Wednesday, September 9, 2020

GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995) (Lionsgate 4K UltraHD Review/Comparison)


Label: Lionsgate
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 83 Minutes
Video: Dolby Vision, HDR10, 2160p UHD, 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: Japanese 2.0 LPCM and Dolby Atmos, English Dolby Atmos, English Descriptive Audio with Optional English, Spanish, English SDH Subtitles
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Voice Cast:  Atsuko Tanaka, Richard Epcar, Akio Ôtsuka, Tamio Ôki, Iemasa Kayumi, Kôichi Yamadera, Tesshô Genda, Richard Barnes, Steve Blum, Steve Bulen

Japanese animated film Ghost In The Shell (1995) is based on the same-titled manga comic book from Japanese writer and illustrator Shirow Masamune, the dystopian tale set in the not-too-distant year of 2029. The populations of the world have been united through a worldwide digital network that their brains are plugged into,augmenting their minds and bodies with cybernetic enhancements that tie them into this network allowing them to access the internet with their thoughts. People are even shedding their bodies of flesh for titanium cybernetic bodies that they call "shells", these construct house their soul and collective consciousness, what they refer to as their "ghosts". With all things moving onto the internet the governments of the world develop cyber-crime units to clamp down on cyber-terrorism and hackers. In Tokyo, Japan female cybernetic government special agent Major Motoko Kusanagi who is assigned tot he counter-cyber-terrorist organization Public Security Section 9, who are in pursuit of a new worldwide threat, a mysterious cyber-hacker known as the Puppet Master who is able to ghost-hack into the cybernetic implants of human hosts and to control their actions, carrying out a series of assassinations. 

The film follows Kusanagi and her special ops team in their pursuit of the Puppet Master, and along the way were treated to a dazzling dystopian landscapes of new tech and old town Tokyo with gorgeous visuals and thought provoking sci-fi elements that meditate on the mind-blowing questions about the very nature of sentience  and identity, where the body ends and where artificial intelligence begins. The film was actually quite influential with it's cyberpunk mark evident in everything from The Matrix to HBO's Westworld and beyond. 

Audio/Video: Ghost In The Shell (1995) arrives on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray from Lionsgate, presenting the film in 2160p UHD and 1080p HD framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The animated film with digital enhancement looks terrific, the cell animation is well-saturated and nicely defined, though there are times when the animation leans a bit soft, but that's the animation style and no fault of the transfer. Not sure what the elements were used for this scan but it blows away the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray from Anchor Bay, which is my only source for comparison, that release was dark, dingy and strangely window-boxed. This new UHD is quite pleasing with it's clean animation lines, plus it's brighter and the grit and debris previously noticeable have been cleaned-up, maybe a bit too clean, as there looks to have been some excessive DNR applied, the grain is only faintly visible when at all, but somehow this de-graining does not bother me they way it would if this were a live-action film. On the UHD presentation the HDR color-grading offers additional depth and warmth to the primaries with a notable increase in the black levels. Check out a Blu-ray comparison at the bottom of the review pitting the Anchor Bay Blu-ray against this new Lionsgate release - spoiler alert - it is no contest, this new release knocks it out f the park, and the UHD presentation with the HDR is even more unfair.

Audio on the disc comes by way of the original Japanese 2.0 stereo in uncompressed  LPCM, plus we get a new Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD on the Blu-ray) remixes in both English and Japanese, with optional English subtitles. The Atmos tracks make good use of the channels to provide and immersive experience for this animated sci-fi classic, and I didn't detect any issues with hiss, pops or distortion during my viewings. There is also an English Descriptive Audio option for the visually impaired.

Extras on the disc include a brand new audio commentary with Animation Writer and English Language Scriptwriter Mary Claypool, Animation Producer and Writer Eric Calderon, Richard Epcar (Voice of “Batou”), and Animation Historian and Critic Charles Solomon.  

We also get the new nineteen-minute featurette 'Accessing Section 9: 25 Years into the Future' with Mary Claypool, Les Claypool III, Eric Calderon, Richard Epcar, Justin Sevakis and more, with the extra giving insight into the popularity og anime in the U.S. in the early nineties, how groundbreaking the film was, and plenty of discussion about crafting the English dub track and the sound effects for the film. 

Additionally we get a 10-min appreciation for the background painting used in the film with 'Landscapes & Dreamscapes: The Art and Architecture of Ghost in the Shell', plus a 28-min archival making of featurette and a pair of theatrical trailers for the film. The accompanying Blu-ray features the same extras with exception of the 27-minute 'Production Report & Digital Works' which is exclusive to the Blu-ray disc on the set. 

The two-disc release arrives in a dual-hubbed black keepcase with a single sided sleeve of artwork featuring  and eye-popping artwork from illustrator Martin Ansin which is also featured on the accompanying slipcover. Inside you will find a code for a 4K digital copy of the film, not all the extras are carried over to the digital, we only get the pair of new featurettes. 

Special Features:

- NEW Full-length audio commentary of Ghost in the Shell with Mary Claypool (Animation Writer and English Language Scriptwriter), Eric Calderon (Animation Producer and Writer), Richard Epcar (Voice of “Batou”), and Charles Solomon (Animation Historian and Critic)
- NEW “Accessing Section 9: 25 Years into the Future” Featurette (19 min) 
- NEW “Landscapes & Dreamscapes: The Art and Architecture of Ghost in the Shell” Featurette (11 min) 
- Production Report & Digital Works Featuretes (Archival) (27 min) (Blu-ray Only) 
- Theatrical Trailer (Archival) (4 min) 
- 4K UHD Digital Code 

Blu-ray Screenshot Comparison
Top: Anchor Bay Blu-ray (2014) 
Bottom: Lionsgate Blu-ray (2020)