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Ghost in the Shell 2.0(1995)
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.
For more about Ghost in the Shell 2.0 and the Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Blu-ray release, see Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 29, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Akio ďtsuka, Atsuko Tanaka, Kouichi Yamadera
Director: Mamoru Oshii
» See full cast & crew
Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Blu-ray Review
Shell out a few dollars for this collection-worthy Blu-ray release from Starz/Manga.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 29, 2009
Memory cannot be defined, but it defines mankind.
Most newcomers to one of Japan's most famous exports -- the Anime genre -- are often told to begin with two films generally considered to sit atop the heap, representative of the best the style has to offer: 1988's Akira and 1995's Ghost in the Shell. Truth be told, perhaps no single (or pair) film can truly prepare an uninitiated viewer for what the best of Anime has to offer, particularly when considering those lauded films that offer more philosophical underpinnings behind the ubiquitous action and unique animation style. One such film, Ghost in the Shell, delivers a rich, complex, satisfying, yet also abstract and even somewhat hard-to-follow plot that might turn off any viewer that's more accustomed to straightforward, easily-digested, American fare, animated or not. However, audiences interested in exploring some of the darker chasms of the human psyche and delving into a world first introduced more than 10 years ago but seemingly even more relevant to today's society will be rewarded by not only a shining example of the Anime genre but an important and timely motion picture that goes well beyond the basics for an experience quite unlike any other film to date.
It is the year 2029, and a security team known as "Section Nine" is battling an unseen foe that traverses the firmly-established and wholly-integral worldwide network. The criminal, known only as "The Puppet Master," has infiltrated various biologicals and provided them false memories as they unwittingly serve his needs. This "Puppet Master," however, is not content to remain in the virtual realms of the Network; he wants a body, a body that will allow him to fully realize what it means to be alive, and seemingly central to his plan is Major Motoko Kusanagi of section nine. Kusanagi, like most of her fellow Section Nine operatives, is more cyborg than human, though her retention of a "ghost," or "soul" differentiates her from those entities that are fully machine. As the case evolves and it becomes clear that the line between man and machine has further blurred, Kusanagi begins to question her very existence and contemplate exactly what it means to be alive.
Ghost in the Shell is a good many things. While its involved story is key, the film also comes with some more superficial niceties that compliment the deeper philosophical overtones. The story is told in a future setting that's not all too dissimilar from the present insofar as what's on the screen at a glance. There are no flying cars or hovering buildings; much of the advanced technology in Ghost in the Shell is more implied than it is seen, which serves a greater purpose within the structure of the plot, particularly as it pertains to the film's central theme, the difference between man and machine. That theme is supported by several scenes of relentless action that are well-staged and fully exciting, the violence well-orchestrated and pleasurable from a sensory perspective, particularly from the safe confines of the living room or movie theater. The violence in Ghost in the Shell can be quite chaotic and graphic, and as such, it's important to note that this is another case, much like South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut, where "animated" does not equal "kid approved." Not only is the film violent, but it's packed with foul language and plenty of nude female bodies, all of which make it a decidedly adult-oriented film, which is all the better because, frankly, its plot is far too complex for the typical youngster, anyway.
As alluded to above, Ghost in the Shell isn't about bullets, babes, or even its futuristic setting. They are all but a means to an end that advance the film's central conflict: what does it mean to be alive? In perhaps the film's most crucial line, Major Kusanagi ponders the consequences of a machine creating its own soul (or ghost); what impact would such an event have on the essence of what it means to be human, and if a machine could create and possess that which makes a man a man -- his soul rather than the sum of his fleeting biological parts -- how would the definition of mankind change, and could man still be considered unique, eternal in some fashion that stretches beyond the known limits of the universe, or even alive? Such is a staple of Science Fiction; the question has been asked before, perhaps most notably across three episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation:" "Measure of a Man;" "Elementary, Dear Data;" and "Ship in a Bottle." The former questions whether the self-aware android crew member, Data, is both alive and possesses individual rights while the latter two feature a sentient holographic projection in the image of Professor Moriarty of Sherlock Holmes fame that demands to be freed of the confines of his photonic limitations. Such examples are perhaps more accessible in a general sense to viewers that wish to further examine this question, though its presentation in Ghost in the Shell -- combining equal parts philosophy and action -- makes it both an exciting and emotionally satisfying cinematic venture.
Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Blu-ray, Video Quality
This Blu-ray release of Ghost in the Shell 2.0 delivers a solid 1080p, 1.78:1 high definition experience. Though the transfer features occasional banding, it's otherwise a solid all-around effort. The animation style lends to the image a slightly pale appearance, and some scenes have something of a glowing aura about them. Still, colors are generally strong; while not the most abundantly colorful film -- animated or otherwise -- on Blu-ray, the various shades are all presented as strongly as one might expect, particularly considering the aforementioned tone that slightly washes out many hues. Fine detail, too, impresses. Many images border on the photorealistic, and computer graphics in particular appear sharp as a tack and beautifully rendered. Likewise, many backgrounds -- particularly at street level -- are presented at a level that blurs the line between animation and reality, with emphasis on those seen in darker shots. Such shots -- and others -- are supported by strong blacks that rarely fade from a true, inky appearance. The animation style itself is not mistaken; it's somewhat choppy and lacks natural fluidity, but the Blu-ray renders it nicely, with sharp lines and no apparent issues -- save for the aforementioned banding -- to hinder the presentation.
Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Though the packaging and menu screen both claim the disc features DTS-ES 6.1 Japanese and English language soundtracks, Ghost in the Shell 2.0 in fact comes with a pair of lossless DTS-HD MA 6.1 soundtracks. Also included are two uncompressed mixes in both English and Japanese -- PCM 2.0 offerings -- as well as two PCM 2.0 soundtracks accompanying the original version of the film. With all of that out of the way, listeners cannot go wrong with either the PCM of the DTS soundtracks, and while the PCM track delivers a rich, clear, and room-filling sonic experience, the lossless DTS track bests it in every regard. The DTS track, as one would expect, delivers substantially more bass, a fuller experience, and an aggressive back channel presentation. Said rear-channel exploits come to define the track; there are plenty of distinct effects as sound is precisely placed here and there, and it also flows with an ease from side to side or front to back that's about as seamless as any other track currently available. Cars zoom through the listening area; explosions send chunks of shrapnel around the soundstage, clanking off surfaces in every corner; and busy streets come alive with the sounds of chatty pedestrians, barking dogs, flowing traffic, music, and any other of a number of sounds of the city. Ghost in the Shell also features gunshots aplenty throughout; they are loud, distinct, and sonically ravage the soundstage, all accompanied by a healthy low end that never relents in the action-oriented scenes. Also featuring strong dialogue reproduction, this lossless soundtrack is reason enough to purchase this disc.
Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Ghost in the Shell 2.0 makes its highly-anticipated Blu-ray debut with a decent collection of extras. However, the commentary advertised on the back of the packaging appears nowhere to be found on this release, either in the "2.0" edition of the film or the original version. However the highlight of this package is the inclusion of the original version of the film, presented in 1080i high definition and featuring PCM 2.0 Japanese and English soundtracks and optional English subtitles. The film runs for 1:22:37, 30 seconds shorter than the "2.0" edition. For fans unaware, the "2.0" edition of the film offers several changes from the original: new animated technologies employed in the re-design of the film, a remixed soundtrack, and re-recorded and re-worked dialogue. The next bonus feature is Making 'Ghost in the Shell' -- Production Report (1080i, 26:40), an English-language promotional piece meant both to introduce newcomers to Anime to the style as well as to provide a solid background on the creation of Ghost in the Shell. The piece explores how Anime films are created, features interviews with the production team (in Japanese with English subtitles), looks at the creation of the soundtrack, and more. The piece concludes with cast and crew sharing their thoughts on the finished product. Also included are text-based biographies of Ghost in the Shell creators Shirow Masamune and Mamoru Oshii; text-based character profiles for Aramaki, Batou, Ishikawa, Motoko Kusanagi, Nakamura, The Puppet Master, and Togusa; a glossary of Ghost in the Shell technical terminology, organizations, and politics & law; and the film's theatrical trailer (1080i, 1:44).
Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Films like Ghost in the Shell do indeed represent the pinnacle of the Anime genre. Like any other genre or style, there are ups, downs, and everything in between, but Ghost in the Shell -- while it doesn't necessarily have a more mainstream counterpart that's easily-identifiable as a film close in tone, meaning, or spirit -- is akin to some of Hollywood's more profound outings that dare to explore the deepest realms of the human psyche rather than simply knocking on the surface for yet another superficial and meaningless moviegoing experience. Ghost in the Shell -- and other examples of intelligent cinema -- offer much more to those audiences that choose to explore the darker yet more rewarding side of both the human mind and filmed entertainment, and it is for those viewers that Ghost in the Shell comes recommended as either an introduction to the world of Japanese animation or as a film that merely broadens the horizons and, more importantly, challenges the mind. A release by Starz subsidiary Manga Home Entertainment, this Blu-ray version of Ghost in the Shell should thrill established fans of the film, newcomers, and home theater buffs alike. Featuring a wonderful 1080p picture, a reference-quality lossless soundtrack, and a decent array of extras, Ghost in the Shell 2.0 comes highly recommended.
Ghost in the Shell: Other Editions
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