Review: Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Redux

Ghost in the Shell 2.0 Redux (orig. Kôkaku kidôtai; Japan-1995; dir. Mamoru Oshii)

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.

South Korea’s Giant Robot

Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s 1956 manga Tetsujin 28-go (and subsequent anime series — known in the West as Gigantor) may have started the whole giant-robot mecha genre (though many consider it was defined by Mazinger Z, created by Go Nagai in manga and on TV in 1972), but politically South Korea wasn’t content to let the Japanese have sole rule of it. In the 1970s, Kim Cheong-gi took the mecha concept and created “a Korean hero for Korean children” in Robot Taekwon V (known in the US as Voltar the Invincible).

The show achieved great popularity and today Robot Taekwon V is present in Korean culture as a full-size sculpture, on ads and in various remade forms. For some time talk of a big budget live-action feature film directed by Won Shin-Yeon has been around, originally slated for release in 2009. It hasn’t yet appeared but evidence of its coming keeps cropping up, most recently with the establishment of a website — very basic as yet, but sporting an awesome poster of the Giant Robot in action, battling an enemy in the Han River — the body of water that spawned the monster from the Korean giant monster film The Host (click to enlarge):

As the robot’s name suggests, its combatic movements reflect those of the martial art Taekwondo, and this aspect is apparently being played up in the film version, as displayed by videos of test animation that have appeared on YouTube and elsewhere. Here is one where the test animation, created via motion capture, is compared to the movements of actual practitioners of Taekwondo:

The following trailer — which appears to be for a game version — sports footage that comes from the film or at least reflects it:

Below is Taekwon V as he is set to appear in the new film:

See Undead Backbrain for further information, images and videos.

Gallery: this gallery includes pictures of the film’s creators as well as other CGI images of Robot Taekwon V (not related to the film).

  • Source: Writing: Robert Hood  |  Research: Avery Guerra