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In a Tokyo both fantastic and chillingly conceivable, a slow invasion has taken place.  In plain sight, a species never imagined by mankind has risen up to threaten the populace.  Humanoids, called “ghouls” have decimated entire prefectures across Japan’s capital.  A lone government agency of elite ghoul hunters called the CCG are the only barricade against the complete annihilation of Tokyo’s population.  Even those areas considered “safe” aren’t without incident, as the creatures feast on the flesh of regular folk for their main sustenance. 

Still, despite the danger, life goes on, and a Tokyo bookworm falls in love.  Ken Kaneki is so entranced with a bespectacled young lady he’s never spoken to, that like any good stalker, he’s found out what coffee shop she frequents, and has set up camp to simply watch her come and go.  When their chance meeting reveals her as a fellow bibliophile, the quiet and unremarkable Kaneki cannot believe his luck when pretty Rize agrees to go out with him.  Sadly, good literature is not the only thing she’s avaricious for. 

Their happy date ends with a twist on a goodnight kiss, or as Rize might call it, “dessert.”  She sinks her teeth deep into Kaneki’s neck, and the only fooling around that will be had that night is the ghoul toying with her terrified food.  Her superhuman strength and powerful, tentacle-like appendages make mincemeat out of Kaneki, and all looks quite lost until - as with all very bad witches - a house falls on Rize (Some construction beams, really).  That first date was the last day of Kaneki’s life as he knew it.

After waking in the hospital, it isn’t long for Kaneki to feel that outside of the aches and pains of being hurled through the air, impaled, beaten and eaten, something’s a little different.  Could it be his sudden repulsion to everyday foods, or is it the luminous red eye surrounded by a completely black sclera looking back in his mirror that gives a clue?  There’s also these weird skin tags that pop out of his back when he feels threatened - kind of like those whip-like tentacles of Rize’s.  Actually, they’re exactly like those whip-like tentacles of Rize’s.  Dragged around by a ravenous hunger and no way to fill it with anything that will stay in his stomach, after some more painful, ghoul-related misadventures, Kaneki, in search of answers, finds his way back to the coffee shop where his nightmare began,.

At Antique, Yoshimura, the kindly café owner reveals that all his staff and most of his customers are indeed ghouls, and like it or not, Kaneki is now one, too.  At this haven for peace-loving flesh-eaters, he shows the boy the joys of coffee - the only human comestible ghouls can withstand - but warns him that no matter how Kaneki might wish it, the hot beverage is no substitute for the nourishment of human flesh.

Not everyone is as hospitable to this new, helpless ghoul.  Despite having saved his life, Touka patently loathes Kaneki.  The young female ghoul resents the fact that he got to live any part of a normal, life without fear of being hunted or exterminated.  Much of their interaction is touch and go with Yoshimura gently nudging the girl to help Kaneki find his feet (and tentacles).

Though they haven’t tracked him as a new player on the scene, there’s also the constant threat of the CCG, in particular the ace ghoul investigators, Mado, and his protégé, Amon.  The elder obsessed with the eradication of the creatures he sees only as dangerous vermin to be obliterated without mercy, and the junior in awe of his senpai’s massive ghoul body count.  Mado’s totals are in part due to the weapons he employs; quinques, which are made out of kagune - the organs that create the dangerous protrusions that eject from the ghoul’s backs in times of attack.  These kagune are harvested from the corpses of Mado’s kills.  Mado is essentially using the ghoul’s own defenses to kill them.  While looked at as a nut by most in the CCG for his single-minded zealotry, Mado is on a mission to rub out one particular ghoul and everyone associated with him.  That path eventually leads him and Amon to Kaneki. 

Kaneki’s commitment to intense training to become stronger and self-sufficient has made him – and his kagune - a force to be reckoned with; albeit one that he can’t fully control.  While Kaneki deals with the reality that he now must eat human flesh to survive; will he be able to retain his humanity while keeping control over the feral, animalistic urges that becoming a ghoul hybrid has ignited in him?

TOKYO GHOUL being made into a live-action movie was inevitable, being one of the most popular and sensational manga and anime titles in a currently pale field.  As a fan of both its graphic and animated forms, I was apprehensive that I would experience a live-action adaptation as rancid and unforgivable as the pair of ATTACK ON TITAN films released in 2015.  Luckily, my worry was happily misplaced.  While not perfect, TOKYO GHOUL is a rollicking ride that doesn’t disappoint die-hard fans, or those simply looking for a fun night at the movies.

I’ll start off with the things TOKYO GHOUL fans will want to know; the good and occasionally not so great, with minimal spoilies:

It all begins with Kaneki: I know that casting actors far older their characters is nothing new, still, Kubota Masataka looks very much more like his actual 29 years, than Ken Kaneki, baby-faced college freshman.  Kubota does radiate a kind of lonely, awkward innocence signature to human Kaneki, and when the ball gets rolling, conveys the emotional heft of the conflicted character turned inhuman, even if he does snivel and cry awfully much.  Not just cry, I mean great, heaving, gulping, bust-a-blood vessel sobs.

Surprisingly, the physical casting of both Touka and Rize gave us plainer than imagined actresses, considering the graphic characters’ ardent fan followings, but Yu Aoi as Rize manages to be creepy enough.  However - and I’ve never said this about a Japanese manga adaptation - more sexiness would have helped.  After all, when we meet her in the comics, she is nude and draped in a pile of bodies of the victims she’s binged on.  Rize of the comics is a bombshell, with several powerful guys obsessed with her for different reasons, which brings a lot of trouble to Kaneki’s door.  None of that is alluded to.  Maybe next time?

It’s a central part of source Touka’s character to be angry at the arrival of Kaneki, but the lack of the background we receive compared to the manga and anime, just makes her gratingly rude and insufferable.  Touka’s only balancing aspect is her unexplained affection toward a human female friend who cooks homemade meals for her, blissfully unaware of what Touka would really like to nibble on.  The tsundere – or tough/bossy girl – character doesn’t work so well for those who might never have read the manga, or know Touka’s motivations, which are not clear here.  She’s pretty much a lazily-written rage doll; which doesn’t benefit the character, or her actress.  That said, Shimizu Fumika does put over Touka’s vicious, high-speed combat action convincingly.

Oizumi Yo perfectly portrays Ghoul Investigator Mado’s fanatical obsessiveness and cold-blooded hatred for ghouls, along with the character’s creepy, anti-social weirdness, but opposite to Kubota and the ladies, under a gray fright-wig, the actor’s too young and handsome.  Still, this Mado is blunt and awful; dazed from sleeplessness and unwilling to see the ghouls as feeling, thinking beings.  He’s uses the cruelest methods to gleefully dispatch the “rats.”  There is one amusing point that shows his misguidance early on, when a young investigator asks whether humans and ghouls can possibly marry, Mado holds up the sprinkled donut he’s munching and says, “Can you love this?”  Obviously, the answer is, yes, because donuts and I have been in a committed relationship for years.  I love donuts more than everyone.

Nishiki, Yomo, Hide and Amon are perfect, as is our fleeting glimpse of Irimi.  Each one looks and acts like s/he came right out of the manga.  Koma, however… . 

Uta, played by Kabuki actor Bandō Minosuke II is mysterious and creepy, though not quite as sylphlike as his manga counterpart.  I will never not picture J-rocker Miyavi in this role, but Bandō adds his own layer to the quirky, ambiguous character.

Hinami, the child ghoul on the run, might be a little older than originally written, but actress Sakurada Hiyori does amazingly well with the character’s otherworldly maturity and optimism after the murder of her beloved father, and her own terrifying circumstance.  She and Kubota‘s Kaneki are adorable together, with the bond between them utterly believable and even better presented than in the original work.

As we arrive toward the end OF TOKYO GHOUL, we see aspects of Kaneki’s powers and gestures that any fan of the source will notice right away, and say “Hey, why is he doing that? It’s way too early in the story for that to happen.” It feels as if some things were morphed together, perhaps as a way of hedging bets as to how the film would be received after the ATTACK ON TITAN disasters, but the creators should have had more faith.  There will and should definitely be a sequel.

This chapter focuses more on the turning of Kaneki into the half-ghoul he has unwilling become.  He must learn not only to accept who he now is, but how to cope with the daily travails of living in plain sight as humanity’s greatest threat.  Of course, with any good superhero (or supervillain, depending on your perspective) origin story; he also must learn to become stronger to save himself and those he comes to care for, after seeing firsthand the horrors of the CCG’s threat to the ghouls. 

However, the manga is unusual, because it’s a back-to-back (-to back?) origin story about the same character, set at the start of an all-out war between the CCG and the ghouls, but this film only gives us about half of that, with some interesting characters cut out.  Knowing some of the byzantine subplots that develop much, much later in the series, and how bloated the character list eventually becomes; this was probably a wise decision on behalf of the filmmakers. 

Still, there is a still a very important part of Kaneki’s story to tell, and despite the care taken to make this adaptation faithful to the source (and including inside hints and references for the hardcore followers), the omission might leave fans unsatisfied, but I’ll be excited to see how far they go in the inevitable sequel.

While the film’s performances and fight choreography are top notch, the challenge must have been to believably present the kagune; the projectile ghoul weapons wielded by both human and superhuman alike.  These vary from pretty cool, as with Touka’s sharp, shattering, blood-splattered wings, and Hinami’s mother’s wide, protective butterfly-like ones; to somewhat cheesy, as with the Doc Ock-ish variations of Mado’s Fueguchi quinque, and Amon’s grand Doujima, which looks like a giant gyro spit.

Miles better than the awful ATTACK ON TITAN, and faster-paced than the acclaimed RUROUNI KENSHIN adaptations, TOKYO GHOUL slashes by with a great balance of action to story.  While it is indubitably and essentially another superhero flick, it stands out with an equal amount of heart and thrills that leaves us wanting more.

Bring on the sequel.  I’m cracking my knuckles waiting for chapter two.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

October 15th, 2017


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