Tokyo Ghoul is something of a phenomenon. From the original manga by Ishida Sui came two anime adaptations, a sequel manga (with its own anime), and now a live-action film directed by Hagiwara Kentarō. The latter is my first real experience of the franchise, and considering the poor track record of live-action anime adaptations, I was a little sceptical. However, I found myself enjoying the film, despite a number of flaws.
Socially awkward college student Kaneki Ken is thrilled when his classmate, Rize, agrees to go out with him. At the end of their date, Rize takes a bite out of his neck, revealing her true identity as a ghoul; she looks human, but craves their flesh. In an attempt to kill Kaneki, she falls victim to a freak accident, and Kaneki is rushed to hospital, where a surgeon makes the controversial decision to give him Rize’s organs, thus unwittingly creating the first human-ghoul hybrid.
Kubota Masataka plays Kaneki, and he does it beautifully. At the beginning, he hits the perfect balance of shy and sweet, and by the end, he has taken Kaneki through the full emotional spectrum. His joy, his grief, his ghoulish hunger: every moment feels real and believable. His friendship with the boisterous Hide (played by Ogasawara Kai) was especially touching, and it was a shame that they had so few scenes together. I was completely invested in Kaneki’s story thanks to this incredible performance.
Kanenki’s struggle to adapt to his new life is explored well, and slowly he begins to accept what he has become. This part of the story was by far the most interesting. Unfortunately, we also follow a branch of the government known as the CCG (Commission of Counter Ghoul). It is their job to hunt down the ghouls, and while I appreciate the need for antagonistic forces, the ghouls themselves provided these, and in the end, I felt there was no need to follow the CCG so closely. On top of this, the film prefers to have certain things explained to us through news bulletins. This form of exposition is pointless, and I feel that Kusuno Ichirō’s screenplay would benefit without it.
Within the CCG, we follow Amon and his boss Mado. Played by Suzuki Nobuyuki and Oizumi Yo respectively, both characters are far too cartoonish. They are remarkably stoic, and in Mado’s case obviously evil. In addition, Amon’s long bulky coat and Mado’s shoulder-length silver hair clash with the more realistic tone set by the ghouls’ story. Strangely, Mado’s design seems faithful to the manga, so it is difficult to understand why the filmmakers felt the need to dress Amon in such a ridiculous outfit. Thankfully, there is one interesting CCG character; Kusaba (Maeno Tomoya) is new to the team and desperate to be accepted. I enjoyed his scenes a lot.
Back on the ghouls’ side, we have the characters who work at the café, Anteiku. Run by Yoshimura (Murai Kunio), a kindly older ghoul, it serves as a safe haven for those in need, such as Hinami (Sakurada Hiyori) and her mother (Aida Shōko), who has recently lost her husband. We also have the waitress, Touka (Shimizu Fumika), who is somewhat standoffish towards Kaneki but soon becomes his friend; and there is Yomo (Yanagi Shuntarō) who hardly does anything. Overall, the group is far more compelling than the CCG members, and I would have loved to see these characters and their relationships develop more.
We first meet Touka when she attacks a ghoul who has trespassed on her territory. This encounter tells us that ghouls as a group are very strong and athletic. Certain fight scenes are built around this fact, and as such are thrilling. We are even given a training montage, once Kaneki decides that he needs to learn how to defend himself and his friends. Unfortunately, the ghouls’ CG appendages (wings, tentacles, etc.) become staples of these fights, and take away a lot of the tension. The CCG’s weapons are also computer-generated, and end up looking absurd when pitted against the ghouls. In the end, it was a shame that the fight choreography was overshadowed by CGI.
Karasawa Satoru’s cinematography has a number of interesting moments. For example, the clandestine workshop where an enigmatic ghoul named Uta (Bandō Minosuke) creates masks is lit in red and black. There is even an old rocking horse to add to the sinister atmosphere. Not only was this set great, but the mask Uta creates for Kaneki is instantly iconic; its climactic reveal is handled well. In addition to that, there is Kaneki’s darkened apartment, a blood-splattered underground schoolroom, the chilling shadow of Rize’s tentacles. The film certainly has some memorable images.
The soundtrack (Don Davis, of The Matrix fame) is comprised of some rather powerful tracks that are sometimes far too similar to other film scores. The end credits are set to ‘BANKA’ by illion (Noda Yōjirō), who most famously provides vocals for Your Name. composers RADWIMPS. As such, the vocals are lovely, and the track’s melancholic tone suits the story perfectly. For me, it was easily the most impressive piece of music in the film.
Tokyo Ghoul skillfully tells the tragic story of a young man’s inner struggle, but its insistence on also following the antagonistic government officials makes for an uneven experience. Add to that the unnecessary exposition, and the strange CG weapons and appendages, and the film ends up a rather disappointing piece, though Kubota Masataka’s performance was brilliant.