Tokyo Ghoul follows Ken Kaneki (an endearing Masataka Kubota) an anxious bookworm, who inhabits a world populated by both humans and “Ghouls”. Looking for the most part like their human counterparts, Ghouls feed on the flesh of humans and exist in a murky sub-culture. When an early horrific encounter leaves Ken to live on as a human-ghoul hybrid, he has to adjust to a world once monstrous to him and look at it, and it’s inhabitants from a completely new angle.
What grabbed me with Tokyo Ghoul from the off was its approach to world building. There’s a lot to set up and it wastes no time in dropping you in the middle of the two worlds; that of the Humans and the Ghouls. At this point we haven’t seen much of the Ghouls and their culture; we see them the way the Humans do, as monsters.
It’s after the aforementioned horrific encounter that Ken’s mind (and by extension, ours) is expanded and the world of the Ghouls opens up. It’s a great approach and one that works well. What we’re greeted with when it does is a world filled with moral ambiguity and greyness. If you were looking for a story of definitive heroes and villains then you may wish to venture elsewhere. Characters dance back and forth across the line with a tonne of compelling grace.
A prime example is Tōka (brilliantly played by Fumika Shimizu), a no-nonsense worker of the Ghoul café that takes Ken under their wing. Throughout the film we are given beautiful slivers of her frustrated struggle to live in both worlds. Contrasting this with Yô Ôizumi’s sadistic Kureo Mado, a government agent who turns the Ghouls’ unique abilities into brutal weapons against them, you begin to see a nuanced view of the humanity in monsters and the savagery in humanity.
Tokyo Ghoul is sharply directed by Kentarô Hagiwara in their debut outing as a director and as a result there is a lot of production value. Special mentions should go to the costume designs and a fantastic score from Don Davis (The Matrix). Despite this, there are some choices that took me out of the film in places; chief amongst them being the effects used for the abilities of the Ghouls. Credit where credit is due, there is a bucket load of work that must be done to make these work at all and the film manages it for the most part; especially with the massive part they play in the action. However, in some instances the effects lack grounding in the world of the film and can feel like an add-on as opposed to an organic part of our chief characters.
There’s a lot here for fans of the source material and newcomers alike. There’s definitely more to this than just blood and action, and although some characters are given more chances to shine than others, I found myself being dragged in and wanting to explore the world of Tokyo Ghoul more. The film hints at a variety of different districts that the characters could venture to in future instalments, and I for one, look forward to seeing if they do.
Words by Robert Trott