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Ghost in the Shell (1995) (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review)

Ghost in the Shell (1995) 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (Lionsgate)Ghost in the Shell is the 1995 original cyberpunk anime film that influenced everything from the Wachowskis’ The Matrix to other anime productions like Psycho-Pass and marked a paradigm shift in the anime industry with its animation style and philosophical themes discussing technological advances and the meaning of life.

Set in the dystopian future of 2029 Tokyo, the female cybernetic government agent Major Kusanagi Motoko is part of the Internal Bureau of Investigations’ Section 9. She and her fellow agents, including her partner Batou, are enlisted to track down a cyber terrorist called “The Puppet Master” who is spreading a threatening computer virus through the entire network that interconnects not only all of society’s infrastructure, but humanity itself, as many if not all people now have some sort of cybernetic implants. The Puppet Master virus is capable of infiltrating the human ghost (aka consciousness) itself. The film cleverly, in the form of a mystery not dissimilar to one its major influences, Blade Runner, discusses the meaning of life, the difference, if any between organic life, AI, the existence of the “soul” and the downside of dependance on technology in the form of a crime/drama/mystery. Kusanagi, now one of the iconic characters not only in anime, but in sci-fi and film writ large, is a powerful female character, drawn amazingly as are all of the characters and artwork in this cutting-edge-for-its time film.

If you want to know what all the fuss is about with Ghost in the Shell, head straight for this original 1995 version and perhaps then follow it up with the sequel Ghost in the Shell 2. Do avoid the awful 2017 whitewashed Hollywood live-action version or the reworked version, Ghost in the Shell 2.0 that added lots of unnecessary CGI VFX.

The film was directed by Oshii Mamoru and is based on the Japanese manga by Masamune Shirow.

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The Video

Ghost in the Shell was remastered in 4K from its original 35mm Eastman EXR 200T 5293. This 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray was mastered from a 4K DI with Dolby Vision HDR and framed at 1.85:1. It looks detailed, the grain structure looks very crisp and natural, and the image is clean without losing too much of that natural grain and texture. The thing is that this 4K transfer and the Dolby Vision grading don’t really standout as too much of an upgrade over the Blu-ray version. The HDR doesn’t ‘pop’ the way one would expect apart from maybe slightly brighter white levels, but the colors look about even and overall highlights are about even. The 4K disc maybe has a little crisper look to the grain, but it’s a tossup that would require a lot of back and forth and very close inspection between the two. Certainly, a better 4K Ultra HD remaster of an anime classic is the already available Japanese release of Akira. That’s not saying that this 4K disc looks bad, in fact I think it looks very good, just not like a major step up from the included Blu-ray.

The Audio

Ghost in the Shell on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray comes with the original Japanese-language and English dub remixed in Dolby Atmos (the Blu-ray has Dolby TrueHD 5.1) and also includes the original Japanese stereo and English dubs in LPCM 2.0. The Atmos remix is definitely competent and well balanced, with good use of surround channels and the center channel effects for the various switches between types of dialogue, but height effects are extremely minimal, a complete missed opportunity for a film like this, and somewhat disappointing. For example, the way the characters communicate with their implants would have been perfect for the “voice of God” effect utilizing the Atmos/height channels to make it sound like they’re inside your head, but the sound designers don’t do this, nor do they do much overhead mixing with the various helicopter flyovers or the rain sequences. There are just flashes of discrete height effects and ambience. The ground-level mixing is still good, however, but still not on the level of the greatest classic anime sound mix currently out there, and that would be, once again, Akira.

The Supplements

There’s an excellent commentary with the English cast & crew and a couple of featurettes on the 4K disc. In addition, the Blu-ray Disc includes two archival featurettes on the making of the film.

  • Audio commentary with animation writer and English language scriptwriter of Ghost in the Shell Mary Claypool, animation producer and writer Eric Calderon, voice of “Batou” in Ghost in the Shell franchise Richard Epcar and animation historian and critic Charles Solomon
  • Accessing Section 9 – 25 Years into the Future (1080p; 00:18:42)
  • Landscapes & Dreamscapes – The Art and Architecture of Ghost in the Shell (1080p; 00:10:50)
  • Ghost in the Shell Trailers
  • Production Report (Blu-ray Only) (1080p upscaled; 00:27:04)
  • Digital Works (Blu-ray Only) (1080p upscaled; 00:29:34)

The Final Assessment

Ghost in the Shell is a great anime film that has stood the test of time. It remains an influential classic that all sci-fi, anime, and animation fans must see. This 4K Ultra HD release with Dolby Vision looks good, but the Dolby Vision HDR is not as spectacular as you might be expecting. The included Blu-ray is just as good and if there is a separate Blu-ray release from this same 4K restoration, then it may be worth it to stick with that and save your money unless you absolutely need the Atmos mix, which is also only a slight improvement over the TrueHD 5.1 mix on the Blu-ray.

Ghost in the Shell is out on 4K Ultra HD Combo September 8, 2020 from Lionsgate

  • The Creative Content: 4.5/5
  • The Video: (Overall): 4.5/5
  • HDR Effect: 3.0/5
  • The Audio: 4.0/5
  • The Supplements: 3.0/5
  • Studios & Distributors: Kodansha | Bandai Visual | Manga Entertainment | Production I.G. | Lionsgate Home Entertainment
  • Director: Oshii Mamoru
  • Written By: Masamune Shirow (based on the manga by)| Itô Kazunori (screenplay)
  • Run Time: 83 Mins.
  • Street Date: 8 September 2020
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K)
  • HDR Format: Dolby Vision (compatible w/HDR10)
  • Primary Audio: Japanese Dolby Atmos (compatible w/Dolby TrueHD 7.1)
  • Secondary Audio: English Dolby Atmos (compatible w/ Dolby TrueHD 7.1) | Original Japanese Audio LPCM 2.0 Stereo | English Descriptive Audio | Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (Blu-ray Only) | English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (Blu-ray Only)
  • Subtitles: English SDH | English | Spanish

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