Oshii, who at one point considered entering a seminary, lost his faith in Christianity shortly before the film went into production and the whole film seems informed by the existential desperation caused by the collapse of one’s belief system (3). Indeed, one way to read the film is as an allegory of the precariousness of religious faith. This allegory, with its obscure symbols and seeming reliance on biographical details, may sound hermetic, but what makes the film so compelling is the way that Oshii creates rhyming patterns out of the film’s images, which transcend their putative functions as allegorical elements by remaining open to a variety of different readings.
In one particularly striking sequence, for example, the young girl walks slowly through a dark forest, as the shadows of the trees pass over her. The girl then falls through a pit, and runs at the camera, fading into and out of darkness (4). We then get a shot of blue rings of water splashing and a cut-back to reveal the girl sitting by a lake in long shot, followed by a series of cut-ins that show her filling a bottle with water. As she smiles at the water, Oshii cuts in to an extreme close-up on the bottom of the bottle, in which the shadowy outline of the forest is reflected with mild distortion. Next, the girl drinks the water and there is a lateral pan over the water followed by an elliptical montage: a feather floating down the screen; a tree’s shadow reflected in wispy water; a wave of seaweed under the bright blue water; a dark mass seen moving on the surface of the water, followed by a series of four more, increasingly abstract, masses moving fluidly as the water passes over them. Finally, there is a cut back to the girl as a shadow passes over her face, followed by a fade to black, a shot of the girl holding the egg underwater, and a sudden cut back to the girl opening her eyes in horror. Typically for Oshii, it is never made clear if this sequence is a dream, a fantasy, a prophecy, or all of the above and the precise meaning of the images remains hauntingly elusive. What is even more remarkable about this sequence is the way it uses the poetic alternations of images and their reflections, and fluid associative montage designed to connect images according to motion and tone, to draw attention to the formal and thematic play between “reality” and its shadow.
This reflects Oshii’s strong sense that there is another, deeper reality, a sort of Platonic numinal realm, underlying the surface world of objects. This sensibility is represented visually through Oshii’s frequent use of shadows, of oscillating bursts of light emerging from behind objects, and of images of the world reflected in mirrors, windows, and, especially, bodies of water. The protagonist of Oshii’s most famous film, Ghost in the Shell, quotes 1 Corinthians 13:11, “For now we see as through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face”, and this passage could be taken as an epigram for Oshii’s overall aesthetic project. Indeed, one of the main functions of Oshii’s work is to draw attention to the limitations of human vision and bring the viewer to a point where he/she can recognise the abstract, possibly transcendental, world underlying the seemingly solid object-oriented one we inhabit. The deeply introspective protagonists of his films can only partially intuit this “deeper” world, but they do experience moments of private revelation in which they see themselves reflected on another surface and seem shocked by their own image. In such moments of private reverie, the characters – above all, Ghost in the Shell‘s Motoko Kusanagi, Patlabor 2‘s Nasumi and Avalon‘s Ash – seem to realise, if only briefly, the fragility of their own self-identity. The young girl in Angel’s Egg, whose identity is completely linked to her hollow egg, is unable to handle the shock of this realisation, but later characters, such as Kusanagi and Ash, are transformed positively by their awakening into rootlessness. Each of these characters yearns for change, for some form of internal transformation that will allow them to become something new, and the discovery that their body is a “shell” keeping them from seeing “face to face” allows them to accept change and, with the assistance of technology, unexplored frontiers of being. Their private negotiation of the structures governing their worlds allows them to achieve a sort of personal liberation.
The distinctly cinematic nature of Oshii’s poetics comes out most strongly in the elaborate montage sequences that occur at least once in each of his films from Patlabor onwards. These dialogue-free sequences are filled with shots of spaces and characters that, while only tangentially related to the main narrative, encapsulate the overall thematic and aesthetic concerns of the given film, recasting them in an abstract, symbolic key. Ironically, the most interesting point of comparison here is with the famous “pillow shots” in the films of Yasujiro Ozu, the most “classical” of Japanese directors (5). Unlike Ozu’s, Oshii’s transitional sequences can sometimes advance the narrative (as in the march through a Tokyo slum in Patlabor or the arrival of JSDF forces in Patlabor 2), but the method is indirect, and they have the effect of recasting the narrative concerns in a more abstract register, what Noël Burch calls “another plane of ‘reality’”(6).
Oshii’s most remarkable montage sequence occurs in Ghost in the Shell, arguably the most influential animated film of the ’90s. A box office failure that only played for four weeks in first-run theatres in Tokyo, Ghost in the Shell became a huge success internationally and remains Oshii’s most famous and popular film. In it, he posits a world, circa 2029, where the organic body is being progressively replaced by technologically-enhanced cyborg parts. Midway through the film, Motoko Kusanagi, the film’s protagonist, gets on a boat in search of the film’s ostensible villain and Oshii provides a “pillow sequence” lasting two minutes and 34 shots that typifies his approach to montage. While Oshii creates a tension at the beginning of the sequence between the shots that are clearly from Kusanagi’s perspective and the more “objective” shots of buildings from high angles, these distinctions become increasingly irrelevant as the sequence goes on because the montage seems to open up a poetic space outside the diegesis. Within this space, Oshii recasts all the key visual tropes of the film – artificial bodies, mirrors, water, corridors, and crowded urban spaces – in a symbolic key. The images themselves are all derived organically from the Hong Kong location but the focus is not on their particulars, but rather on their role as part of a rich cinematic tapestry that captures the overall texture of life in a modern, rain-filled metropolis, a sensation that is reinforced by the ethereal chorus on the soundtrack.
It is important to remember, however, that Oshii’s films, as abstracted and poetic as they may be, are by no means divorced from reality. Indeed, Oshii the poet-philosopher is kept in check by Oshii the former student activist, and in films like Patlabor 2, Oshii seamlessly brings these two worlds together (7). Patlabor 2, like its predecessor Patlabor, exists in a world in which humanoid robots called “labors” are widely used in virtually all aspects of society, from agriculture to the military. A group of police officials, who employ human-operated robots called “patlabors”, are given the task of keeping these machines in check and a variety of problems ensue. While the two films reflexively play with these staple conventions of the popular “mecha” anime genre and possess considerable stylistic verve, what most distinguishes them is their acute political consciousness.
In the first Patlabor film, a disillusioned scientist named E. Hoba (a not-very-subtle allusion to the God of the Hebrew bible) is involved in “the Babylon Project”, an attempt to build an enormous tower in the middle of Tokyo Bay. The scientist designs a virus which causes the labors to go out of control and turn on their controllers, wreaking havoc on a society that has become increasingly dependent on its creations. E. Hoba commits suicide at the beginning of the film, but, as the investigation into the out-of-control labors proceeds, the protagonist of the film, Chief Goto, uncovers notes in which the scientist eloquently articulates his rage at a Japan that, in its rush to embrace new technologies, may have lost its soul. The Babylon Project is a potent, if somewhat heavy-handed, metaphor for the material excesses of the Bubble economy, and E. Hoba’s “Babel” virus gives voice to a violent form of dissent against the Japan of the late-’80s, which throws Japan’s potentially dangerous dependence on constant technological innovation into stark relief.
If Patlabor‘s repeated images of industrial decay concealed, but not eliminated, by symbols of progress like the Babylon Tower intimated the emptiness underlying Japan’s Bubble-era culture and presaged its collapse, Patlabor 2 addresses these issues head-on. Indeed, the predominant tone of Patlabor 2 is one of ambivalent disillusionment, a disillusionment informed not only by the crash of the Bubble economy the year before the film was released but also by the more general failure of popular democracy to affect social reform in post-war Japan.
The real subject of Patlabor 2 is the post-war history of Japan, specifically what cultural critic Masao Murayama famously referred to as Japan’s necessary, but problematically unexamined, “sham of democracy” (8). In an extended philosophical dialogue, accompanied by a graceful montage of Tokyo architecture (edited in much the same way as the aforementioned Ghost in the Shell “pillow sequence”), one of the key characters, Arakawa, addresses these issues directly and cogently observes:
What does peace really mean to Japan? Once, our obsession with war ended in defeat. Japan’s prosperity is built on the corpses of [racial violence and civil wars]. Our peace comes from ignoring the misery of the world.
The politically astute Arakawa later observes, even more tellingly, “Perhaps someday we’ll realise that peace is more than just the absence of war.”
Throughout the film, Oshii uses a wide array of poetic techniques to destabilise the world around his meditative characters. For example, he deflects conversations by cutting away from the characters to watery surfaces (witness, for example, the dialogue in the aquarium a third of the way through the film), employs animated lens distortion and frames his shots to draw attention to the reflection of images on windows. Taken together, these techniques visually articulate a sense that all the characters are trapped under an epistemological bubble, an idea literalised by the distorted shots of the investigators from within a television screen early in the film. At the same time, these techniques have the effect of bringing the viewer into the detached, meditative mindset of the protagonist, Chief Goto, whose desire to see through the surface banalities of contemporary Japan parallels that of the “villainous” Tsuge, and whose acute intelligence and reserved demeanour mirror Oshii’s own.
Patlabor 2 is the clearest, most poetic, distillation of Oshii’s ideas about the ambiguous relationship between Japan’s past and future, but Oshii also explored these ideas in a pair of live-action films, The Red Spectacles (1987) and Stray Dog (1991). Unfortunately, neither these nor Talking Head (1992), the third part of Oshii’s “cinema trilogy”, integrates its content and its form in a meaningful way. Stray Dog, for example, is a failed attempt to meld an idyllic long-take aesthetic with standard-issue science fiction tropes, slapstick comedy, and disjunctive violence. The film’s low-brow slapstick and its ridiculously over-the-top approach to violence, especially in the final scenes, is so utterly discordant with its attempts at serious drama that I would be inclined to call them Godardian, especially in light of Oshii’s professed admiration for Godard, except that they lack both the bite and the sense of moral and political context that drive Godard’s best work (9). It is more likely that they are failed attempts to integrate the disjunctive aesthetic of Japanese manga to film, and Stray Dog is most interesting as a vivid demonstration of the limits of this approach. Comic asides and wild violence may seem “natural” according to the conventions of mainstream manga, but they come across as, at best, affected and laboured in live-action film. Oshii’s attempts to infuse these elements in his live-action films are more fruitful in the hyperbolically paranoid The Red Spectacles and the outright bizarre Talking Head, but even these films suffer from the ontological disconnect between the photographic realism of live-action cinema and the expressionist fantasy of manga.
The real gem of Oshii’s live-action work is Avalon, a Polish-language blend of sepia-toned live-action and computer-generated artifice that played out-of-competition at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. Avalon is a complex, sophisticated, and subdued reflection on the nature of virtual technologies, which also acts as a corrective to shallow science fiction films like The Matrix (Andy and Larry Wachowski, 1999) that indulge in the same sorts of media spectacle they purport to critique. The titular “Avalon” is a virtual-reality role-playing game that provides a form of escape for the destitute citizens of 21st century Poland, but it becomes so all-consuming that the in-game virtual world begins to displace the real world for the players. In typical Oshii fashion, the boundaries between the fictive and “real” worlds become progressively blurred in both narrative and formal terms, and the tacit protagonist, Ash (Malgorzata Foremniak), goes on a quest for a form of redemption that will not only ameliorate her past mistakes but allow her to awaken into a new stage of consciousness. In the words of Village Voice scribe J. Hoberman, she “finds it somewhere beyond anime” in the God-like, and never shown, world of the programmers who keep the virtual world in check (10). Closer in spirit to Angel’s Egg than Patlabor, Avalon functions primarily as a meditation on the renewed significance of mythological archetypes in an increasingly virtual world and ends by suggesting that the only way to avoid getting trapped by changing technologies is to construct a fluid definition of the self that is contingent not on material objects, but rather on internal change.
All of these characteristics return in Innocence, Oshii’s new film and his first film to focus directly on Japan since Patlabor 2 a decade earlier (11). Indeed, more than in any of Oshii’s previous films, the film’s science fiction premise – that a group of androids called “Gainoids” made in the form of young women and used as sex toys begin turning on their owners in 2032 Tokyo – is rooted in Japanese tradition, specifically ningyo or doll worship. Like its predecessor Ghost in the Shell, to which it is a partial sequel, Innocence uses a remarkable degree of visual acuity to represent and meditate on the new role of the body in 21st century technoscapes. Innocence, however, is far less concerned with how technology changes human beings than it is with those elements of the human that remain constant in the face of changing technology. Oshii has described his film as “the search of a lost soul for its body that must exist somewhere in the world” and one of the fundamental questions of the film is why humans are so insistent on creating artificial constructs in their own image, a question that has added resonance in a culture where ningyo dolls are traditionally seen as imbued with a spirit of their own (12).
Rather than patly resolving the moral dilemmas and disturbing implications of the film’s narrative, Oshii ends on a note of disquieting uncertainty, with a gentle shrug and a muted expression caught halfway between disbelief and tacit acceptance. The ending of Innocence is the latest, and most precisely modulated, example of a predilection for meditative ambiguity and symbolic multivalence that has informed all of Oshii’s finest works. Oshii’s dark, cerebral, and organic body of work uses animation as a vehicle for abstract visual exploration of the complex interplay of forces at work in the modern world. In the process, it destabilises conventional notions of identity and draws attention to the rhythmic play of movement, shadows, and light that is at the foundation of cinematic poetics. Oshii’s work is a challenge to an industry driven by franchise merchandising and to an audience trained to passively accept the images placed before it. For all the surface beauty and seductive textures of Oshii’s imagined landscapes, they function, ultimately, neither as immersive simulacra nor as moralistic warnings, but rather as complex portraits of a future characterised by a profound, multifaceted ambivalence.
Urusei Yatsura: Only You (Onri yû) (1983)
Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (Byûtifuru dorîmâ) (1984) also writer
Angel’s Egg (Tenshi no tamago) (1985) also writer
The Red Spectacles (Jigoku no banken: akai megane) (1987) also writer
Twilight Q2 (1987)
Patlabor: Original Video Animation (Kidô keisatsu patorebâ) (1988)
Patlabor the Movie (Kidô keisatsu patorebâ: The Movie) (1989) aka Mobile Police Patlabor
Gosenzosama Banbanzai! (1989)
Stray Dog: Kerberos Panzer Corps (Jigoku no banken: Keruberusu) (1991) also writer
Talking Head (1992) also writer
Patlabor 2 (Kidô keisatsu patorebâ: The Movie 2) (1993) also co-writer
Ghost in the Shell (Kôkaku kidôtai) (1995)
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) also writer
Open Your Mind (2005) short
Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters (2006) also writer
Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008)
The Sky Crawlers (2008)
Kill (2008) also writer
Assault Girls (2009) also writer
Je t’aime (2010) short, also writer
28 1/2 mousou no kyojin (2010)
009: The Reopening (2010) short
Garm Wars: The Last Druid (2014) also writer
The Next Generation Patoreibâ: Shuto kessen (2015) also writer
Nowhere Girl (2015)
Jin-Roh: the Wolf Brigade (Jin-Rô) (Hiroyuki Okiura, 1998) writer
Blood: the Last Vampire (Hiroyuki Kitakubo, 2000) producer and visual concept director
Andrez Bergen, “The Age of Innocence”, Daily Yomiuri, Weekend Section, March 5, 2004.
J. Hoberman, “Night and the Cities”, Village Voice, June 14, 2001.
J. Hoberman, “Tracking Shots”, Village Voice, December 31, 2003.
Carl Gustav Horn, “Dead Souls: The Abandoned City of God in Mamoru Oshii’s The Angel’s Egg”, originally published in Konshuu, vol. 2, no. 12, Spring 1994, available at Cal-Animage Alpha, accessed June 2004.
Susan J. Napier, Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2001.
Mamoru Oshii and Hayao Miyazaki, “Around the movie Patlabor 2: To put an end to the Era”, Animage, vol. 184, October 1993, translated by Ryoko Toyama and reproduced at The Hayao Miyazaki Web, accessed June 2004.
Brian Ruh, “Hacking Your Own Ghost: Mythology in the Science Fiction Films of Mamoru Oshii as Sites of Resistance”, AnimeResearch.com, February 2002, accessed June 2004.
Brian Ruh, Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2004.
Mark Schilling, “Ghosts in the Machines”, Japan Times, March 17, 2004.
Mark Schilling, “Oshii talks softly, but carries a big script” (interview), Japan Times, March 17, 2004.
Mamoru Oshii no Sekai, revised and updated edition, Production IG, Tokyo, 2004.
Mamoru Oshii, Memento Mori, Kodansha Press, Tokyo, 2004.
Articles in Senses of Cinema
Ghost in the Shell by Jordan Wynnychuk
Oshii’s official website (Japanese language)
Around the Movie Patlabor 2: To Put an End to the Era
Article by Mamoru Oshii and Hayao Miyazaki, translated by Ryoko Toyama and reproduced at The Hayao Miyazaki Web.
Dead Souls: The Abandoned City of God in Mamoru Oshii’s The Angel’s Egg
Article by Carl Gustav Horn for the Cal-Animage Alpha website.
Hacking Your Own Ghost: Mythology in the Science Fiction Films of Mamoru Oshii as Sites of Resistance
Article by Brian Ruh for the AnimeResearch.com website.
Click here to search for Mamoru Oshii DVDs, videos and books at
- See, for example, the dialogue between Oshii and Miyazaki in “Around the Movie Patlabor 2: To put an end to the Era”, Animage, Vol. 184, October 1993, translated by Ryoko Toyama and reproduced at The Hayao Miyazaki Web, accessed June 2004.
- The Bubble economy was the period (running roughly from the mid-’70s to 1990) when the relative value of the Japanese yen increased at an overwhelming rate, especially following the Plaza Accord in 1985. Since the growth was predicated on stock investment rather than an actual increase in capital or productivity, inflation caused the “bubble” economy to burst in the early ’90s. This, in turn, precipitated the East Asian stock market collapse of the mid-’90s. Since, during the height of the Bubble economy in the mid-’80s, there was a ready audience of young viewers with enough disposable income to invest in $50-$100 tapes of direct-to-video films, a number of offbeat “cult” projects with limited market potential (like Angel’s Egg) were funded.
- Mamoru Oshii no Sekai, revised and updated edition, Production IG, Tokyo, 2004.
- This shot also functions as a means of transferring the shadow movements from the lateral walk through the forest of the previous shot to the z-axis movement (movement toward and away from the screen) in this one. Seen in this light, it extends Oshii’s movement-oriented approach to montage even further.
- The phrase “pillow shot,” which has become one of the standard bywords in Ozu criticism, comes from Noël Burch’s To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in Japanese Cinema (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1979) in which he argues that Ozu’s transitions (for example, the shots of clotheslines and telephone poles that fill the gaps between scenes in Tokyo Story ) “never contribute to the narrative proper… [depicting spaces] that are invariably presented as outside the diegesis, as a pictorial space on another plane of ‘reality’ as it were, even when the artifacts shown are, as is often the case, seen previously or subsequently in shots that belong wholly to the diegesis” (p. 162).
- This is a reference to Noël Burch’s description of Ozu’s pillow shots in To the Distant Observer, p. 161.
- Oshii was a member of several leftist organisations as a student and participated in the 1970 protests against the renewal of the US–Japan Security Treaty (known as 1970 AMPO). Although they were less iconic than the 1960 AMPO protests (which occurred the first time the treaty came up for renewal and were famously documented in Oshima’s Night and Fog in Japan ), the 1970 protests were the defining political event for students of Oshii’s generation, and they helped bring about the collapse of the intellectual left.
- This is taken from Masao Murayama’s oft-quoted dictum: “But as for my own choice in the matter, rather than the ‘reality’ of the empire of Japan, I’ll put my money on the ‘sham’ of postwar democracy.” Murayama, one of the major intellectuals of the post-war world, is the author of Thought and Behaviour in Modern Japanese Politics, Oxford University Press, London, 1963.
- In an interview with Andrez Bergen, Oshii said, “I was fond of European movies – I repeatedly watched Antonioni, Fellini, Melville and Bergman”, he recalled. “But now I when I think back, I feel that Godard is the one and only director.” (Daily Yomiuri, Weekend Section, March 5, 2004)
- J. Hoberman, “Tracking Shots”, Village Voice, December 31, 2003.
- Ghost in the Shell takes place in Hong Kong and Avalon exists in a sort of virtual Poland, so Innocence constitutes a sort of homecoming for Oshii.
- Japanese tradition holds that human-like dolls called ningyo are imbued with a spirit, can act as human substitutes, and must be disposed of in a purifying ritual called a kuyo (which Innocence features late in the film). Jane Marie Law’s Puppets of Nostalgia (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1997) is the best book on the subject in English. The Oshii quote is taken from his introduction to the film at the Tokyo premiere on April 5, 2004.