Tokyo Ghoul Movie Review
Written by Rachel Knightley
Released by Anime Ltd.
Directed by Kentarô Hagiwara
Written by Sui Ishida (manga) and Ichirô Kusuno (screenplay)
2017, 119 minutes, Not yet rated
Released on 31st January 2018
Masataka Kubota as Kaneki Ken
Fumika Shimizu as Kirishima Tôka
Nobuyuki Suzuki as Amon Kôtarô
Hiyori Sakurada as Fueguchi Hinami
If you’ve ever felt someone is out of your league or their interest is too good to be true, the opening of Kentaro Hagiwara’s slick and touching feature debut Tokyo Ghoul will not make you feel any better.
In an alternate contemporary Tokyo, ghouls – human-looking beings who can stomach nothing but human flesh so must kill to survive – live secretly among humans. This adaptation of Sui Ishida’s manga stars Masataka Kubota as a painfully shy student who gets partially eaten by his date. He survives only through her timely accidental death, followed by an unconsented organ transplantation at the scene. He wakes up half ghoul, and must piece together who and what he has become and how he is going to live. Stumbling across a café community that is a sanctuary for ghouls, he begins to learn how the specialist human police (‘doves’) trying to stamp out the ghouls have abused their moral high-ground so there is little to distinguish hunter from hunted.
Explorations of free will, fear and personal growth are eloquent but unobtrusive; there’s more to this than the action and effects that cumulatively overwhelm, without necessarily convincing. The sexual undertones of teenage friendships, and of full-on tentacle penetration, begin to grate before the end and result in some sentimentality around a ghoul death that the story couldn’t quite carry. What shines through is the unpreachy morality, with surprising and enjoyable echoes of Les Miserables in the imagery of the Doves’ obsessive persecution of the ghouls. There’s also a compelling character arc for our hero who first hides his one red ghoul eye as an infection behind a plaster, then comes to wear, own and celebrate it as part of his growing strength and self-acceptance.
The storytelling is pacey and streamlined, until the final crescendo. After that, good will starts to fall away as the fight scenes become more and more CGI-happy. A growing number of deep and meaningful speeches, usually made by someone bleeding to death, combine with the overreliance on effects to lose much of the personality this film has established. It’s a shame the whole thing starts to apologise for itself in this way, as we are left more with the impression of overreliance on CGI and speechifying than the thoughtful and good-humoured uses of its tropes to talk about how easily an in-group makes a monster of the outsider, and that persecution is ruled by their own fear. A good bridge from mainstream teen movie to horror, perhaps less satisfying to horror fans wondering what manga’s all about.