Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mimi Woods, Richard George, Abe Lasser, Christopher Joyce, William Frederick, Michael Sorich, Ben Isaacson
Written by: Kazunori Itô, based on a manga by Masamune Shirow
Directed by: Mamoru Oshii
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: English/Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 82
Date: 03/29/1996

Ghost in the Shell (1995)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Intelligent Life

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Along with Akira, Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell was one of the most influential of all anime films. Released in a dubbed version in American theaters in the spring of 1996, it reached a wider audience than other anime without ever feeling compromised. It felt like an essential movie of its moment, and seeing it again proves that it's even more relevant today, not to mention one of the flat-out best and most entertaining anime ever made.

The movie foresaw the World Wide Web, and played around with notions of artificial intelligence versus life; who's to say which one is more real than the other? Set in 2029, the plot -- like many other anime -- is exceedingly complex, but can still be enjoyed on a moment-by-moment basis. It involves the hunt for a hacker called the Puppet Master, who has the power to enter human forms, implanting false memories and stealing real ones.

A very cool female hero, Major Motoko Kusanagi (voiced by Mimi Woods in the American version), working with Section Nine security, spearheads the search. She's a cyborg who sometimes ponders existential questions between turning invisible, jumping from buildings, and generally kicking ass. (She's also naked for a good part of the running time.) Things get more complicated as Section Six gets into the act and a huge conspiracy is uncovered.

The astounding visuals capture a sense of massive scale, of rooms and buildings gone haywire, as well as a vivid use of space and time; the film sometimes simply goes quiet for a moment of reflection. The fluid chase scenes and action scenes move with speed and grace; in one scene, a chase passes through an area flooded by a few inches of water, and the change in physicality comes through clearly. Effects like Motoko turning invisible are still impressive. A largely unrelated sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, followed in 2004.

Anchor Bay has released a 2014 "25th Anniversary" edition Ghost in the Shell Blu-ray, which comes with the English-dubbed and Japanese-subtitled versions of the film, and the audio and video transfer of the film itself is top-notch, but there are no extras. If you do the math, you'll find that the movie itself is only 19 years old; the 25 years refers to the first publication of the manga.

In 2017 -- in conjunction with the new Scarlett Johansson remake -- Anchor Bay released a steelbook edition that seems to be about the same thing as the 2014 release except for the packaging and a new, optional digital release (the digital version is in English only). Nonetheless, if you don't own this by now, grab it!

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