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Foreign Film Thursdays: A Review of Tokyo Ghoul

When the first season of Tokyo Ghoul first debuted, I was brought in by the interesting concept and an art-style very attuned to my anime preferences. It was polished, clean, and very open to bloodshed, following a natural progression from the classic vampire myths: Ghouls.

Individuals who look and seem like humans, but hide a dark secret. Ghouls can only nourish themselves by eating human flesh and carry powers within that are a dire threat to human bystanders.

I enjoyed the first season, but was apprehensive when I heard a Tokyo Ghoul live-action adaptation had been made. I’ve been burned before, after all, and I had no doubts it’d amount to another less than stellar adaptation of a popular anime or manga.

The 2017 Japanese dark fantasy action horror film, as suggested, is based on the manga series of the same name by Sui Ishida. The film is directed by Kentaro Hagiwara and stars Masataka Kubota and Fumika Shimizu. I am familiar with neither the director nor the cast involved, which means, more-or-less, I’m in uncharted waters. The film did well enough to warrant a sequel: Tokyo Ghoul S premiered in June 2019.

The story in Tokyo Ghoul follows a young man named Ken Kaneki, who is smitten with a girl named Rize Kamishiro, who he later discovers is a ghoul. On a date, Rize goes on the attack, planning to consume Kaneki, but, in the process, crushes herself and injuring Kaneki. After Ken Kaneki wakes up at a hospital, it is revealed that Rize’s organs were transferred to him in a last ditch effort to save his life. Now, like the ghouls shrouding dark alleyways and people’s nightmares, Ken Kaneki must also consume flesh in-order to survive. The film follows our lead as he comes to terms with his fate and delves into the deep underbelly of the ghoul society, while being targeted by ghoul hunters in the process.

Something I was afraid would happen with the live-adaptation of Tokyo Ghoul was fueled by the pitfalls had with the Fullmetal Alchemist live-action adaptation. That film, like this one, has a faithfulness to the source material, but merely tried to cram and wedge too much into a feature-length film. Honestly, as much as I enjoyed the first season of Tokyo Ghoul, one of its setbacks was how fast it seemed to glaze over aspects I would’ve been interested in seeing explored more carefully, such as the relationship between Ken and Touka, a young Ghoul he meets at a coffee shop and eventually builds a complicated rapport with. Thankfully though, this film doesn’t try to cover the whole first season of Tokyo Ghoul. It ends around where Episode Eight (of Twelve) concludes (or Chapter 28 of the manga) and cuts out a lot of characters and scenes before it reaches the mark.

Although this might worry many of you, I believe this was the right decision for the live-action film. Some of the aspects discarded with are interchangeable enough that I don’t think they interfere with the contained narrative of this film, and, in-fact, had they been included, I think they would have muddied the waters. These characters and the remainder of episodes for Season One, I’d hope, are intended to be touched upon in Tokyo Ghoul S. In some respects, I think that’s something the Tokyo Ghoul live-action film does better than the actual series. The scope is narrower and more concise, allotting them the chance to make other characters (like the Hannibal Lecter – esque ghoul who wants to consume Kaneki as a delicacy or the demented and monstrous Jason whose role plays a significant part in the later part of the season) be built toward hereafter.

Aside from what they take away, almost all of Tokyo Ghoul’s scenes can be traced back, with very few deviations to mention. Although Mado Kureo (a main Ghoul hunter in the series) might have came off more as a cosplay of the character than I would have liked (the manga’s creator had great praise for the look, however).

The special-effects aren’t bad. I can remember when the Fullmetal Alchemist film was released and the director proclaimed its techniques as rivaling the best of what Hollywood has to offer. That wasn’t accurate, and wouldn’t be an accurate expectation to have for Tokyo Ghoul. The special-effects are decent, at times the tentacles flailing around can even look a little off-putting, but, other-times, like when they’re depicting ghouls and their more elaborate powers (or kagunes), it can appear pretty impressive, budgetary constraints considered.

The acting is solid. I wouldn’t say I had any actor or actress, in-particular, who stole the show, but I can’t say I had any big issues with the performances, other than the occasional cheesy line ramming in its ham-fisted head.

The action-scenes are fun, but limited. They’re more dependent on the spectacle and special-effects than any elaborate choreography.

The story holds well, offering the same intriguing concept as its source material. If I had seen this film with no prior recollection of the anime or manga series, I would be singling it out as the definitive aspect about this film. It shows our main-protagonist dealt an intriguing hand (the comparison I made with a person being transformed into a vampire still holds) and the strange, dark, and fleshed out (no pun intended) world of Tokyo Ghoul engages in this film alone.

Tokyo Ghoul is a decent film and an above-average adaptation. Honestly, the worst I can say about it is that it doesn’t offer anything that improves or builds on from the source-material. The dialogue and almost all the scenes are almost exact live-action replicas (although the story’s A-Z sees many of the letters in-between left aside for later). The special-effects and action-scenes are passable, but they’re, at best, an adequate representation of the more aesthetically appeasing anime series. As solid a live-action adaptation as it was, there wasn’t a whole lot of reason for it and there’s even less of a reason to offer a recommendation when there is such better alternatives available.

Placement on The Lists: The Decents

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