BLU-RAY REVIEW: GHOST IN THE SHELL STEELBOOK / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MAMORU OSHII / SCREENPLAY: KAZUNORI ITO / STARRING: ATSUKO TANAKA, AKIO OTSUKA / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 29TH
To coincide with the 25th anniversary of Masamune Shirow’s seminal cyberpunk manga series, Ghost in the Shell has been given an HD overhaul and released on Blu-ray. A product of the anarchic digital age of the late '80s and early '90s, the techno-punk of code and internet access, Ghost in the Shell followed in the wake of Akira to profoundly impact pop culture, positively changing Western views of Japanese animation. Its effect, some 19 years later, is still keenly felt, from The Matrix, to the novels of William Gibson and, more recently, Wally Pfister’s Transcendence.
Directed by Mamoru Oshii and penned by one of the finest voices in anime, Kazunori Ito, Ghost in the Shell is set in 2029 and follows Motoko, a cyborg operative of Section 9 – an elite security agency which deals with counter-terrorism and cyber crime. The agency is put on the case of the notorious hacker Puppet Master, who has been infiltrating the brains of innocent people in order to make them his accomplices. Motoko is quickly embroiled in a clandestine mix of futurist musings and real world concerns.
The source material is undoubtedly inspired by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, with concerns such as the fallibility of memory and the existential musings of identity, but Ghost in the Shell exists very much in its own right. It is steeped in the subject of sentience, artificial or otherwise – how birth is merely an issue of context, of definition, and what humanity actually means.
With hacking, viruses and the illegal acquisition of private information all now commonplace, the storyline is even more relevant in 2014 than it was in the '90s. Indeed, the speculative elements (integration with machinery, computerisation, implanted memories, etc) are more of a nightmarish peek into the immediate future rather than straight-out science fiction.
The animation is still visually dynamic and exciting, more so with this evocative remaster. The 3D elements in particular hold up to scrutiny, with the dizzyingly detailed city shots and the sequences of Motoko’s ‘birth’ as sublime and ambitious as any additions to the genre over the last two decades.
Kenji Kawai’s score is gorgeous, the main theme incorporating elements of traditional Japanease minyo chanting, coupled with the tones of the classical Japanese music scale, culminating in a haunting effect.
Ghost in the Shell remains a striking, breathtaking and culturally relevant film. Motoko is firmly cemented as one of the most iconic characters of sci-fi, up there with Ellen Ripley. While the remakes or subsequent sequel and series have helped flesh out the multifaceted world of Ghost in the Shell, the original remains the most vital.