One of the best animated films I have ever seen is a Japanese anime called KOKAKU KIDOTAI, otherwise known as “GHOST IN THE SHELL” (1995). This is a review of the new version of the anime classic. I rated the original a strong 4 ½ + Stars rounded up to 5 and my rating for this data is aimed to the film’s NEW enhanced version. I have combined my older review and enhanced it to include the new version’s features.
Honestly, for those very unfamiliar with anime, its storyline can be quite difficult to follow; the maturity of its script and its psychological depth is far-reaching. Based on Masamune Shirow’s manga (Japanese comic) with screenplay by Kazunoki Ito and directed by Mamoru Oshii, the film attained an award-winning worldwide acclaim not just because it revolutionized current animation standards but also because of its enormous plotline. The film heritage can be traced back to Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” and the Japanese anime “Akira”; but it went on to inspire blockbuster Hollywood films such as “The Fifth Element”, “Dark City” and even the Wachowski Bros’. “The Matrix”. It is also the winner of the 1997 WORLD ANIMATION Celebration Awards. (Best Theatrical Film and Best Director)
This New Version of the Film:
Taking a page out of Hollywood’s playbook, the Japanese creators have opted to enhance the film’s animation in “GHOST IN THE SHELL 2.0”. Let’s be honest, as much as I thought the animation in the 1995 film was awesome and groundbreaking for its time, it may appear a little dated in the days of CGI and advancements in 3D animation. True, the style of animation in the 1995 original is arguably what made it special and gives it the stamp of ‘cult status’; but I can forgive the filmmakers’ attempt to try and soup up the graphics. Purists will complain about the ‘re-touched’ version and in my opinion the results are a mixed bag.
“Ghost in the Shell 2.0” is basically the same exact movie except for some alternate/different scenes that include CGI graphics. It does give the movie a more updated look and feel. Colors have been improved from the original and makes it more similar to the original’s sequel “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence”. One complaint I have is that from what I remember, the Major is naked when she goes on her camouflage invisi-mode, here in this movie, she wears an almost skin-hued, tight body suit. While I thought the retouched scenes looked real good, the exchanged CGI scenes sometimes doesn’t fit the film’s mood and tone. There are times that I thought that I was watching a new video game. I appreciate the effort but I think the filmmakers made too much effort in trying to re-introduce a more “Innocence” friendly updated version. They looked good but I have major misgivings about the results.
2029 A.D., a time and place in an undetermined future where the fusion of humans and machines, the network and human comprehension has been attained. People have been enhanced by cybernetic implants that makes them stronger, faster, smarter. Section 9, a group of cyborg cops led by Maj. Motoko Kusanagi (voiced by Atsuko Tanaka) and Batou (Akio Atsuka) are caught in political intrigue as they search for answers to a mysterious “Puppet Master” or as it would like to call himself; Project 2501. Their investigations have led them to believe that this “ghost” hacker is the one responsible for numerous attacks on public mainframes that changed financial, network manipulations. Findings have led them to conclude that the “hacker” may be an artificial computer intelligence that seeks to co-opt a synthetic body for its own needs.
This anime feature is a dramatic thrill-ride that would be an excellent introduction to Japanese animation with the depth of its script and the complexities of its plot. The story is so rich with philosophical undertones of existentialism and social relations. The cinematography is fantastic and the animated visuals is a “merging” or digitizing of traditional cell animation, computer generated graphics and live-action footage (although one would be hard-pressed to notice). The marvelous compositions and set pieces may cause one to forget that he is watching an animated film. The film is also shot with a lot of moving perspective to convey its mood. The animated invisibility (when Kusanagi gets totally naked) is a first during the time of its release While its premise is almost excellent, the visuals is also its main showstopper, even for today’s standards.
The film is a philosophical movie, and while there are quite a few sequences of action, one of which highlights Kusanagi going up against a robotic tank with enormous firepower, the film is full of emotional content, very brooding and quite moody. Shall I say it even contains quite a lot of drama with a restrained amount of human (?) angst. If you approach the film as you would any other action-inspired anime then you will be lost in its translation. The film may be a little slower-paced than most anime features but I found this very inspiring and a refreshing approach. It deliberately takes its time to express its mood through its slow-revelations. It is quite ingenious for director Oshii to abandon the usual dynamics of fast-paced scenes. It allows the viewer to ponder the different existential and social points it is making and take everything in.
What makes an individual? What makes one attain individualism? Is it memories and experiences? The supposed thin line between humanity and cybernetics is drawn in the character of Maj. Kusanagi. She is a female operative who “died” before but is now able to live in an enhanced cyborg body. The main antagonist “the Puppet master” causes her to question her very existence--just how much of her is still human? How can one whose entire body is composed of cybernetics and synthetics be any different from a simple machine? Is Motoko Kusanagi a ghost in a cybernetic shell? Can a machine gain sentience through experiences and generate a “soul”? These are the complex questions that the film delves into--quite impressively I have to say.
The film’s main strengths are its groundbreaking visuals, mature and complex storyline and its reliance on emotion and mood rather than a hectic screenplay. Those who are looking for the usual “shoot them up” anime feature may be a little disappointed. There is action to be had with “Ghost in the Shell” but it is NOT an action animated film but a very philosophical sci-fi drama. I only have one response to those who questions as to why Mamoru Oshii’s masterpiece is so highly acclaimed, it paved the way to current animation techniques but it didn’t stop there; it took its time with a mature and complex storyline that is definitely not for kids but for those esoteric few very adulterated to Japanese type of storytelling. Mamoru Oshii’s “GHOST IN THE SHELL” surpasses most of Hollywood’s big-budget output, BOTH in style and substance even up to this day. It wasn’t a huge box-office success in its U.S. theatrical run, but nonetheless its thoughtful and interesting storyline cannot be matched by any box-office popcorn giant--its non-mainstream appeal is its greatest strength. One of the great Sci-Fi masterpieces.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!! [4 ½+ Stars]
Note: It would be better to watch this in its original Japanese language with the English Subtitles.
So is this new version worth buying? Well, it all depends on how you look at things. It is nice to see one of the best anime classics get an update but I am not sure if it was necessary (maybe I am just really happy with the original). I think if you own the original 2-Disc Edition (re-mastered and cleaned up) the reasons for getting this new film is very minimal. However, if you don’t own the original, this version may be worth buying (the original film is included). The film is more than 12 years old and still holds up pretty well. Despite my mixed feelings about the CGI, I thought the film was still respected in this new version.
This New version is Recommended but a Rental for purists is advisable. [3 ½ Stars]
Fans of Ghost in the Shell are, most likely, well aware of the re-mastered re-issue of this anime classic by director Mamoru Oshii. For those who need a little catching up, just know that Ghost in the Shell was a breakthrough animation released in 1996 and has since been hallmarked of the genre. It was the inspiration behind The Matrix, with several visual thematic elements being borrowed by The Wachowski brothers for their movie. Apparently, The Wachowski brothers presented a copy of the animation … more