For the novice, getting into anime (also known as Japanimation) can be a little difficult. The titles tend to vary wildly in terms of animation quality, psychological depth and maturity of script. A handful of films are sure-fire introductions to the genre though and Ghost in the Shell is one of those films.
Ghost in the Shell takes place at an undetermined future time when a seamless fusion between human being, machine and information network has been achieved. The heroes are a group of cybernetic cops who are searching for the solution to a complex case known as project 2501. Their investigation uncovers the trail of a high level hacker who they suspect is responsible for a multitude of illegal computer, network and financial manipulations. As the chase heats up it becomes apparent that the hacker may in fact be a computer intelligence, the first of its kind, that seeks to co-opt a cybernetic body for its own mysterious ends.
Ghost in the Shell is a fantastic thrill ride on many levels. The plot is complex, adult and rich with philosophical and social overtones. The animation is a state of the art mix between traditional cell painting, computer generated effects, video composites and pure digital animation technique. Topping it all off is the incredible cinematography that features gorgeous compositions, innovative set pieces and a level of reality that lulls the viewer into forgetting that he/she is watching an animated feature.
Science fiction fans will readily identify with many of the themes and visual elements in the film. The plot is highly derivative of novels and stories by authors including Philip K. Dick and William Gibson. It's cinematic heritage can be traced directly to classic films like Blade Runner and Akira and it went on to provide inspiration for recent releases including The Fifth Element, Dark City and, most notably, The Matrix.
Ghost in the Shell is rich with action, color and detail. The visual images are beautifully rendered in this transfer. Shadow detail, contrast and color saturation are all right on the money. The film elements used are absolutely pristine and the anamorphic transfer is free from even the slightest hint of digital enhancement, edge effects and artifacting. This is a reference quality release.
The stunning 5.1 English audio track is every bit the match for its video counterpart. You'll be hard pressed to find a more immersive aural environment. The dialogue is firmly planted on the center channel and never gets masked by music and effects. The score is composed of music played on a mix of traditional Japanese and western instruments. It drifts around the sound field in a dreamy manner taking full advantage of the 5.1 system. Sound effects are handled in much the same way. If you've heard the 3D panning used in The Matrix you'll have an idea of what to expect here. The overall impression given by the soundtrack is a deep, wide and subtle environment that greatly enhances the images onscreen. The only disadvantage here is the fact that the Japanese language track is presented in Dolby AC-3 channel surround. It's a good track but no match for its English counterpart, which is a real shame.
Ghost in the Shell includes a host of interesting extras. First up is a 25-minute production featurette. It's a very well produced collection of interviews with the principal figures involved including the animators, the director, the audio engineer and even the artist who originated Ghost in the Shell as a Japanese comic book (manga) in the late 80s. The featurette also gives a brief tutorial on the many advanced animation techniques used in Ghost in the Shell.
Next up is a great collection of text screens. You'll find many pages describing, among other things, the main characters, the key plot points and explanations of background elements that went into the development of Ghost in the Shell's world of the future. These screens are very helpful for those who are having trouble comprehending the complex plot and shed a great deal of light on the care and attention to detail that went into the film's creation.
Finally there are a number of interesting clips from other Manga video releases, a Pollygram video sampler and the US theatrical trailer.
Ghost in the Shell is fantastic entertainment for the seasoned anime fan, the interested novice and the science fiction/action movie devotee alike. It has great repeat viewing potential and deserves my highest rating: Collectors Series.