Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and Why Automated Dolls Creep Me Out So Much
By Lauren Allen
With Halloween right around the corner, what better thing to talk about the thing that spooks me most: dolls, especially automated dolls. However, these dolls also carry a sort of uncanny innocence. Automated dolls called Karakuri Ningyo are mechanically animated and do simple tasks with the turn of their gears. They have been around for ages in Japanese culture despite their mysterious origin. These kinds of dolls typically look like children dressed in traditional kimonos. Because of their human like movement, many could consider these automata bizarre and uncanny. “Uncanny”, according to psychologist and philosopher Sigmund Freud, is the relationship that one has with something familiar that then becomes unfamiliar. What is more familiar than the body we live in? Where it becomes uncanny is when we take our bodies and make a duplicate of the original. This duplicity becomes a familiar yet unfamiliar feeling because it may look like a human, but it really is not. With the idea of doubling, it creates a promise of immortality while simultaneously being the corporeal harbinger of death (Bennett, 39). In Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, the viewer is presented with both the automata dolls and the uncanny presence in their duplicacy. Through subtle nods to the art of Karakuri Ningyo and Sigmund Freud’s essay on The Uncanny, novelist Masaki Yamada and director Oshii Mamoru’s Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence redefines the word “innocence” in the presence of dolls and their unattainable manifestation of human imitation.
In an interview with Oshii Mamoru and Masaki Yamada regarding themes captured in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, they create their own definition of innocence. Due to the pressing impact of dolls and doll-like beings in the movie, we see a shift in the conventional nature of the word innocence. According to Yamada and his novel, “In the futuristic world where the story is set, the city is expanding infinitely with its memes, whereas humans themselves are wasting away, becoming more and more inanimate. I don’t blame this alienation on science as such, but rather in humans’ investment in creating the illusion of humanity. Hence the only dynamic ones in the world of Innocence are its dolls” (Yamada, 187). Yamada claims that the lack of innocence in the dwindling animacy of humans is being restored into the empty bodies of dolls, who in fact, are created upon the “illusion of humanity”. Yamada later goes on to say that “…an empty doll is much more innocent than people attached to the illusion of ‘human-ness’” (Yamada, 192). It is ironic that the human development of inanimacy produces a lack of innocence, while the inanimate doll granted animacy is the epitome of innocence. Nevertheless, this obsession of recreating the human body into a doll removes the innocent agency from the human and boils down to humans creating an illusory figure of humanity via dolls.
The human creation of seemingly innocent animated dolls dates back to the 1940s and a man named Tanaka Hisashige. These mechanical dolls are often referred to as Karakuri Ningyo or automata, and have an internal compass in order to move around autonomously. In Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence we are introduced to an automaton in the genius hacker Kim’s mansion who serves tea to Togusa. Technology and engineering writer Mark Schreiber expands on the tea doll in essay about the karakuri. He depicts that “The doll- whose feet appear to move- approaches a person carrying a cup of tea atop a tray, bows its head, and serves the tea. After the empty cup is returned to the tray, the doll will make an about-face and depart” (Schreiber, 17). In Kim’s mansion, the camera angle is eye level with a doll exactly matching Schreiber’s description, which gives the viewer a personal sense of the automatism or trance-like state that the tea doll experiences. At first one could potentially perceive the doll as a human child, but it turns out that she is actually mechanical. This automaton appears during the uncanny scene of repetitive deja vu in Kim’s mansion, and we realize it is mechanical when the doll gets shot by Batou. Kim, who lives his life as a doll in a dollhouse like mansion is being debriefed on the recent gynoid scandal and exclaims “Imprinting dolls with human souls? Who’d want to do something like that and ruin a doll?” (GITS 2). Kim’s remark is both ironic and true because he has turned himself into a doll with a soul, however, this statement contributes to the definition of innocence. We can assume that he is familiar with the pure nature of dolls when he says why would someone “ruin a doll” by putting a human soul inside. In order for the doll to maintain her innocence, she must stay vacant.
For many, dolls are seen as innocent figures, but in philosopher Sigmund Freud’s case, he depicts the ambivalent nature of their human-like doubling in his essay on The Uncanny. As a child, dolls are an integral part of playtime and represent the innocence of childhood. However innocent the dolls are in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, the viewer is constantly aware of an uncanny fear of the automata coming alive, as we see with the gynoids trying to kill Batou and Kusanagi in one of the final scenes. Freud explains that “children are not afraid of their dolls coming to life- they may even want them to. Here, then, the sense of the uncanny would derive not from an infantile fear, but an infantile wish, or simply from an infantile belief” (Freud, 141). In Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, the viewer is presented with the issue that the sex-slave gynoids who are intended to be absent minded dolls made for the pleasure of humans, override their system, come alive, and go on a killing spree of not only their owners but themselves. Masaki Yamada comments on the fear of the human creation of dolls when he explains that “Those who created [the dolls] no longer have a sense of their own human identity or reality anymore, and, invested in the illusion of themselves that the dolls carry, they then become terrified of them, terrified of turning into them, frightened of their greater innocence” (Yamada 187-88). Freud and Yamada would readily agree that the innocence of dolls is frightening in the presence of the idea that they could come alive at any time. And in this creation of dolls as a human double comes the loss of the human identity with each doll-like reproduction. We grow up with dolls as our companions, however, many supernatural horror films are based around the idea that the soul of a doll can awaken and wreak havoc among humans. Scholars Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle write about this anthropomorphic liminal space depicted by Freud’s Uncanny between fairytale and horror film, “In a similar fashion, children’s toys and fairy tales present many possibilities for thinking about anthropomorphism: we may think of such things as decidedly not uncanny, but there is perhaps also a strange, potential slipperiness that lies here. It is perhaps not by chance that children and children’s toys loom large in certain books and films about the supernatural. (A fairy tale is not so far from a horror story as we might initially suppose.) An uncanny story frequently involves the mingling of such elements” (Bennett, 36). The “potential slipperiness” lies in the ambivalent space the vacant doll and the doll being possessed or coming alive to potentially demonstrate that it does, in fact, have a soul. With great innocence comes the possibility that the exact opposite can occur. We can only explore the innocence of a doll by simultaneously exploring the uncanny relationship that humans have with them. The “infantile wish” of a doll coming to life that Freud depicts removes the innocence from the doll by soiling it with a human mind.
In the final scene of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, we see the meshing of the uncanny and the way innocence is defined when Batou glares at Togusa’s daughter as she tightly grips her baby doll. The camera slowly pans into the doll’s mesmerizing blue eyes and bright blonde hair. The animation of the doll is not easily distinguishable from the way children look in this film, which reinforces this uncanny shot. The scene occurs right after Batou’s battle with the gynoids which seemed to leave a sour taste in his mouth. This is because “Perfection is possible only for those without consciousness, or perhaps endowed with infinite consciousness” (GITS 2) as Kim reminds us. Humans throw away the innocence of a doll when they go as far as endowing it with a human-like soul. When the doll becomes animate it performs the unthinkable aspect of Freud’s argument. However, while the doll in the shot is inanimate, it can be assumed that Togusa’s daughter cherishes the way the doll looks. She is the epitome of beauty standards with her round blue eyes and golden hair. Humans created this doll and now the child models herself after this doll. They end up shaping each other.
The way children like to imitate raising a child with a doll gives us an insight on the way humans like to imitate socially constructed purity. However much humans like to create and shape unattainable and idealized dolls, these dolls ultimately shape humans and their beauty standards as well. Children buy toy babies at the store that can open their eyes on their own and some are so mechanical that they require the needs that an actual child would need from his or her mother. In Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, the viewer is introduced to coroner Haraway in her lab while discussing with Togusa and Batou about the gynoids that have gone awry. Coroner Haraway describes this sensation of rearing a doll child for young children. She tells Togusa, “The dolls that little girls mother are not surrogates for real babies. Little girls aren’t so much imitating child rearing, as they are experiencing something deeply akin to child rearing” (GITS 2). We can assume that Haraway is trying to explain the way that children are not looking to raise this doll child as their own, but are trying to get as close as they can to this unattainable standard that the “illusion of humanity” creates with the innocence found in dolls. Director Mamoru Oshii comments on this phenomenon as well when he explains that “It’s absurd to humanize robots. It would be more relevant to ask what the difference is between an adult raising a child and a girl playing with her doll. It’s not an immoral question, nor does it indicate some kind of regression. I just think that’s the only way we can understand human existence” (Oshii 193). This act of children playing with dolls is the easiest way that we are able to understand what dolls stand for, both within the film and in reality. Dolls are considered as the height of innocence because humans created them to be something unachievable, however, humans model themselves after this achievable being that they have created.
This obsession with doubling human appearance dates back to the start of civilization; humans love to create machines that imitate their own activity for both work and entertainment (Schreiber, 20). The dolls depicted throughout Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence reflect this very nature for they are sometimes indistinguishable from actual humans. Oshii plays on this very idea of liminality by blurring of the lines between human and doll, innocent and not innocent. By means of Freud’s definition of the uncanny, the act of doubling is among one of its most uncanny characteristics. Bennett and Royle explain that “The uncanny is not simply a matter of the mysterious, bizarre or frightening: as we have tried to suggest, it involves a kind of duplicity within the familiar…” (Bennett, 40). Humans strive for innocence with the artificial construct of beauty in dolls, but in reality they get the opposite result when they try to animate the doll to model after a human soul, for the doll is now flooded with the epitome of the uncanny. As we see in Haraway’s lab, the gynoids are able to restore their innocence only after suicide. The camera pans into a gentle eye from one of the dead gynoids, completely juxtaposing the harshly uncanny eye of the doll in Togusa’s daughter’s arms. This highlights the pure nature that the dolls are intentionally created for. The innocence that dolls embody when they are vacant is a standard that humans crave to achieve, however unachievable it may be. Humans model these dolls to model themselves. In contrast, dolls ultimately surpass human life because that is how humans create them to be. In the afterword of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence with Oshii, he entertains the question “What would it mean for a human to ‘become more than human’? One answer would be to discard the actual human body, and embrace becoming a doll” (Oshii, 190). Humans become more inanimate the more they engage with the creation of an artificial life. To surpass human life would to become a doll, even though becoming a doll with a consciousness derails the idea of innocence. It also derails the idea of identity since humans can no longer strive to be themselves. Along with the uncanniness of creating an unattainable duplicate such as a doll, “The notion of the double undermines the logic of identity” (Bennett, 39). How can one have an identity when they strive to create a double of oneself in hopes of being that double? The innocence of the doll in the case of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is therefore defined as the vacant being that humans strive to become, therefore we see humans becoming more inanimate to create them and more inanimate to try and imitate them.
The remarks made by Kim in the film and the way Togusa’s daughter has a doll with an uncanny appearance reinforces the idea that a doll must remain vacant to maintain innocence in Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. Their unachievable status puts dolls on an almost divine plane above humans. Humans want to be like the dolls they have created, but can never surmount to that status. Freud’s The Uncanny is exemplary of what happens when humans try to endow dolls with souls, just as we see with the malfunctioning gynoids as well as any kind of horror story. The innocence of dolls is then lost, but the divine and influential power within them remains. Human identity dwindles in the presence of a doll with consciousness, for the humans are metaphorically giving away pieces of their soul and their animacy. Humans grow less innocent while dolls grow more innocent when set on the pedestal of being an idealized figure. To surpass human life is to become a doll, even though becoming a doll with a human consciousness derails the idea of innocence. So in this case, humans can never become innocent as long as they have been making the reproduction of themselves with dolls.