Ghouls, creatures that have to consume human flesh to survive, exist and live in hiding in order to blend in with humanity. A constant threat, government agencies exist to hunt and capture Ghouls.
Running afoul of a murderous Ghoul, Kaneki (Masataka Kubota) is at the edge of death when a freak accident kills his attacker. Waking up in a hospital, he discovers to his horror that in order to save his life, the surgeon had transplanted his attacker’s organs into him, turning him into a human/Ghoul hybrid.
Forced to navigate the previously unknown secret world of the Ghouls living amongst us, he finds that while some Ghouls are the vicious monsters the bedtime stories have insisted, there are even more Ghouls who want to simply live in peace. As the hunt of Ghouls intensifies, Kaneki must discover who he is; human or Ghoul.
Directed by Kentaro Hagiwara, this live action film features a strong opening act, but quickly loses steam as the film shifts emphasis from the interesting world of Tokyo Ghoul to more superficial action and melodrama. Not that emphasizing action in a fantasy series like this is a bad call, it’s just that there is a decided lack of excitement in these set pieces. The addition of melodrama and forced emotion is too transparent and falls too heavily.
Kubota, for his part, is actually fairly good as Kaneki; he’s decidedly overwhelmed and appropriately disgusted at his new lot in life. I’d only really seen him in dark or psychotic roles so his more vulnerable take was an eye-opener. He does get a chance to go full on shiki when his Ghoul side gets out of hand but he turns in a decent performance.
The young Shimizu is fairly cool as the aloof Touka, a female Ghoul who ends up as a co-worker at a Ghoul owned cafe. She has a lot of screen presence but is fairly one dimensional. It’s a shame that the action scenes let her down too with their emphasis on weak CG and some spotty wire-work.
The supporting cast is a mixed bag with the typically good Yo Oizumi phoning it in with a laughably bad anime villain role that feels more like lazy LARP and out of place cosplay. Heartthrob Suzuki fares better and brings some complexity to his limited screen time but is also hurt by the film’s abrupt shift in tone in the last act.
Tokyo Ghoul is a film that has a lot of ideas and source from which a rich world has entertained countless readers; unfortunately, the film is a sedate exercise of how to stymie the material and focus on the wrong elements.
With a tighter hand and stronger focus on the more interesting parts of the Tokyo Ghoul mythos, ie. the world and characters, the film would have been tighter and richer. Despite some decent performances by Kubota, Shimizu, and Suzuki, the film cannot overcome the very poor choice to turn the story into an action film against the source. Flawed and a missed opportunity, Tokyo Ghoul deserves better than this.
An original version of this review can be read at Filmsmash.com, along with a review of the 2019 sequel, Tokyo Ghoul “S”.