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Ghost In The Shell
One of those rare anime features that even people not into anime know about, Ghost In The Shell is widely considered one of the best of its kind, and for a very good reason. A remarkably high concept Blade Runner inspired slice of cyberpunk sci-fi, it's exciting, tense, stylish and even pretty thought provoking.
Set in the (not so distant anymore!) future of 2029, the film takes place in a world that has established massive worldwide information networks and where cyborgs are almost completely indistinguishable from humans. Wreaking havoc on this network is a sort of cyber-terrorist who is known only as The Puppet Master. His trick? To install, through the network, false memories into people who are then coerced into acting on his behalf. The Puppet Master exists entirely in the network at first, but soon makes it clear that he wants a body of his own.
In charge of keeping the network secure is a security group called Section Nine. One of their finest agents is Major Motoko Kusanagi, a woman who is almost entirely cyborg with only the 'ghost' (or consciousness) of her human life still intact and serving as her last real link to biological life. The Puppet Master takes an interest in Motoko, as she's not only incredibly intelligent but she's pretty much a perfect physical specimen. Motoko and her partners are soon involved in retrieving a stolen cyborg body that links back to the Puppet Master, but does Motoko actually want to stop him or is there more to this than that?
Ghost In The Shell holds up really well. It's an exciting picture with an interesting story that blends its high concept philosophical ideas (in which the film explores what it actually means to live rather than simply exist) with some excellent action and suspense. The opening sequence in which Motoko singlehandedly takes down a group of gun toting opponents lets us know what we're in for and at only eighty-two minutes in length the film moves along at a very quick pace. The storyline is dense and well thought out, allowing for some interesting moments of character development to occur very naturally alongside the action set pieces, putting all of the sex and violence in the film into a rather fitting context and adding some substance to the style.
As Motoko goes about her duties and tries to bring in the Puppet Master, she's forced to consider her own existence and her own humanity, or lack thereof. As she wrestles with the morality of the conflict she's involved in, and tries to rationalize what is real and what has been programmed to seem real, the plot takes some interesting twists and turns and it makes for rather riveting viewing. It works and it works well, placing Motoko alongside some great supporting characters of varying degrees of humanity and asking us to question things the same way that she winds up having to. In an era where humans are more attached to their computers than ever, parts of the movie almost seem prophetic.
Note that this is the original version of the movie. The film was re-issued a few years ago as Ghost In The Shell 2.0 with newly recorded sound and spruced up graphics. A whole lot of fancy CGI was cut into the film, to give it a more updated look and feel. Admittedly some of the graphics in this original version aren't quite as impressive as they could have been but purists will understandably appreciate having the original version of the movie in 4k ultra-high definition (though it was included as an extra on the Ghost In The Shell 2.0 Blu-ray release).
Ghost In The Shell arrives on a 66GB UHD disc framed at 1.78.1 widescreen in an HEVC encoded 2160p high definition with Dolby Vision and HDR enhancements. This is quite a nice transfer, sharper looking than the previous Blu-ray releases though not artificially so, and as such, detail gets a nice boost in quality. Additionally, the color reproduction looks brighter and bolder than in the past but never unnaturally so. This is a movie heavy on grey, green and blue color tones, so it doesn't always pop the way a picture that featured a more consistently brighter palette might, but it still gives the movie a nice visual upgrade over what we've had in the past, even if this never feels like a reference quality 4k transfer (and to be fair, this can only look as good as the source material) given some softness inherent in the elements. One complaint, however, is that it looks like a bit of DNR has been used here, scrubbing away some of the grain and resulting in a slightly waxy look in a few spots.
Dolby Atmos tracks are provided in both English and Japanese options and they sound excellent, very immersive with lots of audible detail spread throughout the mix, especially in regards to the sound effects and the film's excellent score. There are, of course, no problems with any hiss or distortion to complain about and the levels are properly balanced. This might not compete with an Atmos mix for the latest and greatest Hollywood big budgeted blockbuster, but it sounds very good indeed without straying too far from the film's original mix. Speaking of, the disc also includes the original Japanese 24-bit LPCM 2.0 mix as well as an English descriptive audio option. Subtitles are offered in English (which seem to translate the Japanese track), English SDH (which translate the English dubbed track) and Spanish.
Extra features for this release start off with an audio commentary from animation writer and English language scriptwriter for Ghost In The Shell, Mary Claypool, animation producer and writer Eric Calderon, voice of Batou Richard Epcar and animation historian and critic Charles Solomon. There's a lot of detail here about what making of the English language version of the movie but so too is there talk about the impact that the film had when it first hit screens in the mid-nineties, how it differed so much from the Disney films at the time, the androgynous aspects of the lead character, the way that the movie explores the correlation between the analogue and digital technologies featured in the story, thoughts on the different characters that populate the movie and lots, lots more. It's quite an active track, no dead air, and it's got a lot of information in it.
Accessing Section 9: 25 Years Into The Future is a nineteen-minute that featurette features interviews with Eric Calderon, Les Claypool, Richard Epcar, Stu Levy, Justin Sevakis, Mary Claypool Northrop Davis, Hao Li and a few others. This covers theatrical release and how it straddled the line between cult and mainstream success, how influential the movie was, what made the picture unique, Oshii's work on the picture and its importance, the style employed in the picture, the spiritual side of the story, the use of music in the movie, the voice acting used in the film and the challenges of voice acting, the use of action in the movie and how the movie posits a possible future.
Up next is Landscapes & Dreamscapes: The Art And Architecture Of Ghost In The Shell. This eleven-minute feature is made up of an interview with Stefan Riekeles. Here we get a look at some of the background illustrations that were done for the movie and learn about the post-modern dystopian style employed in the way that the city of Tokyo is rendered, how Oshii's vision was different than the standard style of anime being produced at the time, talk of the reference materials that were used and how the movie replicates certain aspects of the 'real' Tokyo and more.
The UHD disc also contains and English language trailer for the feature, a slightly longer Japanese trailer for the feature, animated menus and chapter selection.
The UHD disc also comes bundled with a Blu-ray version of the movie that contains the same extra features, as well as some archival pieces not included on the UHD, starting with the twenty-seven-minute Ghost In The Shell Production Report featurette that starts off with a look at what the movie is all about and the growing popularity of anime. It's basically an EPK type feature made to promote the film's worldwide release. It covers the digitally generated animation, the traditional cell animation also used in the movie, research that was done to get certain details right, the voice recording work, Oshii's importance to the project, the film's score and more. There's also a half-hour piece here called Digital Works that talks about the blending of digital and physical worlds before providing us with some interview footage with Oshii but which covers a lot of the same ground as the last featurette, detailing the work that went into different aspects of the production to get it to where the filmmakers behind it felt it needed to be.
Additionally, this release comes with an insert card for a digital HD version of the movie and a slipcover.
Ghost In The Shell remains an absolute classic and one of the most influential anime films of all time. It's as smart as it is tense and exciting, and it holds up very well more than two decades since it was first made. The 4k UDH release from Lionsgate gives the film a welcome bump up in picture and sound quality from previous Blu-ray releases and includes a nice selection of extra features as well. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.