Tokyo Ghoul: The Movie Review [Spoiler-Free]

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A look at one of 2017's much-hyped anime/manga live-action movie adaptations and a series that's been a critically-acclaimed manga best-seller in both North America and Japan.

A few years ago at a Japanese bookstore in my area, I browsed through the pages of an issue of Weekly Young Jump & discovered a horror series filled with tension, and the main character that looked meek yet was deceptively strong. Fast forward to 2017 and that series has become a global hit, with its stylish mix of horror, action, & character development. Like other notable anime/manga series over the past few years, Sui Ishida’s Tokyo Ghoul got the live-action movie treatment. A lot of hype was generated for the movie as it premiered at Anime Expo 2017 (with the main lead, Masataka Kubota, making an appearance there), almost a month before its debut in Japan. Funimation Films brought the film over to America 2 weeks before Halloween 2017, and I decided to see for myself whether the movie did the series justice.

A Gory-Filled Introduction to a Tragic World

Tokyo Ghoul Live Action

For anyone who doesn’t know about Tokyo Ghoul, the series centers around a university student named Ken Kaneki, a half-human/half-Ghoul hybrid. In modern-day Tokyo, creatures that feed on humans are known as Ghouls, and they walk among society. They look and act human like everyone else, despite their terrifying nature. One day, Kaneki meets a girl named Rize Kamishiro and dates her, much to his delight. Rize turns out to be a Ghoul and tries to eat him. A violent accident leads to Rize’s death and her Ghoul organs being transplanted into Kaneki. Tokyo Ghoul chronicles Kaneki’s journey as he learns about his newfound nature, other Ghouls, and an organization of human beings called the CCG (Commission of Counter Ghoul) who wish to exterminate all Ghouls. The movie covers the introduction arc of the manga (Volumes 1-3) and highlights all the important characters that showed up during that time.

Bloody Sweet Interactions

The first thing I will say about the movie is that it captures the character interactions from the manga well. Seeing the moment where Rize reveals her Ghoul self and taunts Kaneki made me smirk. Many of the iconic conversations from the series are there. Fans will smile when they see moments like Kaneki and female protagonist Touka Kirishima talking to each other because it feels like seeing the source material all over again. Tokyo Ghoul prides itself in developing characters through their interactions with one another, and I think the movie does a good job in showing this aspect from the manga. You can also expect to see some dismembered body parts and a lot of blood flowing from violent interactions, just like the manga, albeit a bit toned down.

Characters Look Frighteningly Real

Tokyo Ghoul Live Action

Speaking of the characters, everyone in the cast totally looked the part of the respective characters they played. Masataka Kubota was a stellar Kaneki. He displayed the timidness and hidden ferociousness that makes the character one of the manga’s more complex protagonists in the 1st place. Fumika Shimizu, the actress who plays Touka, did an amazing job. She spoke and kicked ass like the badass the character is. Yu Aoi’s role as Rize was also done well despite her few appearances in the film. Hiyori Sakurada, the actress who plays young Ghoul Hinami Fueguchi, was perfect and seeing her innocence shattered a la the manga made me want to embrace her. The other characters like Yomo, Uta, Nishiki Nishio, Hide Nagachika, and Yoshimura get their meaningful amount of screen time too.

But the real stars of the movie, in my opinion, were the antagonists: the 2 CCG Investigators, Amon Kotaro and Kureo Mado. Nobuyuki Suzuki, the actor who played Amon, did a convincing job in portraying the stoic-ness that made Amon the perfect rival for Kaneki. Yo Oizumi was creepy and full of madness like Mado himself. The movie did things a little differently than the manga, in which they introduced the CCG right at the start. It was neat to see members of the CCG doing their jobs and a nice contrast from witnessing Kaneki’s trauma throughout the movie.

Isn’t This Supposed to Be Scary Though?

Tokyo Ghoul Live Action

Although Tokyo Ghoul hits high notes in important areas, it hits one huge sour note in an area that Japanese cinema often has trouble with – CG effects. In Tokyo Ghoul, Ghouls fight with an organ that comes out of their bodies called kagune. Kagune are usually colored red and shaped in ways where they can be used as weapons. The CCG counters them with quinque, weapons made out of the kagune of dead ghouls they kill. In the movie, the CG kagune and quinque look a bit too out of place. This had a side effect of making a few tense moments hilarious. It’s like implementing Saturday morning cartoon animation into a serious drama.

Also, a couple of Kaneki’s major battles were made to be more dramatic than in the manga. During both battles, Kaneki’s Ghoul side comes out in full force, but there were moments during those sequences where he was made to look very demented in order to generate a reaction from the audience. The manga played those sequences off with little melodrama. For instance, in the movie, the unstable Kaneki gleefully licks the faces of people his human side is afraid of killing; this doesn’t happen in the manga. I just shook my head in confusion and laughed over those parts. I get that the movie wanted to show how hard it is to balance being both human and a Ghoul, but it felt forced.

Worth Taking a Bite Into?

Tokyo Ghoul Live Action Poster

Tokyo Ghoul is a good movie despite its mishaps. I just don’t see it appealing to many fans that aren’t into the series in the first place. This was a movie made for fans who enjoyed the anime and/or manga, despite being a decent introduction to the lore for a casual audience. Would I recommend it to a fan of horror in general? It depends since the series has that “shonen” aspect with regards to power-ups, training sequences, and battles galore.

Plus the ending of the Tokyo Ghoul movie made it feel like a sequel is needed to complement or possibly complete the story. The problem is that any plans for a sequel are in flux due to Shimizu quitting acting after production of the movie was over, leaving the role of Touka up for grabs.

If you’re a veteran of watching live-action anime/manga adaptations, Tokyo Ghoul isn’t anything special. But it’s somewhat scary how likable a simple look at darkness can be at times when the focus and effort are there. For this particular adaptation, it’s more than enough.

8

The Good

  • Excellent casting Cons
  • Captures the character interactions that made the manga a hit

The Bad

  • CG use for certain scenes makes the movie feel awkward at times
  • Forced melodrama causes some unintentional humor, not fear
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Tony Yao

A NYC-born Chinese-American who wonders why everyone loves his country's cartoons. Believes that he was a Japanese girl in a past life because he prefers husbandos over waifus. You can read his ramblings about psychological aspects in manga at http://www.mangatherapy.com.

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