Manga Video // 1995 // 82 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // February 10th, 2005
"There's nothing sadder than a puppet without a ghost, especially the kind with red blood running through them." -- Bateau
Widely considered one of the best and most important anime films in history, Ghost in the Shell is one of those films that keeps getting better with multiple viewings. Manga Video has released another version of the film on DVD, which pays much more attention to technical quality than bonus material.
By 2029, computer technology has reached the point when most human physical and mental functions can be heavily modified and improved upon. Many people are more machine than human, and virtually all are hardwired to the Internet. That which remains of the original person is called the "ghost." When a skilled criminal called the puppet master begins to hack into people's ghosts and threatens to cause a political disaster, Major Motoko Kusanagi and Bateau of the specialized sector 9 police force are put on the case. Since both of them are almost completely cybernetic, the results of this case are especially important to them. As the case progresses, it becomes clear that Major Kusanagi has some sort of link to the mysterious hacker.
Although it is animated, Ghost in the Shell has one of the most compelling and chilling visions of the future I have ever seen on film. Rarely has a director convincingly suggested where the future of computers is headed, and even more rare is a director willing to explore the implications of the current exponential growth in technology and communications. We are quickly moving towards a society in which we will be constantly connected to the worldwide network, even though we are currently struggling with security issues and viruses on our home computers. This film asks what could happen if we ourselves could be connected to the Internet, and what risks to our humanity and privacy that could cause. These questions are piled on top of the more common questions of when that line between humanity and the machine will begin to blur and eventually overlap. The notion of a ghost -- some small, immeasurable portion of humanity that remains after the rest of us is turned to metal and plastic -- is a chilling one. If even our brain functions, personality and DNA can be replicated, then what is a human except a highly advanced biological machine? Can we even be certain that we have such a ghost? Is it feasible that we could render ourselves obsolete?
Ghost in the Shell manages to ask all of these questions in a relatively short running time, while also providing a series of fabulous action sequences and a visually stunning image of the future. One of the reasons that this works so well is that the film doesn't treat the future as being especially awe-inspiring. The reality of cybernetic life is mundane for Kusanagi and Bateau, as is the type of case that they need to face. The backdrops are presented in a very straightforward way, immersing us in the world without making too much effort to show it off. The possible downfall of this is the ambiguity that arises: we are never quite sure how this relationship between ghost and shell works, and the philosophical discussions can be a bit baffling on a first viewing. I think that Ghost in the Shell will work even better now when set alongside Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. This world, its characters, and its ideas need more screen time to be fully fleshed out and explored. It is unlikely, though, that any of them will quite live up to the remarkable legacy of the original.
Realistically, most of you have already read reviews and interpretations of Ghost in the Shell. It has been handled impressively on the site in the review of the original DVD edition, which does a much more thorough job than I have attempted here. The big question is whether this disc makes up for the shortcomings of the older disc, and whether it is a worthy upgrade.
The video transfer is slightly improved, but still shows some of the limitations of pre-digital anime transfers. There is some noise on the print, but errors are minimal, and the anamorphic image has a good amount of detail and more accurate colors than the original release. It's unlikely that the film will ever look much better than this. A much larger improvement is the audio transfer. Because of the film's short running time, Manga Video was able to cram two DTS-ES tracks as well as numerous Dolby tracks onto the disc. While the original Japanese track on the old edition was a disappointment, the new 6.1 track has become the best way ever to listen to this film. It is a powerful track, utilizing the surrounds and LFE effectively without ever getting carried away. The English dub is one of the better ones I have listened to, and despite a few awkward translation issues remains an acceptable alternative.
All of the special features are on the second disc. The "Production Report" is back, but is now only available in English. It remains an interesting watch because it was such a innovative use of CG at the time. It all seems old hat now, but it's important to remember that this film was, in its time, superior technically as well as intellectually. The second featurette, entitled "Digital Works," covers much of the same information. It does have some valuable interviews, though, interspersed with the silly philosophical babble about film.
While I am not usually impressed by character profiles and other text-based extra features, the one on this disc could prove a useful resource for people exploring the film for the first time. There are also some brief biographies of the creators, as well as some trailers. Keen readers will immediately pick up that the only extra that has been added is a redundant featurette. Surely Manga Video could have found someone willing to record a commentary track or do some sort of retrospective look at this important animated feature, but nothing of that nature is to be found here.
So, is this version of Ghost in the Shell a worthy upgrade? I think I am going to answer with a tentative yes. If you are as big a fan of the film as I am, the quality of the transfer will make it worth the upgrade cost. The Japanese DTS-ES track alone will make your home theater system smile. But if you are happy with the transfer on the old disc, there is little other reason to upgrade. If you are a fan of anime or science fiction and do not own a copy of Ghost in the Shell yet, this disc will make a worthwhile addition to your DVD collection.
The lack of quality special features is a disappointment, but it was a pleasure to revisit Ghost in the Shell with this beautiful new transfer. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2005 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Manga Video
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 6.1 ES (English)
* DTS 6.1 ES (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (German)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Production Report
* Digital Works
* Character Dossiers