Release Date(s)1995 (March 14, 2017)
Studio(s)Bandai Visual/Shochiku/Production I.G. (Starz/Anchor Bay)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: N/A
Japanese and American cinema has a long history of cross-pollination, going all the way back to the works of Akira Kurosawa and John Ford. This history is particularly interwoven when it comes to the science fiction genre and Japanese animation. Iconic anime like Akira (1988), Cowboy Bebop (1998), and Ghost in the Shell (1995) were all inspired to one degree or another by the writings of Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and Neal Stephenson, not to mention Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner. But these anime inspired other Western works in turn, like The Wachowski’s Matrix films (1999-2003). It’s no surprise then that they’re among the most accessible anime titles for new American fans of the genre.
Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (adapted from the 1998 manga by Masamune Shirow) is a particularly interesting case, not only because of its hybrid animation style, which blends traditional 2D animation with early CG, and bullets-flying action, but also for its thoughtful examination of Humanity’s place in a highly technological, near-future world. What is the soul when consciousness can be digitized? What does it mean to be Human when people can replace more and more of their bodies with machinery? And makes a person unique, when one’s mind can be linked to the physical objects around you… or even be hacked?
The film’s story focuses on Major Motoko Kusanagi, a young woman who leads a military assault team for Public Security Section 9 in Japan’s New Port City. Kusanagi is assigned by her superiors to track down the mysterious Puppet Master, a criminal hacker who can hijack cybernetic brains and bodies, take over people’s “ghosts” (read: souls), and implant false memories at will. This, of course, is extremely dangerous to society at large and it’s personal for the Major; for reasons that aren’t addressed in the film, she’s received a full-body cybernetic replacement and is already grappling with questions of her own identity.
This new Blu-ray release by Starz and Anchor Bay comes in Steelbook packaging, with striking artwork by Mondo artist Kilian Eng. The disc it contains is the exact same one that was released in 2014 as a 25th Anniversary Edition. The film itself is presented in the original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, in a modestly solid 1080p HD presentation. Ghost in the Shell has always been a little bit of a mixed bag image-wise, blended as it is with CG animation upsampled from analog SD. The 2D animation offers good color and clarity, though the black levels, detail, and color saturation are a little wanting from time to time, and there’s occasional artifacting and edge enhancement visible. Still, this image is true to the original presentation. English dubbed audio is included on the disc in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio format, but the original Japanese audio is 2.0 LPCM only. The 5.1 mix features great clarity, excellent dynamic range, and nice staging, with a pleasantly-wide front soundscape. It would be terrific if the original Japanese audio got a 5.1 remix too, but the 2.0 is how the film was originally presented theatrically. Optional subtitles are included in English if you choose to listen to the original Japanese track.
Unfortunately, this Blu-ray includes no disc-based extras. You do, however, get a code for a Digital HD copy on a paper insert in the packaging. Strangely, that code seems to grant you access to the Ghost in the Shell 2.0 version of the film from 2008, which was updated with additional CG animation, not the original 1995 version. [Editor’s Note: This Digital Copy error has apparently been fixed.]
No doubt released to take advantage of the debut of Paramount’s new Scarlett Johansson/live action remake in theaters, this new Blu-ray edition of the animated Ghost in the Shell offers nothing you probably don’t already have if you’re a fan of the film outside of the new Steelbook case itself. Still, the anime remains as great, vibrant, and relevant today as ever. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s definitely recommended.
- Bill Hunt