When shy college kid Ken Kaneki (Masataka Kubota) plucks up the courage to ask out Rize Kamishiro (Yu Aoi) he doesn’t realise how his actions will change his life forever. You see Rize is a ghoul, a creature who survives only by consuming human flesh, and Kaneki’s interest in her has made him the next dish on the menu. When their first date doesn’t quite go the way Kaneki had planned, he ends up with a missing eye and several holes pierced through his body from her Kagune. He’s on death’s door, but after a freak accident leads to Rize’s demise he is able to survive thanks to an organ transplant…from the very person who tried to kill him, making him a human/ghoul hybrid.
Tokyo Ghoul needs little introduction; since its release in 2014, the manga and anime have become hugely popular in Japan and abroad. The dark depiction of its unlikely hero and his struggle with his identity appealed to many, so it’s difficult to see this live-action and not compare it to its much-loved origins. Luckily, director Kentaro Hagiwara knows what he’s doing, and approaches the story with precision and respect for the original. Of course, things aren’t exactly the same, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Hagiwara skilfully adapts the story, tailoring the narrative so that it focuses on Kaneki’s transformation, the world of the Ghouls, and the battle they face against the Commission of Counter Ghoul task force. The story flows well, and features a compelling narrative that’ll satisfy fans of the franchise thanks to its faithfulness to the manga. It sets things up well for what’s to come in the inevitable sequel(s), and while this adaptation is unlikely to bring that many surprises for fans of the franchise, it is enjoyable.
For all its gore and action, the Tokyo Ghoul live-action is a character piece, and the cast do well with their performances. But it is Masataka Kubota who stands out the most. He is a great choice for Kaneki; he suits the character, and brings a certain vulnerability to the role. His acting style certainly suits Kaneki more than Light (yes, he was Light in the Death Note TV remake…don’t watch it), and that came as a nice surprise. For time purposes the character’s timeline has been sped up in the film, and by its end Kaneki is much more bad-ass than he was at the same point in the manga, but this works in the film’s favour. You can’t have a great action-sequence if the hero can’t get a few good punches in, after all.
The fight sequences are a lot of fun, especially when it comes to Kaneki’s training with Toka (Fumika Shimizu). The combination of excellent choreography and visuals makes these scenes fierce and powerful, but the biggest hurdle that those moments, and indeed most of the film, have is with the Kagunes. Aesthetically they are a mixed bag, Rize and Toka’s kagunes look good, but Kaneki and Ryoko’s often look cartoonish. Given their purpose as weapons made out of flesh, the Kagunes were always going to be the biggest challenge for the live-action adaptation. Given the film’s budget they do look better than expected, and their semi-realism helps, but it isn’t perfect.
For the first in a live-action franchise, Tokyo Ghoul is a good appetiser for what’s to come. It sets up the characters well, and with its excellent cast it’ll be exciting to see how they approach their character’s development. But what’ll be the most interesting is to see where the writers decide to take the tale from here, and with so many stories to choose from it’s clear that this franchise is only just getting started. For now, we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with this tiny morsel. Reviewed by Roxy Simons
Tokyo Ghoul is released in cinemas on January 31 in Japanese with English subtitles
Director: Kentaro Hagiwara
Release: 31 January 2018
From: All the Anime
Format: Theatrical Release
Age Rating: 15