Reviewed by Robert Hood
Anyone who knows anything about anime knows Ghost in the Shell. Based on the classic manga of Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell was a stunning work of SF animation in 1995 and, I’m happy to say, remains so now. It visualized and enhanced the cyberpunk aesthetic of writers such as William Gibson in his Sprawl trilogy, and directly influenced such important live-action SF as The Matrix, spawning a franchise that includes two more films (Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. Solid State Society) and two television series (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG). All of them are worth seeing.
Set in a futuristic world where the fragile line between the vast external city and cyberspace is gradually disappearing, Ghost in the Shell is an exciting and yet cerebral cyber-tech thriller that creates a convincing futuristic world and peoples it with believable, if often cybernetically enhanced, characters.
Much of Ghost in the Shell’s success comes not only from its action-based “police-thriller” plot (which takes a thoroughly cinematic approach to its aesthetic, with its fair share of “realistic” violence) but also from its intelligent approach to that material. It drew SF anime away from straightforward if often bizarre combat scenarios into a world of moral and ontological investigation, exploring the boundaries of life and intelligence in a post-industrial, supra-technological context beyond the sort of medieval thought that views artificial life as a blasphemy and the domain of soulless machines. In the world of Ghost in the Shell, cybernetic enhancements are the norm, machines can have “souls”, and the story itself explores a scenario in which self-aware intelligence is spontaneously generated within the complex by-ways of the vast digital communication network of cyberspace. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be alive? These are old questions, but are explored here in a convincing, futuristic context.
Since 1995, of course, digital technology has changed animation considerably. For this Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Redux release, the film has been “upgraded”, not only to HD Blu-ray quality, but in terms of its animation, much of which has been enhanced using contemporary digital imaging techniques. Some sequences are more “3D” (particularly the opening sequence of Major Kusanagi on the rooftops and various vehicle-based scenes), but the traditional cel animation that still makes up most of the movie has been given greater shading and depth. Backgrounds have been re-done digitally and visualizations of cyberspace itself provided with a computer-generated makeover.
The result can seem a little discontinuous here and there, but the enhancements are used well and the whole is arguably an improvement over what was already a superb visual experience. Luckily, traditionalists can still watch the original version if they so desire, though upgraded to HD quality, as it is included as part of the package.
Either way, the film has never looked better than it does here on Blu-ray. Visually stunning and narratively compelling, it remains a classic not only of animation, but of SF cinema, and should be welcomed by those familiar with the film and those who are yet to see it.
Released in Australia by Madman Entertainment.
- This review was first published on Horrorscope.