#TokyoGhoul is one of this year’s most anticipated Japanese live-action films. However, fans have expressed their unease before its release. It’s hard not to worry considering the erratic results of live-action adaptations, the director’s unfamiliarity with the source material prior to making the movie, and the sudden controversial retirement of its lead actress. The film had several festival screenings before its official public showing in Japanese theaters. Fortunately, the first batch of published reviews were mostly positive.
Based on Sui Ishida’s famous dark fantasy manga, the story is set in an alternate modern-day Japan where humans co-exist with indistinguishable ghouls. Kaneki Ken frequents a coffee shop where he meets Kamishiro Rize, an attractive woman who shares the same interest for books. During their bloody date, Kaneki discovers her real identity way too late. He survives her attack but waking up from the hospital bed just marks the beginning of his real nightmare. Now a half-human, half-ghoul hybrid, Kaneki finds solace in Anteiku where he meets friends who help him as he comes to terms with his new life. While Kaneki tries to deal with his insatiable hunger, the clash between humans and ghouls takes place and eventually, he has to pick a side.
Time and budget constraints have always been a problem for live-action adaptations but director Kentaro Hagiwara successfully builds Tokyo Ghoul's dark and dangerous world and his central protagonist leads us right into it. The movie is easy to follow even for those who aren't familiar with the source material because aside from its gruesome moments and badass kagune battles, the film remains to be character-driven and the main actors certainly deliver.
After his memorable Death Note stint, Masakata Kubota gives another riveting performance as Kaneki Ken. As he goes from shy and dorky young man to desperate and vicious half-ghoul, he enters a world that no human has ever crossed before and learns the intricacies of having to survive as a flesh-eating creature. The first act focuses on his transformation as we literally see food in his new point of view. While witnessing Kubota’s display of acting range, Kaneki’s struggle to retain his humanity is exactly what keeps us invested in the story. His aberrant existence is relatable to those who feel alone and his iconic mask is a representation of the face that he wishes to show the world. The question is, which eye color will he choose to conceal?
Kirishima Touka knocked some sense into the despairing Kaneki by asking him how a cake tastes like. It’s a subtle yet heartbreaking moment when Kaneki realizes that the appalling life he’s cursing ever since he’s been transformed is the exact same life that Touka’s been living ever since she was born.
Touka belongs to the group of ghouls who simply wish to live peacefully. She studies, works, and even chows down disgusting human food for the sake of her friend. She’s a ferocious fighter behind the Rabbit mask but her "tsundere" personality is what makes her even more endearing.
Fumika Shimizu impressively brought Kirishima Touka to life. Too bad the 22-year-old actress has retired from the entertainment industry to devote herself to a fringe religious organization called Happy Science so if Tokyo Ghoul gets a sequel, it's unlikely to see her reprise her role.
Young Hinami, a ghoul couple's offspring, stands right in the middle of the war between ghouls and humans. Her abilities are awakened by the sight of an injured Touka during her fight against Mado. Despite gaining the power and opportunity to kill the person who annihilated her family, Hinami sticks with her pacifist nature.
Teen actress Hiroyi Sakurada delivered a heart-tugging performance as her character's actions' strongly make viewers think about whose behavior is more human-like: Hinami's warmth and compassion or Mado's thirst for carnage?
Kureo Mado is a veteran investigator who is obsessed with hunting ghouls and making quinques (weapons) out of their kagunes. The movie doesn’t have enough time to provide his backstory and explain his apathetic and sadistic actions towards ghouls but his line, “Why does your kind want to live a life built on sin?”, is enough to stir the philosophical differences between humans and ghouls.
The brief moment that reveals the ring on Mado's finger tells a lot about his character. If we shift the story's point of view to the humans' side, then we can see that this seemingly psychopathic ghoul hunter holds someone dear and is driven by human emotions such as rage and revenge.
Yo Oizumi insisted to keep Mado’s white stringy hair while the rest of the characters don more natural looking hair. It would have been nice to see the original character designs like Rize’s purple hair and Kaneki’s white hair post-transformation but minimizing the “cosplay” and making them look like people who actually exist in real life matches the overall tone of the film.
Tall, fit, and handsome Nobuyuki Suzuki meets the physical requirements to play the sympathetic First Class Ghoul Investigator Koutarou Amon. The film clearly shows his strong sense of justice and his fear of losing people around him. We don’t get to see his journey towards earning his position at the Commission of Counter Ghoul but we get to see his physical training in preparation for his aim to defeat ghouls and avenge his colleagues.
Viewers who have seen the HiGH&LOW franchise know that this isn’t the first time Masataka Kubota goes on a one-on-one action face-off against Nobuyuki Suzuki. Though the scene deviates from Kaneki and Amon’s original showdown, the movie’s version of their exciting and well-choreographed CGI-filled fight scene provides the movie's main tension. More so, it's an emotional turning point as Kaneki tries to cling to his human side at the last moment while Amon realizes that not all ghouls are completely evil after all.
The other cast members with noteworthy performances are:
- Yui Aoi as the voracious ghoul Kamishiro Rize
- Kunio Murai as Anteiku manager Kuzen Yoshimura
- Shunya Shiraishi as the dangerous teacher Nishiki Nishio
- Shoko Aida as Hinami's mother Ryouko
- Kai Ogasawara as Kaneki's best friend Nagachika Hideyoshi
- Minosuke Bando as the mask creator Uta
Fleshing out characters is one of the most challenging aspects to accomplish when a film tries to cover several manga chapters in a span of 119 minutes but in spite of the shared screen time, the actors' convincing portrayals of their characters' plight manage to strike a chord. Tokyo Ghoul proves that adaptations don't need flamboyant cosplaying or excessive fanservice as long as it has a well-presented narrative and an adequate understanding of character motivations.
The movie also comes with an awesome soundtrack from the same band who provided the music for Your Name. RADWIMPS lead vocalist Yojiro Noda’s solo project Illion performs the theme song, BANKA. Tokyo Ghoul live-action premiered in Japanese theaters at the top 5 of the box-office rankings and is scheduled to be released in North America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania.
There is no such thing as a perfect live-action adaptation but Tokyo Ghoul reminds us that good ones still exist. Have you seen this movie? What can you say about it?