Set in the year 2029 and following World Wars III and IV, a Japanese-led Asian block dominates world affairs. The alliance maintains its international supremacy through its elite security force whose cybernetically enhanced operatives tackle an array of hi-tech terrorists and other threats to international security. These augmented agents can "ghost hack" (i.e., download their consciousness) via the now omnipresent internet into other machines and human/machine cross breeds. Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cybernetically augmented female agent, has been tracking a virtual entity known as the Puppet Master with her crack squad of security agents. The shape-shifting Puppet Master, a rogue creation of a rival agency of the security apparatus, has concluded that it is a life form in its own right, "born in sea of information," and requested political asylum and true physical existence in defiance of its creators.
Kôkaku kidôtai receives a major visual and sound update. The 2.0 edition of the movie features new CG/SFX for a number of scenes and also a 6.1 surround sound recording. The original soundtrack has been overseen by Academy Award-winning sound enginner Randy Thom.
If 'Akira' is the greatest Anime movie ever made (and it is, don't argue), then 'Ghost in the Shell' may be somewhere in one of the next few slots down the list. That's not an insult, though, as being the second or third best at anything is a great accomplishment, indeed. Masamune Shirow's manga, directed by Mamoru Oshii ('Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence,' 'The Sky Crawlers'), is held in the highest regard, and for good reason.
Major Motoko Kusanagi isn't your ordinary Section 9 agent. Equipped with a full cybernetic body, her "existence" as it were is debatable at best, and though her ghost (think soul) and mind all act in manners that are somewhat human (and therefore flawed), she is possibly the most physically gifted member of the elite force. And she quite often strips down while performing her job.
When a wanted terrorist/hacker known as "the Puppet Master" begins to "ghost hack" seemingly random people, Section 9 is put on the case. They discover people who have had memories falsely inserted into them by the hacker, all with the intention of driving the person into doing his or her bidding, like...well...puppets.
When a cybernetic body is created without authorization, and then run down, it is revealed that it contains the ghost of the Puppet Master, but soon after, the ruined body is stolen. Kusanagi and her Section 9 partners, including Togusa and Batou, set out to track down and recover the being and uncover its secrets, though the truth that will come from the Puppet Master will change the landscape of the team.
Made in 1995, 'Ghost in the Shell' is already a fantastic trip down memory lane, from the way technology was imagined to evolve in coming years, to the animation stylings and thematic material of just a decade ago, that feel like it's been so much longer (especially the now archaic cgi found in the film). Weapons technologies portrayed still have a modern feel to them (including the obvious PS-90, a Call of Duty favorite of mine), though some, like the high velocity ammunition, have a definite ring of dream to them.
'Ghost in the Shell' has been analyzed to death, and back again, due to how rich the material is, loaded with layers of somewhat rambling analogies. Everyone and their mother has heard of the "ghost in the machine," so really it isn't worth the time to go into that obvious, mentioned metaphor, but the arguments of reality are far more intriguing. The cloaking devices used by quite a few characters (and one vehicle, and the laws around their use) are an interesting take on reality, fading in and out of the world like ghosts. The "Puppet Master" character (or idea in general) presents a debate on free will and choice, with his ghost hacks. The constant nudity from Kusanagi, and how Batou treats it, looking away, covering her up when in public, is a curious case (not of 'Benjamin Button'), with the humanization and sexualization (this film did come from Japan, after all) of technology and its advancements.
While not a film for all ages or interests, 'Ghost in the Shell' is a great little (at 83 minutes, it is little as in short) bit of science fiction, and is one of the most influential anime films ever made. A fantastic mixture of drama and action, with wonderful elements of mystery and technology, this landmark film belongs in any serious animation collection.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Ghost in the Shell 2.0' is not to be confused with 'Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence' (stay tuned for that review soon!), despite the confusing title. The packaging describes this release as "like you've never seen it before!," and it isn't joking. What makes this release "2.0" involves the integration of upgraded computer animated sequences, while the occasional standard animation sequence has been upgraded to CG as well (from entire sequences to backgrounds or elements to a shot like a vehicle). The audio also gets an "enhancement," with a new voice recording, new score, and a 6.1 audio track designed in part by the legendary Skywalker Sound. While technically the same movie, its presentation has been somewhat modernized.
'Ghost in the Shell 2.0' arrives on Blu-ray with an AVC MPEG-4 transfer at 1080p at the 1.78:1 ratio (the original version of the film is encoded at 1080i, and details can be found in the extras area of this review). There's no getting around how great the film looks, especially compared to the other version, and while an amazing upgrade is found here, there are some issues still to be found.
Colors are bright and bold, in the classic animations, and particularly in the newly created CG portions. Detail in new sequences is amazing, with infinite depth, extreme clarity, and a gorgeous level of three dimensionality. What isn't gorgeous is the transition between classical and modern animation sequences, as the distinction between them, in just 14 years, is night and day. Kusanagi looks somewhat peculiar in her new form, and I can admit I found myself distracted a bit, wondering when updated sequences would pop up. Consistency is a big problem now due to such.
The original animations still have some issues with color bleed, artifacts, and noise, while colors sometimes shift in brightness. The shots where only parts of the scene are remade, layered with standard animation are a bit awkward, far more so than those found in 'Samurai 7,' which was peculiar in this sense by its own right. Still, what matters here is how much of a sparkling upgrade we receive, and while the revisions may not appeal to some, the overall quality is such an improvement it's hard not to praise, even with the flaws.
There are four options for audio on the 2.0 version of 'Ghost in the Shell:' DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 mixes in Japanese and English, and Linear PCM Stereo tracks in both languages as well.
While the video may be the most noticeable change in the film, the audio is definitely the star of this show. Dialogue is always discernible, free from any pops or crackles, with no hollowness or ringing, or any other negative element that could be created in a recording booth. Bass levels are insane at times, creating a wall shaking experience from the elements in the score alone, rattling like mad. High ends are appropriate and limitless, free from flaws. Gunfire has a distinct rip, and sounds brutally amazing, while the gunfight with the tank is a truly epic scene worthy of being considered demo material, with tons of movement and localization, distinct variations in gunfire, and even slight ambience and atmosphere adding to the mix. The static and distortions in cyborg perspectives are nice touches, to be sure. My only complaint is that the audio can feel a bit uneven, and often seems ridiculous compared to what is on screen, especially in shots that are solely traditional animation.
The alterations to the classic 'Ghost in the Shell' anime do nothing, as this key title doesn't need an update to be relevant. Some of the new footage is interesting, though transitions are extremely awkward. Still, the audio upgrade is stellar, and worthy of the highest praise. The folks at Manga (a Starz company) need to proof their box art a bit better, as the commentary listed is nowhere to be found on this disc, nor is the face to face interview. Still, I have no problem recommending this disc, due to the fact the original, unaltered version of this seminal anime is included.