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 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 conciousness) 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?
Originally made in 1995, this revamped Ghost In The Shell 2.0 is basically the same movie, albeit with newly recorded sound and spruced up graphics. A whole lot of fancy CGI has been cut into the film, to give it a more updated look and feel. Admittedly some of the graphics in the original version weren't quite as impressive as they could have been, and while this sort of revisionist history can understandably annoy purists (the original version is included here as well), the effect here is a good one. Yes, the new CGI bits do sometimes clash with the more traditional animated sequences sometimes but you can't help but admit that they look fantastic regardless. The newly revamped soundtrack also packs an appropriately heavy wallop as well, all of which goes a long way towards making this version of the film more modern.
Technical alterations aside, the film 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-five minutes in length the film moves along at a very quick pace. The storyline ins 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.The DVD
The AVC encoded 1080p 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this Blu-ray disc is pretty impressive, even if it isn't quite perfect. First off, some of the transitions between the CGI footage and the traditional animation is awkward and even a bit jarring - that's not a fault of the transfer specifically, but you can't help but notice it. Some of the traditional animated sequences are a little soft looking and show just a tiny bit of what looks like color bleeding. There's also some minor banding present in some scenes. With that out of the way, the good by far outweighs the bad here. There's a wonderful sense of depth and dimensionality to the picture that goes a long way towards accentuating this film on Blu-ray in a way that it couldn't hit on DVD. Colors are stronger in every way while black levels have a nice, rich, inkiness to them. The animation is a bit rough in spots compared to the CGI bits, but it's all presented nicely on this disc in what is, in summary, a very strong transfer of some somewhat inconsistent source material.Sound:
Manga presents Ghost In The Shell 2.0 with DTS-HD 6.1 Master Audio and Linear PCM 2.0 tracks in Japanese and English with optional English subtitles. All four mixes sound great but the one that impressed me the most was the Japanese 6.1 track. You know from the opening scene in which Motoko freefalls past the window of a massive skyscraper and opens fire on the guys inside that this is going to be a very strong mix. The gunfire is powerful and clear and there's plenty of very distinct surround activity noticeable throughout the film. The car chases that results in the fire fight is a stand out as is the battle against the tank towards the end of the movie as those scenes in particular really allow the mix to flex its muscles. Levels are very nicely balanced and dialogue is easy to understand and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to note. All in all the audio here is very full and as punchy as you could hope. Excellent job.
The best extra on this release is the inclusion of the original version of Ghost In The Shell, so that those who prefer it without the changes can enjoy it as it was originally shown. Presented in 1.78.1 AVC encoded 1080i high definition, it may lack the gloss and clarity of the 2.0 version of the picture, but it's absolutely essential that this original version be preserved. The story is basically the same and the changes are more to the visuals and sound design than anything else. At times the picture and sound may seem a bit dated compared to the fancier 2.0 upgrade, but for those of us who saw this in this format back in the 1990s when it first came out, it's great to have it here.
Also included is Ghost In The Shell - Production Report, a twenty-six minute documentary that explains how the original version of the film was made based on the original manga. Interviews with various people who worked on the film, including its director, lend some insight into the creative process while a narrator explains the scope and importance of the picture and what sets it apart from countless other films. They lay out for this documentary is odd - interviewees appear in a window while their subtitled dialogue appears in a separate box on another part of the screen, all behind a cold, almost steely looking background - but the content is good.
Rounding out the extras are text biographies for Shirow Masamune and Mamoru Oshii, a handful of character profiles, and the film's English theatrical trailer. All of the extras are presented in 1080i HD. The packaging touts a director's commentary and interview, but unfortunately they're nowhere to be found anywhere on this disc - they're not listed in the menus and you can't find the commentary by changing audio tracks through your remote control either.
This is one of those cases where the presentation is as impressive as the movie itself, making it easy to highly recommend Ghost In The Shell 2.0 on Blu-ray. The changes might irk some but the original is preserved here as well and the presentation from Manga/Starz is a strong one all the way across the board.