Shelf Life Tokyo Ghoul: The Movie
by Paul Jensen,
A few months ago, a friend of mine mentioned that there was a badminton-themed anime in the works. I assumed he was joking, but it's totally happening, it's called Hanebad!, and it's coming out next month. I assume there will also be a series about lawn darts later this year. Welcome to Shelf Life.
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Tokyo Ghoul: The Movie
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Shelf Life Reviews
We're taking a trip into the world of live-action adaptations this week, courtesy of Tokyo Ghoul. How well does this popular horror series carry over to a new medium?
This movie covers most of Tokyo Ghoul's big early plot points. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, the story takes place in an alternate version of the modern world where mostly-human creatures called ghouls live on the fringes of society, killing and eating regular people in order to survive. Ken Kaneki is a bookish college student who doesn't have much interest in the conflict between the two species until he goes out on a date with a girl who just happens to be a ghoul. He's mortally wounded when the girl attacks him, but miraculously survives when the girl is killed in a freak accident. The bad news is that some of her organs are transplanted into Kaneki in order to keep him alive, and he begins transforming into a ghoul. Trapped between the human and ghoul worlds, Kaneki has to find a way to survive while dealing with his new, cannibalistic cravings.
For the most part, the movie retains the main strengths of the other versions of the series. The predator-prey dynamic between ghouls and humans is naturally full of moral ambiguity and interesting ethical questions. Neither side of the equation is presented as being entirely good or bad; some humans can be just as monstrous as the most ravenous ghouls, and some of the ghouls are just trying to survive as peacefully as they can. If you enjoy stories that don't draw clear-cut lines between heroes and villains, Tokyo Ghoul should be on your radar in one form or another. There's also a nice balance between action and horror here; Kaneki's ill-fated date night taps into that instinctive fear of being chased by a predator, while some of the movie's later fight scenes feature kinetic, head-to-head action that gets the blood pumping nicely. It's an appealing blend of genres, and one that works just as well in a one-off movie as it does in a more episodic format.
Of course, as a relatively faithful adaptation, the movie also inherits some of the original's weaknesses. Tokyo Ghoul lends itself to big, intense emotions, ranging from mortal terror to bloodthirsty anger and covering just about everything in between. While that makes for an engaging viewing experience, it can also come across as being too far over the top for some folks. I tend to prefer my character dramas on the quiet side, so the emotional bombast of Tokyo Ghoul has never quite worked for me. At this stage in the overall story, Kaneki also suffers a bit from being less interesting than many of the characters around him. It's perhaps inevitable that our window into the franchise's world is a relatively normal person, and he's definitely more compelling than many anime protagonists, but his situation is still more memorable than his personality. The series eventually does go deeper into Kaneki's head, so I can imagine him becoming a more intriguing lead if this film were to get a sequel.
Amongst all the similarities, there are also some notable differences between this movie and its franchise stablemates. The story is more compact here, with some plot points being cut down or removed entirely in order to get to the battle against the CCG agents by the end. The script does a nice job of condensing things to fit the running time, and I'm honestly impressed that it's able to pack so much into two hours without feeling too rushed. Some things are inevitably changed or simplified, and Rize in particular takes on a reduced role after the opening scenes, but it works just fine as a self-contained narrative.
Visually speaking, director Kentarō Hagiwara manages to do a lot with a little. Shot composition and lighting are used to good effect throughout the movie, and the characters bear a noticeable resemblance to their 2-D counterparts while still looking like they belong in a live-action setting. The kagune are the only things that seem hit-or-miss; they work well enough during the more frantic fight scenes, but it's often too obvious that they're a special effect when the characters stand still for more than a second or two. One the upside, most of the designs look quite distinctive in their live-action forms, though Amon's spinning club-style weapon does occasionally remind me of a giant kebab.
Funimation's Blu-Ray and DVD release includes an English dub, with the voice cast from the anime dub reprising all of the major roles. The performances are solid across the board, so if you enjoyed the English audio track for the TV series you'll want to give it a listen here as well. My only gripe is that it's much harder (if not impossible) to match translated dialogue to real mouth movements than it is to sync up with anime lip flaps, so the dub never looks quite natural. Luckily, if that gets on your nerves, there are also some excellent performances on the original Japanese side of things, so your options are good either way. There's also a video discussion with the cast and crew on the disc, which you may want to take a look at if you're interested in the film's production process.
I'm giving the Tokyo Ghoul movie a Rental rating, largely because its shorter running time leaves less room for nuance and character development than the manga or anime. It might make for a good introduction for viewers who are unfamiliar with the franchise, and existing fans will appreciate the chance to see the story adapted into a new medium, but you'd be hard-pressed to call this the “definitive” version of Tokyo Ghoul. It is, however, a remarkably good adaptation, and it stands in stark contrast to the weak live-action versions that are frequently spawned by successful anime and manga titles. If you enjoy the series or just want a quick way to find out what all the fuss is about, give it a shot.
That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading, and remember to send your Shelf Obsessed entries to [email protected]!
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