Film

'Ghost in the Shell 25th Anniversary Edition' Is a Classic Anime Given Paltry Extras Treatment

Ghost in the Shell remains an excellent milestone in anime, but this barebones release is devoid of the extras that would truly make this edition special.


Ghost in the Shell

Director: Mamoru Oshii
Length: 82 minutes
Studio: Manga Entertainment
Year: 1995
Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
UK Release Date: Import
US Release Date: 2014-09-23

With a Blu-ray release entitled “Ghost in the Shell 25th Anniversary Edition, audiences are led to believe two things. First, the title suggests that there is something very special about this re-release and audiences will thrill not just to the feature film itself, but a plethora of bonus features. Secondly, the title would imply that the film being featured on this disc is, in fact, 25 years old.

Sadly, neither of these things happen to be true.

The feature film Ghost in the Shell was released in November of 1995, just a bit shy of nineteen years prior to this Blu-ray’s September 2014 release. Could a movie so packed with incredible technology possibly be misleading you due to a broken calculator? Well, no. The 25 years that this disc celebrates started its count with the May 1989 start of the franchise in the form of Japanese comic books (Manga). I would love to tell you that there is some incredible documentary on the disc that traces the saga of this impressive franchise and accounts for the celebration of twenty-five years of existence, but I can’t. Unless you count the (admittedly welcome) ability to watch the feature film either with Japanese audio and English subtitles or English audio, there are absolutely no bonus features on this Blu Ray whatsoever.

The closest thing to an extra is the inlay booklet which features an interview with director Mamoru Oshii and an article entitled “The World of Ghost in the Shell”. It is this latter document that explores the franchise on the whole and clarifies just what this Blu-ray release is the 25th anniversary of. While both articles are welcome and provide good background and reads, the fact that the disc itself comes to us in a “bare bones” edition is a real travesty for fans of the film. This release almost feels like a small booklet with the bonus feature being the actual film in the back. Hardly worth the $25 retail price tag.

This is, of course, a real shame because Ghost in the Shell is an excellent, prescient, and influential film telling an ambitious story with striking visuals and a surprising and complex plot. The film follows a daring female lead through a dangerous and intriguing world, aided by sharp animation and early CGI. Not only is Ghost in the Shell a close runner up to 1988’s Akira as one of the best Manga-based anime films (the Manga for both sagas began in the same publication: Young Magazine), but serves as an animated prototype for 1999’s The Matrix.

Incidentally, The Matrix’s borrowing from Ghost in the Shell is not some wild accusation, but an admission from the later film’s very creators. When Andy and Lana (then Larry) Wachowski pitched the idea of The Matrix to producer Joel Silver, they screened Oshii’s film and said “We wanna do that for real.” There are indeed many scenes and moments in this animated film that resemble the live action Matrix so closely that a case for co-authorship might be made.

However, Ghost in the Shell follows its own exciting plot, which was not directly remade by the Wachowskis. Major Motoko Kusanagi is a cyborg (whose human-to-bionic parts ratio makes her status as robot or human open for debate) working for the Internal Bureau of Investigations’ Section 9 unit. While her special talents such as being able to remove her clothing and technologically camouflage herself, becoming effectively invisible are used on many cases, she is soon assigned to the trail of a mysterious and villainous virus called “The Puppet Master”.

Due to the year 2029’s combination of humanity and computerized parts (people often interface with computers via wet-wired access points in the back of the neck, much like in The Matrix), The Puppet Master threatens to not only take over computers, but cyborgs and humans as well. What begins as a police crime drama with lots of action elements quickly becomes a surreal (and often violent) journey through the landscape of intelligent computers as the story intelligently asks the questions of “What is truly human?” and “What constitutes life?”

The answers can be both enchanting and deeply disturbing, but always exciting.

Occasionally Ghost in the Shell shows its age and the added CGI elements, while appropriate for the story, also help make this film feel more dated than it might have otherwise. Animation technology has come so far so quickly that it is hard to go back to these early attempts. That said, the hand-drawn animation is virtually top notch, allowing Oshii to evoke pathos from the characters even (and especially) in many of the most silent moments.

On the flip side, home video technology has advanced greatly in the 19 years since Ghost in the Shell first graced screens. Considering the fact that generally the bigger the film, the better the bonus features are, fans are not wrong to want more from a re-release of this influential and highly successful animated movie. Not a single (on-screen) interview, documentary, commentary track or even movie trailer can be found on this disc.

That said, the film does speak for itself and stands up quite well, regardless of which anniversary this release is truly celebrating. Whether or not this is the release for Ghost in the Shell fans to get, the movie itself remains a true classic of the genre for a reason.

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