Ghost in the Shell 2.0 [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Anchor Bay Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (14th December 2009).
The Film

I’m hardly what you’d call a beginner in regards to my knowledge of anime; that would be over-qualifying my expertise. I know virtually nothing about this phenomenon which has completely consumed the lives of many fans. There are countless titles devoted to countless series, almost too overwhelming to even attempt diving into the pool to see what’s out there. But as long as I’ve known about anime as a genre, I’ve known about 2 films: “Akira” (1988) and “Ghost in the Shell” (1995). Before today, I hadn’t seen either one. Now, I can finally report back on the lesser-known of the two, “Ghost in the Shell”.

I’d always heard about the high quality of anime titles, but I was never that interested in delving into the genre unless it was some well-known horror title. The few that I have watched, including the “Urotsukidoji” series (1987-1989) and “Vampire Hunter D” (1985), were good but they did little to interest me further. It’s not that I don’t think the films are particularly well-written. I suppose it just boils down to some people love it, and some just don’t.

“Ghost in the Shell 2.0” is similar to cult classic films like “Blade Runner” (1982) and “The Matrix” (1999) in its storyline and tech-overridden, cyberpunk-styled dystopic future. In the year 2029, humans have between physically connected to technology, resulting in human/robot hybrids who are part man, part machine. Two Hong Kong cops are on the trail of The Puppet Master, a master hacker who has been “ghost hacking” into the minds of others. Detective Motoko Kunasagi (Atsuko Tanaka) has been pushing her body to the limits of technology, melding her physical form with hard steel and wires. She becomes so enraptured with the Puppet Master that she pushes herself to the limit to discover the identity of who is behind these attacks.

It’s difficult to properly sum up the film on paper. The central storyline isn’t as important as the themes which run throughout the film. The idea of what makes someone real, what makes them a sentient being. The film toys with the definition of some of these thoughts. The blending of the world of technology with the human body creates a rift where you no longer know when a person has crossed over from being more robot than human. Kunasagi has had her body modified so much she’s practically all robot, but she’s still undeniably human. The ambiguity of these themes helps to make the film far more memorable than I had anticipated. The thoughts it presents resonate for quite some time.

This edition of “Ghost in the Shell” has been tweaked a good deal from its original counterpart. Newly-created scenes using 3D CGI have been inserted, and the film’s score has been re-mixed and re-recorded. The original voice cast was also brought back to do some additional dubbing. Although I’m not familiar with the original version, it wasn’t hard to see where the changes were made. The new CGI footage sticks way out and looks embarrassingly bad. I’m a fan of the cell animation style used originally, so to marry it with video game-level CGI just puts a damper on the film. I would imagine the soundtrack benefited the most from this tinkering, which is something I’m totally fine with, but the film itself seems as though it would have been better off left alone.

I think I made a mistake in watching the English dub of the film. I don’t even know why I didn’t catch it because I always prefer original language tracks. The English voice actors are dull and emotionless; they put virtually nothing into their line readings. They might as well have recorded this while using the bathroom or lying on the couch, it sounds that lifeless. The sampling I partook of the Japanese version, though, showcased some far superior performances with some real weight to the voices. If I revisit the film again anytime soon, you can bet I’ll be watching with the foreign language track. So, unless you’re a major fanatic about hating to “read your movies”, do yourself a favor and watch it in Japanese.

Video

The 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image looks very good for the majority of the film. Well, it actually looks good for all of the film, but the newly-produced CGI scenes tend to look grossly out of place. Those scenes, with some seriously dated looking effect work, don’t flow at all with the rest of the original film. I know that the intention was the give old-school fans something new to like about this classic anime, but I’m curious how they’ve reacted as they tend to detract from the overall film, if anything. Aside from that, the image does appear slightly soft in focus. Lines aren’t as razor-sharp and well-defined as I’ve come to expect from animated films on Blu-ray, but this is likely due to the original source materials from the mid-90’s. The image is clean; there are no scratches or miscellaneous debris to be found. It might not be stunning, but it’s certainly blemish-free.

Audio

The packaging states we get both English and Japanese DTS-ES Discrete 6.1 surround sound tracks, but what’s actually included are English and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 surround sounds tracks mixed at 48kHz/24-bit. The tracks are brimming with life at all times, creating an auditory aura of nuanced sounds and gritty urban streets that does the film great justice. At one point I actually thought it was raining outside because the surrounds were so engrossing that I didn’t realize it was the film. The track does an outstanding job of panning movements and sounds with smooth precision. The LFE track booms when the action starts to get heavy. I’m sure much of this is due to the newly-recorded score, and the fact that Skywalker Sound helped to remix the channels for this release.
English and Japanese PCM 2.0 tracks are also included. Subtitles are available in English.

Extras

A glance at the back cover of this release showcases three bonus features which, bizarrely enough aren’t included on this release. It says there is a “Making of Ghost in the Shell 2.0”, a commentary with the director and animation director and a face-to-face interview with the director. However, as I said, none of that appears here.

What we do get is an "original making-of" featurette on the original film, the theatrical trailer, cast & crew biographies, a glossary. But the coolest feature that isn’t even listed is…

The original “Ghost in the Shell” (1995) feature-length film. Running about 30 seconds shorter than its 2.0 version, the film is presented in 1080i with both Japanese and English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo tracks. There are also English subtitles included. Bizarre they wouldn’t mention this as a bonus feature, since I would expect it to be quite a selling point. Nonetheless, if you’d rather watch the film as it originally was released, sans sore-thumb CGI and remixed music, then this is what you’ll want to have. The image looked just about as good as the 2.0 version of the film, though it was slightly darker and a little rougher around the edges.

“Making Of Ghost in the Shell: Production Report” (1080i) is a featurette which runs for 26 minutes and 40 seconds. Utilizing an enthusiastic narrator and some hilariously dated editing techniques, this behind-the-scenes piece looks at various aspects of the film’s production, such as the animation, opening title sequence and characters. Subtitled interviews are included with many of the film’s Japanese cast and crew.

The theatrical trailer (1080i) runs for 1 minute and 42 seconds.

Creator biographies are available for the following:

- Shirow Masamune, the original manga creator.
- Mamoru Oshii, the film’s director.

Character profiles are available for the following:

- Aramaki
- Batou
- Ishikawa
- Motoko Kunasagi
- Nakamura
- The Puppet Master
- Togusa

Finally, there is a 5 page glossary with term definitions for the following areas:

- Tech Terminology
- Organizations
- Politics & Law

Overall

The Film: B- Video: B- Audio: A- Extras: B+ Overall: B

 


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