Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Tokyo Ghoul: The Flesh-Eating Superhero

They are not as sexy as vampires, but they have more individual agency and consciousness than zombies. Yet, they all share the same basic food source: people. Ghouls look a bit ghoulish around the eyes, but they can usually pass for human with a little touching up. However, when their koukaku tentacle weapons release under stress, they are quite a terrifying sight. It is all very confusing for Ken Kaneki, who was recently transformed into a ghoul by an organ transplant. Feeding will be an issue for him, but at least his ilk can still enjoy a nice cup of coffee in Kentaro Hagiwara’s live action adaptation of Tokyo Ghoul (trailer here), which releases today on DVD and BluRay.

In retrospect, Kaneki probably should have been suspicious when his crush suddenly demonstrated multiple common interests and agreed to a date. Not surprisingly, she is really a ghoul named Rize Kamishiro. Ordinarily, she would have feasted on him, but when she is crushed by a freak scaffolding collapse, an over-eager surgeon creates more complications than he realizes by transplanting her organs into the badly battered Kaneki.

As he recuperates, he is rather shocked to find he can no longer stomach traditional food. Fortunately, the good ghouls of Anteiku (you could say they subsist on road kill), the ghoul-managed coffee shop and mutual aid society take him under their wing—well, most of them do. Toka Kirishima is not very welcoming, but she will be the perfect tutor in ghoul self-defense when the over-zealous anti-ghoul Men-in-Black start hunting Anteiku’s most vulnerable members.

Tokyo Ghoul shares some common elements with a number of vampire franchises, like Underworld and Lestat, but the ghouls are by their very nature more brutal and instinctive. Yet, Hagiara and screenwriter Ichiro Kusuno clearly suggest many of the ghouls (such as Kaneki, the twelve-year-old Hinami Fueguchi, and Anteiki patriarch Kuzen Yoshimura) are more human than fanatics like Agent Kureo Mado, who has the sleepy eyes and stringy hair of Kill Bill-era David Carradine. Hagiwara also capitalizes on the manga franchise’s extensive world-building, in which the existence ghouls is generally public knowledge, but widely ignored by the see-no-evil populace, sort of like terrorism in our world.

Masataka Kubota is appropriately nebbish and high-strung as Kaneki, while Fumika Shimizu is impressively fierce as Shimzu. This is a good film for villains, with Yu Aoi (Japan’s national sweetheart and former Little Orphan Annie) wonderfully playing against type as the flamboyantly sinister Kamishiro and Yo Oizumi chewing the scenery with sleazy relish as Mado. However, Shoko Aida proves you can still do serious work in a gory urban fantasy with her heartbreaking turn as Royko Fueguchi, Hinami’s devoted mother.

Apparently, the source manga takes the long-term narrative in such radically different directions, franchise fans will probably find this return to the origin-story rather nostalgic. In any event, discerning monster movie viewers will appreciate the first-class effects and its dark sensibility (this isn’t Twilight, kids). Recommended for fans of the franchise and anyone in the mood for an evil cousin to the modern superhero movie, Tokyo Ghoul releases today on DVD and BluRay.