The future is now: “Ghost in the Shell”
Updated: Feb 13, 2021
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Special agent Major Motoko Kusanagi of Section 9 and Section Chief Aramaki find a woman being hacked by the code name "Puppet-Master," using an old-style HA-3.
(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)
“GHOST IN THE SHELL: 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1995; Not Rated, contains explicit nudity, profanity, and violence; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), FandangoNOW, Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K)
Best extra: Commentary with Mary Claypool, English language scriptwriter; Eric Calderon, producer; Charles Solomon, Animation Critic and Historian, and Richard Epcar, voice actor-director, English voice for Bato
IT’S ALL about the nipples. There are reasons for that.
In addition to family fare such as “Spirited Away,” Japanese anime always had a reputation for presenting more adult stories. There are categories – comedy, romance, drama, historical, adult – as found in books and film. American kids who loved animation and comics, but had outgrown Disney and Hanna-Barbera, were at a loss when they looked for something to suit more mature tastes, which began the interest in anime during the 1970s.
By the time American TV began to wade into the adult animation market with shows like “The Simpsons” (1989), “The Ren & Stimpy Show” (1991) and “Beavis and Butt-head” (1992), the time was ripe for “Ghost in the Shell.”
Twenty-five years later, some Amazon viewers are demanding a boycott of the newly remastered anime “Ghost in the Shell” because the main character’s nipples have been airbrushed out of the cover art. They have no problem with the hard-science fiction story created during the first wave of cyberpunk, but missing nipples offend them. So does some editing within the visuals, and an unfortunate change in the score’s end piece. This is a worthwhile objection. The magnificent, haunting score by Kenji Kawai should have remained intact. It’s a three-part choral piece based on ancient Japanese folk music; it centers and brings humanity to the story. What were they thinking?
(1&2) Major Kusanagi prepares to dive off a New Port City building, into a meeting with a foreign diplomat. (3) The Major's partner Bato, a battle-hardened cyborg watches her movements. (4) Section 6 Police head to the same location. (5) The diplomat's security detail prepare for a shootout.
Ignore the nipple rebellion. The story, based on the manga by Masamune Shirow, is key and the visuals enhance it, even if the nudity, profanity and violence are extreme.
“Ghost in the Shell” excels in its world-building and treatment of societal issues. The main character, special agent Major Motoko Kusanagi of Section 9, is a cyborg. Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, was an inspiration for “Ghost.” Kusanagi begins to wonder just how “real” she is during a new case. She began as human and retains a few memory “ghosts.” Her body is a “shell,” a doll with interchangeable parts, and she has a closetful. Her mannequin appearance – unblinking eyes, and perfect, plastic form right down to those perky nipples – are intentionally disturbing. In the world of the highest tech, who knows what’s real and what isn’t?
“She’s a cross between a centerfold and a terminator.” — Charles Solomon, Animation Critic and Historian
Kusanagi tries to figure it out during her latest assignment. She works for Public Security Section 9, with her partner, Bato, in Japan’s New Port City. They are tasked with stopping the Puppet Master, a hacker who’s taken control of several people by planting false memories. Most of these are top government officials or businessmen. Assassination is on the menu.
In one of her most poignant scenes, Kusanagi reveals she’d like to quit Section 9. But if she does, she forfeits her augmented parts and shell leaving her a cripple. How can she survive like that?
What keeps “Ghost in the Shell” relevant – perhaps even more than when it first came out – is its focus on Artificial Intelligence, and our dependence on it. What home doesn’t have some connection to Siri or Alexa, or simply through Internet access and social media that always knows what you’ve searched for and provides recommendations?
Meanwhile, we still wrestle with societal ills such as poverty and elitism. Street scenes in New Port City highlight new construction and litter-filled avenues and bodies of water; technical advantages and slums. Kusanagi takes it all in – as do viewers – with her unblinking eyes as she journeys through the city.
(1&2) During the opening credits, you see the creation of Major Motoko Kusanagi. (3) The Puppet Master tries to hack the woman's ghost, "so she'll kill people at the meeting," says Chief Aramaki. (4) Director Mamoru Oshii and his team of animators created a cityscape of litter-filled avenues and towering buildings.
“There are constant visuals of the city itself … We live in this body, and look, here’s the trash of it, here’s the heights, here’s the lows.” — Eric Calderon, Animation Producer
“Ghost in the Shell” is by no means feel-good animation. It’s hard-core, pessimistic sci-fi, not a musical comedy, and remains a thought-provoking look into a future that has become the present.
Lionsgate’s presentation in theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio provides excellent viewing options beginning with the new Ultra High Def 4K disc. A new 25th anniversary 4K master was created scanning the original 35mm film, as earlier presentations were from a 2K master. It looks very good, with enriched HDR color and contrast with HDR10 and Dolby Vision. The overall look is clean, with a good wash of film grain that aids in the hazy, polluted atmosphere. Art is still intentionally flat, however the 2160p UHD provides far more detail.
It was primarily shot on 35mm film, using hand-drawn illustration and some CG effects. There are no signs of a digital wash. Compare the difference between the enclosed 1080p Blu-ray and you’ll note a huge difference.
The sound can be an issue through the new Dolby Atmos soundtracks in Japanese (with subtitles) and English dub on the UHD disc. Kawai’s score sounds fantastic; dialogue is clear and engaging, but effects in firefights and explosions will have neighbors pounding on walls and calling the cops. In those cases, set your receiver in the (Night Mode) to balance out that wide range of volumes. But, if you have a dedicated theater room let it rip as the majority of the sound is balanced from the front three speakers and subwoofer, with effects sprinkled to your rear and height speakers. The original two-channel Japanese stereo track is also available.
The Blu-ray offers a serviceable six-channel TrueHD, kinder to the ear and sleeping babies. If only studios could achieve balance using Atmos tech.
(1) The ghosthacking software provider opens fire on the Major's truck with high-velocity ammunition causing it to exploded. (2-3) Bato pursues the suspect through an outdoor market, and the chase ends up at a water canal. (4) Major Kusanagi disables his thermo-optic camouflage during their battle.
Three new bonus features are available on both the 4K and Blu-ray discs. They’re a great bunch, including an excellent feature-length commentary, and two featurettes, “Accessing Section 9 – 25 Years into the Future” and “Landscapes & Dreamscapes: The Art and Architecture of Ghost in the Shell.”
During the featurette “Accessing Section 9,” Justin Sevakis, the editor-at-large at Anime News Network says “Ghost” was a reflection of its director Mamoru Oshii, who combined advance visuals with philosophy storytelling. “He created these amazing action set pieces, and built this slightly dystopian sci-fi world around those ideas.”
Carryovers “Production Report” and “Digital Works” are only available on the 1080p disc.
Adult feature-length animation is still in short supply. The best still hails from Japan with the devastating “Grave of the Fireflies,” “Princess Mononoke,” “Metropolis,” “Akira,” and “Perfect Blue.” Others include “Waking Life,” “Coraline,” “Les Triplettes de Belleville,” and “Southpark: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.” “Ghost in the Shell” is among the top three in all lists.
— Kay Reynolds