Note – This review was originally published on 10/16/17.
This summer, most anime fans were disappointed with the lackluster presentation on Netflix of Death Note. There was some rumbling recently then when Funimation announced that they would be showing a live adaptation for Tokyo Ghoul. When I entered the theater, my standards were understandably low, there was even some joking in the theater that live adaptations just don’t work. It wasn’t long however, before the murmurs quieted down, and I could see my fellow viewers were rapt with attention at the screen.
The story of the show, for those of you who don’t know, revolves around the live of Ken Kaneki and how after a single unfortunate date has his entire life turn inside out. Being transplanted with organs from his would be ghoul devourer, Ken is forced to come to terms with his now new need to eat people himself in order to stay alive. With the help of some friendly ghouls he’s able to adjust but faces a threat from an anti Ghoul task force.
No doubt there’s some question as to why I need to point out the plot of the movie. Anyone interested in the article could just go look it up or watch it on a streaming platform somewhere. Mostly because that’s the problem with many adaptations. They lose sight of the simple story and try to perform some creative take on something that is very well established. The trouble comes from making so many changes that something becomes unrecognizable and potentially alienates itself from the target audience.
Tokyo Ghoul on the other hand remained true to the story. While that means we didn’t get to see many of the supporting characters (there’s only 90 minutes to tell a story after all), it matches the established story very well. Some people may view that as boring; why watch something again in a different medium when you can just as easily watch the series again? As the same with other stories, the fans want to see if the director is able to meet their vision of their favorite show. And I have to say, this movie definitely aced the challenge. Given I had started binging on the series a week before, the memories of the show were still very fresh in my mind. If I could understand Japanese, I could have watched this movie with my eyes closed and known exactly what was happening for most of it.
Arguably, the easiest part of any anime is to match the characters. Many shows have rich characters with interesting quirks, abilities and fashions. But they always have a starting point to come from. And more than likely, this is where I feel that many adaptations fail. Some simply don’t understand why a character begins where they do, or they alter their past in order to create conflict that isn’t needed. So they add odd tribulations that the character suffered prior to the movie or remove key conflicts that defined the character and their actions. This movie decides to stay true to the original story, which again seems boring but allows us the audience to identify with the characters.
The semi-super natural world of Tokyo Ghoul of course has many things that aren’t in ours. So there would of course be special effects when the ghouls began using their kakuhou to fight. I wasn’t sure how they would be represented, since the animated series has each ghoul with a very unique form with different functions. In the movie, they were represented as flesh-like extensions. Kaneki/Rize’s has an almost scale like appearance and wriggle something close to snakes. Touka’s single wing was depicted in the anime as something close to a nebulous gas, that she could harden into crystals for a ranged attack, while in the movie it’s depicted as a crystalline wing. Granted, some may see this as going astray from the source material, but I though this closer to a semi-realism. I have to say that the Fueguchi family’s were by far the most realistic looking, with their flesh like colors and a very similar looking texture I could see these actually being present in real life (or at least one where there are ghouls).
I could tell though that the budget for the special effects wasn’t very large. Some of the effects seemed very rough, which is common for the first movie. But another give away was that most of the large scale effect scenes were done at night; a technique used to hide the black edges. The exchange though was a slightly new experience as the CCG fighting the ghouls feels more like a shadow war than something everyone is familiar with.
Finally, no movie is complete without the people portraying the characters. While I’m not certain if there is a difference between American and Japanese acting, it seemed to me that the supporting cast didn’t show as much emotions on screen as Kaneki (with only one notable exception). I may be wrong, but that was the distinct impression that I got from the film.
That aside, the actor that portrayed Kaneki seemed a to go a little overboard at times. Whether this was their choice or a direction, I can’t be sure at this time. But any time blood made an appearance…well, Bacchus would have been proud is all I have to say on that.
Overall, I considered this a great movie to watch. After the first few minutes, I was absolutely engrossed in the plot and story. The scenes flowed together remarkably well, and with only a few notable exceptions, the story remained remarkably similar to the original source material. I know that live adaptations out here haven’t been that great. But Tokyo Ghoul’s live adaptation has a sweet formula that keeps the story engaging and interesting.
Blu Ray Review (Added 5/1/18)
Fans of Tokyo Ghoul will be delighted to finally add the surprisingly well-received live action adaptation to their collection. With a fairly faithful adaptation, and well-executed effects to help bring the ghoulish characters to life, you likely won’t have much issue with the film if you’re a fan of the series.
The blu-ray includes a Q&A/Panel that was recorded at Anime Expo 2017, which features many of the staff and cast involved on the project. Compared to the bare-bones releases we typically see when it comes to anime releases, this is a pretty entertaining and engaging bonus feature.
Also, not every release comes with a Digital HD copy, but the Tokyo Ghoul blu-ray does. So, if you’re itching to take Tokyo Ghoul with you on the go, you can watch the movie on any compatible mobile device!