Reviewby Gabriella Ekens,
All Ken Kaneki wanted was to go on a date. Unfortunately for him, he lives in a world infested with “ghouls”: vampire-like creatures that subsist on a diet of human flesh. His date turns out to be one of these creatures, who was only putting on a show of affection to lure him in. He survives the encounter via a stroke of luck – his date dies in a freak accident, while he's only left short a few vital organs. To save his life, the doctor performs an emergency transplant. His "date's" bits are inside of him now, and as time passes, Kaneki finds himself developing some strange cravings. Newly inducted into a ghoul's parasitic existence, it's time for our hero to test the limits of his humanity. But can there even be heroes in a story where everyone preys to survive?
Tokyo Ghoul has been one of the biggest manga hits of the past few years. As these big hits often do, the franchise recently received a live action film adaptation. These types of movies have been a mixed bag in the past, so I didn't harbor many expectations going into this film. I'm a fan of Tokyo Ghoul as both a manga and an anime, so could they possibly capture the series' gruesome beauty using flesh-and-blood human beings?
Well, coming out of it, I can say that the film is a very faithful of the manga's first three volumes - material that covers Kaneki's transformation into a ghoul up until his confrontation with CCG operatives Mado and Amon. It's close to a scene-by-scene retelling of the source, albeit with some parts compressed or reshuffled for the sake of this new format. For example, they start interspersing the CCG stuff way earlier than in other versions to prepare for this film's climax. The biggest deviation from the source involves this climax, and it's really just a matter of scale. While it hits all the same points emotionally, Kaneki's encounter with Amon is (for lack of a better word) “badass-ified.” While in the original, Kaneki was still pretty solidly a wimp at this point, he gives Amon a run for his money in this version. Again, it doesn't really make a difference – I assume that they didn't want to conclude the film without some the main hero kicking some ass – but I found it amusing. It's definitely the best action in the film, which otherwise leans more towards drama and horror. Tokyo Ghoul is at its core a character piece, and this film knows that, barring this last-minute injection of bombast.
In general, I was impressed with the film's aesthetics. Like most live action anime adaptations, this film doesn't seem to have had a huge budget. Fortunately, this material doesn't require sweeping vistas or constant SFX work (yet), so the visuals can be carried by strong direction and set design. On that front, the film is mostly a series of interiors, but they're all attractive to the eye as well as expressive of what's going on in-story. When Kaneki huddles in terror in his apartment, the scene is claustrophobic and cold, diffused by this nauseating blue light and uncanny shadows. But when he arrives at Anteiku, the candlelight is warm and inviting, and those same shadows are imbued with a sensation of comfortable safety. Expressive lighting is a cost-effective way of establishing mood in a film, and Tokyo Ghoul makes good use of these techniques.
The cinematography itself is also pretty interesting. That's not to say that it's showy – they don't insert crazy bullet time shots for no reason – but it avoids a lot of the more stock (read: lazy and boring) techniques that I see in a lot of this stuff, like overreliance on shot-reverse shot in conversations or constant facial close-ups. Instead, the camera conveys a lot of information without cuts, via movement or changes in focus. This discussion may seem technical, but these techniques make the film look interesting without getting flashy for its own sake. It's also not just a copy of the anime's cinematography, which was itself very nice. In my interview with Director Kentarō Hagiwara, he told me that he deliberately avoided watching the anime beforehand and focused his efforts on conveying the feel of mangaka Sui Ishida's illustration style. I'd say that he succeeds –this type of cinematography conveys some of the abstract fluidity of Ishida's drawings, while the lighting evokes his distinct color palettes.
As expected, the biggest visual hurdle is the kagune, which can be a mixed bag. They never quite look like they're part of the same world as the characters, but they do move in a way that I find plausible for writhing flesh weapons. To be honest, I didn't really expect for them to succeed at the first point, so I'm content with them nailing the latter. I especially enjoyed seeing how they realized Touka's. In the manga, her kagune always just looked like a flurry of black blobs, so I was wondering how they'd make it look like something that's supposed to be flesh. They turn it into this sort of jagged meat flap instead, and I realize that this description doesn't sound good, but I thought that it worked. At least they actually adapted the kagune so that they look quasi-realistic. It's not like that Parasyte movie.
The film's sound design is also worth noting. It's uniformly excellent, doing a lot to get us into Kaneki's headspace. Most of his hunger and disgust – feelings central to the film's tension – are conveyed primarily through sound. On a related note, most of the film's ickiness comes through aurally. This movie doesn't shy away from Tokyo Ghoul's characteristic gore, and this audio track puts you right up into the meat of things. Like the cinematography, this is a subtle element that really makes the film work. Stuff like this doesn't really stand out until you imagine how much worse the film could have been without it.
The performances were all strong. My favorites were Masataka Kubota as Kaneki Ken, Fumika Shimizu as Touka Kirishima, and Yo Oizumi as Kureo Mado. Kubota (already a well known actor) displays the emotional range necessary for depicting Kaneki, whose demeanor alternates between shy, desperate, and vicious. He also delivers a slightly more comic Kaneki than we've seen before, but I enjoyed that. If I have one gripe with Tokyo Ghoul, it's that it can be oppressively dour at times, so I appreciated the necessary silliness brought about by rendering this material in live action. Shimizu is a great Touka, nailing her hard edges. Mado is the character I was most worried about going in. He's the most “wacky cartoon man” of this initial crop of characters, what with his white hair and one giant eye, but they do sort of manage to make him look like a person who might actually exist. Oizumi does a great job at conveying both his manic viciousness and strange charisma. Hiyori Sakurada's Hinami was also solid. The actress is young, but she conveys the two modes required of the character – kindness and terror. Other cast members were also good, but they haven't had their moment to shine yet.
Overall, this Tokyo Ghoul movie is a strong adaptation of beloved material to a challenging medium. I'd say its ideal audience is people who haven't encountered Tokyo Ghoul before. If you couldn't get into the manga or anime, I doubt that this version – the same story told a third time – will convert you. At the same time, if you're a superfan, there aren't any surprises here besides the novelty of a new version. For my part, I enjoyed it a lot, but I was also counting down story beats the entire way through. The good news is that they're supposed to be angling for a franchise with these films, and I look forward to seeing their take on the parts where anime and manga versions differ considerably. Maybe they'll even make it to Tokyo Ghoul:re? But I'm getting ahead of myself. Next up is Jason, and that's going to be a trip. The live action Tokyo Ghoul franchise has barely gotten started, but it's already bared its fangs as a worthwhile adaptation of the material. It only gets meatier from here. Bon appétit!
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Faithful adaptation of the manga/anime, strong adaptation of three volumes into a single movie's story, aesthetically inspired production, strong performances from central cast
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