UK Release Date: 31st January 2018
Runtime: 120 minutes
Director: Kentarō Hagiwara
Writer: Ichirô Kusuno
Starring: Masataka Kubota, Fumika Shimizu, Hiyori Sakurada, Nobuyuki Suzuki, Yû Aoi, Kunio Marai, Yo Oizumi
Synopsis: A college student is transformed into a flesh-eating creature when an emergency organ transplant leaves him with a part of a monster inside his body, just moments after that monster tried to kill and eat him following a brutal attack.
The darkest corners of the creature feature world can often be found over in Asia. That certainly proves to be true in Tokyo Ghoul, which is the debut film from director Kentarō Hagiwara and is adapted from a hugely popular manga series. It’s a macabre and occasionally fascinating journey into a world of flesh-eating monsters that spends time building some intriguing characters, but is never quite able to provide the emotional pay-off that the patient character work needed in order to stick the landing.
Bravely, the film is anchored around an incredibly strange performance by Masataka Kubota as protagonist Kaneki. We meet him as an incredibly awkward bookworm who spends his days looking longingly at a college classmate (Yû Aoi), over whom he has lusted for a long time. After a vintage high school movie meet-cute, they go on a date and, just as things appear to be going well, she transforms into a ‘ghoul’ and tries to eat him. That puts a lot of bad Tinder experiences into perspective.
Kubota’s performance is unusual and rooted in entirely believable awkwardness. That strange tone plays nicely into the rest of the story, which sees Kaneki become a ghoul himself after a surgeon transplants his attacker’s organs into his body, saving his life but condemning him to a future of hunting human beings. Kubota believably sells this transformation and the agony of trying to sideline his desperation for flesh, before joining up with a society of more compassionate ghouls.
It’s here, unfortunately, that the plot of Tokyo Ghoul loses its focus. Rather than exploring the psychological consequences of Kaneki being forced into belated ghouldom, the story brings in disparate threads about a ghoul child who needs to get away and a pair of specially trained cops whose job is to track down and exterminate ghouls. Neither of these threads proves to be particularly compelling and it just muddles the mixture to such an extent that the central theme of identity is discarded to one side.
The other side of the Tokyo Ghoul coin is its tentacle-waving set of action sequences. These are nicely realised by Hagiwara, despite his directorial inexperience, and have considerable punch and invention. Some of the shots that rely more heavily on CGI rather expose the film’s low budget, but there’s more than enough innovation and cleverness to ensure that these sequences work as a tense, scary experience. There are a few too many of these scenes and the third act rather devolves into muddled and messy mayhem, but there’s plenty to enjoy here. It just could’ve done with some heart and subtext beneath the munching of flesh.
Pop or Poop?
As Japanese creature features go, Tokyo Ghoul is not an unmitigated success, but there’s enough material there to help it hold together. Masataka Kubota brings a surprising level of nuance to his bravely pitched performance, but the script is not strong enough to match it, throwing all subtext to one side in favour of straightforward carnage.
For fans of the manga, this is almost certainly perfect but, as a newbie, I felt like I had been left somewhat out in the cold.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Tokyo Ghoul is playing in selected UK cinemas for ONE NIGHT ONLY on January 31. Find your nearest screening here.