Set in a faux Tokyo where flesh famished “Ghouls” live amongst humans: shy student Ken Kaneki (Masataka Kubota) gets bitten by one of the creatures then joins an organisation to defend them against the humans who want them destroyed.
Based on the best-selling manga by Sui Ishida and a follow-up TV series, this big screen adaptation of Tokyo Ghoul melds source tropes within a superhero origin style story not structurally dissimilar to Sam Raimi’s Spiderman. Director Kentaro Hagiwara (Tokyo Story, Anniversary) crafts fun, clumpy fantasy action with arresting creature designs, soused in vibrant, sassy splatter horror. But, despite its quirks, Hagiwara’s film wavers due to an archetypal protagonist with a passé arc (the geek college kid who gets powers, changes after a trauma and has an epiphany) along with an unkempt script and fuzzy CGI.
Like Mark A.Z. Dippé ‘s 1997 film adaptation of Image Comics’ Spawn, or the recent Netflix/ David Ayer orc/cop flick, Bright, Tokyo Ghoul is a squelchy horror/hero synthesis which mangles multi-genre tropes into a fascinating cine-glob yet fails to unify them into a linear story. As a result, Tokyo Ghoul feels a bit messy, like rabid clowns fighting in a gas mask factory. But within this colourful cluster-truck there is fun to be had for both horror and manga fans. There is eye licking, ceiling crawling, insect shaped shadows and slimy knuckles that slap justice into corrupt government chops. Some get their head lopped off while others are crushed by debris and mauled accordingly. These boisterous slaughters are bathed in striking Argento-like lighting which also compliments the frenetic tentacle flailing.
The plot potters in the politics of its faux Tokyo “reality”, elaborating on how the creatures function surreptitiously within a man managed society, in a similar manner to how Blade unravelled its clandestine vampire community. The ghouls are known to humans but live behind masks among those who want them dead. Like characters from the CGA (Commission of Counter Ghoul Agents) who clash with the monsters in trashy street brawls. Another sub-plot follows an investigation into a particularly mischievous sect where ghouls have territories/feeding grounds.
Colourful supporting characters come in the guise of eerie Emo Kamishiro Rize (the excellent Yu Aoi) and a freak masquerading as a cranky Pharmacy sophomore. Amidst drier characters and rogue appendage lobbing are other decent performances while ghost train gore/ antics punctuate perfunctory drama which ripens characters in a context that makes them more monotonous. The action/ horror is complimented by a rousing score by Don Davis (the Matrix trilogy, Long Time Dead) and striking art/ character costume design by Tomo Hyakutake and Masanori Morikawa (slick, slithery and sexy like a PVC snake).
Ghouls aren’t portrayed here as they have been in the past, but they are cursed with intriguing features and character facets: morals which feed into the script themes on what it means to be human (or not). Despite being unable to able to eat normal food some do in protest within a sector for those trying to fit into the human’s society. The creatures’ eyes turn black then red before they embark on kill/feed sprees while slavering guts and crimson drool like militant cannibal sex pests. Despite the crippling character arc clichés and scrappy plot flaws, the thematic depth, design and energy makes Tokyo Ghoul glide but not quite soar. Hagiwara’s faithful adaptation is a squelchy, rabid splat-fest of flesh and flailing CG limbs fused with a leather-clad pseudo psycho/ superhero fantasy and appendage gnawing horror.
Words: Daniel Goodwin (@privateutopias)