The original Ghost In The Shell was a state-of-the-art animation set in a near-future Hong Kong which artfully explored notions of humanity, artificial intelligence and whether or not it was okay to fancy cartoon cyborg-assassin ladies so long as they were really hot. It also featured some unexpectedly accomplished (and bloody) action sequences at a time when the West was still largely unfamiliar with adult animation aside from Fritz The Cat and When The Wind Blows, making its neon-lit chases and stylish ultraviolence
a bit of a revelation.
Ghost In The Shell 2.0 is the same film, only with a serious visual and audio overhaul conducted in 2008. Oddly, the extras don’t cover the work behind the
reissue. There’s just a basic run-through of the original production, but the untouched version is included for those keen to draw comparisons (another
oversight – there’s no option for Picturein- Picture dual viewing). Basically, the entire film’s been given a digital scrub, meaning the colours pop with new depth and the image clarity is worthy of HD. On top of that, a handful of sequences have been remade entirely using 3D computer animation, like the opening moments featuring sexy cyborg Kusanagi perching on a rooftop preparing for an acrobatic hit, and several exterior chase scenes. The new scenes look expensive and are undeniably pretty, but they do remove some of the character of the earlier animation. There’s a personality to the jagged edits and angular style of the original (an unexpected life, like the one found in the machine that gives the film its name) that the softer, grander additions can’t capture. And it’s this personality and sensibility which makes the film essential even now. There’s a real poignancy to the meditations on memory and self. One scene sees a mind-hack victim weep as his implanted memories are untangled during interrogation,
his wife and daughter washed away like Rutger Hauer’s tears at the end of the clearly influential Blade Runner. Watching with wide-eyed sympathy is the almost entirely synthetic Kusanagi, wracked with existential angst over the question of her own humanity. The thinky stuff is at least as much of a draw as the excellent action. The film’s
exploration of identity and self climaxes as the elite hacker pursued by Kusanagi and her secret service team is unveiled, leading to a brilliantly shadowy, atmospheric showdown of both smarts and spectacle.
New scenes don’t quite cut it but the quality of this version makes it a must for anyone who ever saw it on VHS.