Ghost in the Shell is one of those rare animated movies from Japan that have had a fairly wide theatrical release in the United States. It was the first anime to be released simultaneously in the US, England and Japan, an attempt to have anime gain acceptance with a mainstream audience. Ultimately this movie is too opaque and convoluted to appeal to the general public, but it was able to illustrate to many that anime isn't just young boys with big eyes piloting giant robots. Manga has now re-released this impressive and ground breaking movie in a two disc special edition something that this film richly deserves. While the audio and visuals on this disc are both very impressive, there are not as many extras as I was hoping for, making this release only marginally superior to the original DVD.
In the near future, people are routinely augmented with cybernetic implants. These implants make people faster, stronger, and more powerful. No longer to you have to spend excruciating hours in the gym to get the perfect body, you can just order one. People can also stay connected on-line all the time with brain implants, and the flow of information through the ubiquitous network is more important that ever. Crime is still prevalent in this future society though, although it has taken a different form.
To combat hacking and cyber-crimes by powerful enhanced individuals, a special division of the police has been created; Section 9. Peopled with heavily augmented officers, Section 9 can access any network instantly, but they encounter a hacker that even gives them pause: The Puppet Master. A cyber-criminal who is able to get past the most sophisticated protection algorithms and seems to be everywhere, The Puppet Master not only leads Section 9 on a merry chase, but he also causes their leader, Major Motoko Kusanagi, to ponder her place in the universe. With all the cybernetic implants and replacements that she has, is she still human? How is someone who has replaced every organ in their body different from a machine? Aren't they just a ghost in the mechanical body? If so, could a machine ever create its own ghost, and wouldn't that make them human?
Unlike a lot of anime movies, this is a more philosophical movie, pondering what it means to be human, and where the line between human and machine is drawn. There isn't a whole lot of action in the movie, which may come as a surprise to some people, but it still is an excellent film that has impressive visuals and a unique story. Its deliberate pace I find refreshing from the usual hectic and dynamic anime offerings. Though I've known people who thought the movie slow, I don't find it that way at all. Instead it takes its time to let the story unfold, and gives the viewer time to ponder some of the points that its raising. The movie's story is very finely constructed and plays out well.
Though the story is very good, it's the visual aspect of the film that really turns it into an amazing piece. The animation was state of the art for its time that still looks impressive today. The movie was created with traditional cell animation, but to this they added computer graphics and digitally altered the cell images to create a visually stunning world. Often traditional animation clashes with CGI, but in this case they were able to seamlessly mesh the two. The result is still breathtaking even ten years later.
It isn't surprising that the creators were able to sell this film to distributors in England and America for theatrical release. It surpasses a lot of Hollywood's output, both in style and substance. While Ghost in the Shell is an interesting and thoughtful film it isn't as dynamic and fast paced as a lot of mainstream movies that this is both the reason that it didn't do better theatrically (it grossed less than $½ million in the US) and one of the movie's strengths.
This Special Edition consists of two DVDs that are enclosed in a foldout cardboard holder that is encased in a clear plastic slipcase. Inside the holder there is a GitS postcard as well as a folded two-sided poster.
The first thing that pops out when you put the disc in are the new menus. Gone is the static generic menu from the original DVD and in its place are moving, flowing graphics with music from the movie. These new menus look very nice and are also functional.
The audio options on this disc are many and varied, to the point where they almost go overboard.. There is the choice of 6.1 DTS-ES or 5.1 DD-EX in both English and Japanese. If you don't speak either of those languages, there are also 2.0 DD soundtracks in Spanish, French, German, and Italian. (I guess they don't plan on a lot of sales in Brazil, there is no Portugese track!)
I viewed the movie with the Japanese DTS track, but checked large sections of the English DTS dub also. The sound was reference quality. It really hits you at the beginning with the thumping sound of helicopter rotors totally surrounding the viewer. The multi-layered voices of communication on the network are busy but crisp, setting the tone for the film. The dialog is clear, and there weren't any audio defects of note. A great sounding DVD.
The only thing flaw that I did note, quite by accident too, is that they clipped the end of a word in the English version. At 45:30 the word "time" is lost in the English dub, but it was present on the original DVD. A very minor problem in any case.
I was very happy with the original DVD, and this DVD looks just as good. The image looks a tad sharper in places, and there are a few less spots and print damage when compared to the first disc, but this DVD isn't a huge improvement over the original.
The anamorphic widescreen image is outstanding. The blacks are solid black and quite impressive, while the colors have a wide range of shades and are not dull or muted. Details are very evident in the shadows. There are a lot of eye-popping scenes in this disc, and they all are reproduced faithfully.
One thing I that let me down was the fact that this "digitally remastered" disc still had some spots on the image. There weren't frequent, but they did pop up enough that I noticed them. The circled spot above Batou's shoulder on the left side in the example below only pops up for a frame, but it is easy to see. There are several more examples throughout the film.
I have to admit that I wasn't overwhelmed by the number of extras that are included in this two disc set. All of the extras are on the second disc, and while there are some quality featurettes included, it wasn't awe inspiring.
The extras start off with a Production Report: A half hour featurette, in English, that looks at the way the film was created. It looks in particular at how both computer graphics and more traditional cell animation were used in the film and they way that they were meshed together. This is the same as the Making of Ghost in the Shell that was included on the original release.
Next up is another half hour program; Digital Works. This one is in Japanese, with English subtitles, and it covers some of the same material as the earlier featurette but concentrates more on the digital aspect of the movie's creation. It discusses some of the challenges that had to be overcome to bring the show to life, and has an interesting interview with director Mamoru Oshii.
There are also Character Dossiers, text pages describing the main characters in the movie, biographies of creator Shirow Masamune, and director Mamoru Oshii, and a five minute reel of trailers from the film, its sequel, and the TV series.
Manga has also included an 18 minute reel of previews to their DVDs. Unfortunately there isn't a menu for these, so you can't easily find the trailers you might be interesting in seeing.
Should I upgrade?:
This is always a tough question, as it seems that there are even more opinions about what makes a quality DVD than there are about what makes a good movie. Is a DTS track worth the $35 retail price? To some maybe.
Overall, I was a little disappointed in the package. Not because it wasn't a quality disc with some great extras, it is. I was disappointed because this SE isn't a large improvement over the previous release. (Granted, the first disc is great.) The additional DTS tracks (and 5.1 Japanese track) were great, and the video looks wonderful, but there's very little difference with the first disc. The new 'making-of' featurette wasn't anything that I'd watch more than once though. Are those things worth upgrading for? For me, I don't think so. I'd rather spend the $35 retail on something else. (If you mainly listen to the dub track, there is even less reason to upgrade. The English DTS track isn't significantly better than the 5.1 on the original DVD.)
This is a very good movie, one that every anime fan should see. It would also be a great candidate to show someone who likes thoughtful movies but doesn't care for anime. Image and sound on this disc are fantastic, but aside from the multichannel Japanese track and a new ½ hour featurette, there isn't a lot of reason to upgrade. Still Ghost in the Shell is a great movie and this DVD makes it look and sound excellent. Highly Recommended.