The move to 4K benefits essentially any genre of film, but animation arguably stands to gain the most. This is very evident in the superb 4K Blu-ray of Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 Ghost in the Shell. One of the most influential movies of the 1990s and directly responsible for the look and feel of The Matrix franchise, Ghost in the Shell (GITS) was a commercial and critical success upon release. Over 25 years later, a 4K Blu-ray version finally launched in late 2020, which isn’t too far removed from the movie’s late 2020s future setting. Full of cyberpunk staples like cybernetic bodies and a pervasive internet, GITS was made through a combination of traditional hand-drawn animation and computer-based artwork.
To this day, GITS remains a masterpiece and doesn’t seem to have aged a single minute. If you’re into science fiction or just brilliant moviemaking, then you really need to sit down and watch this particular version of the film on the right home cinema projector and big screen combo.
While we don’t know much about the original comic books that the Ghost in the Shell series, including the 1995 movie, is based on, it’s clear the intention was to create a familiar setting. Familiar in the sense that GITS feels like a Blade Runner set in a reality even closer to ours. There’s nothing too outlandish about New Port City, where the movie takes place. It’s not Tokyo, as many people assume. In fact, in the movie proper the word “Japan” never even comes up so it’s open to debate where exactly the action takes place. Looking at New Port City, it’s loaded with signs, billboards, and ads of every description, almost all of them in Chinese, not Japanese. This is because the creative team was largely inspired by 1990s Hong Kong. They even traveled to HK to take reference photos.
The almost overwhelming level of detail that went into creating the city in GITS is the main reason going to 4K is so important. We watched 1995 GITS countless times on DVD in 480p, and now realize that at least half the detail was lost to low resolution blur. The 4K master brings out so many layers and so much finesse, it’s a night and day improvement over DVD and even streamed versions.
With 4K, appreciating the “tomorrow is the distant future” approach of GITS becomes a lot more fulfilling and pertinent. It also makes you appreciate the benefits of better technology, obviously. Although we still don’t have cybernetic replacement brains.
Lots of 4K edits of movies focus almost exclusively on getting the resolution right, but this version of GITS ups the contrast and brightness ante as well. You should watch this on an HDR-capable projector, because New Port City isn’t Blade Runner’s LA. There’s quite a lot of sunshine as well as rain, and the contrast between those two begs for a high dynamic range and good color reproduction. Scenes where main character Major Motoko Kusanagi (Atsuko Tanaka) stands in front of a glaring sun are something to behold if you have the right setup. Mind you, all of this with the disc not officially sporting the “4K UHD HDR” sticker on the box. We’re not sure what the official HDR support rating is for this version, but it certainly looks spectacular.
Also, make sure you listen with good speakers or a pair of quality headphones, because Artisan and Lionsgate didn’t just carefully transfer the visuals, they also put a lot of effort into getting the audio right. GITS has tons of action, with brilliantly orchestrated gun fights and scenes of characters masterfully handling weapons. The old DVD versions were OK for that, but with this release we also understand how much we missed out on. Sound is now punchy and powerful. When large caliber rounds shatter a vehicle or gradually pulverize a support column that the Major is hiding behind, you feel all of it.
Ghost in the Shell 4K 2020 provides a conclusive demonstration of the superior experience provided by physical media and proper home cinema setups. This isn’t something you could get from your phone or laptop. And the same applies to the often misunderstood but still excellent 2017 cinematic version of Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson, which you should also check out if you can.