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Tokyo Ghoul
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by Jay Seaver

"Does okay getting something started, but very much an "episode 1"."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Even when manga adaptations like "Tokyo Ghoul" start to seem like they are covering the same territory - it's not hard to read the description in the festival program and think "wait, didn't we just have two 'Parasyte' movies last year?" - they at least tend to have enough off-center to not just be another secret-monster-society riff with slight difference. Even this one, which comes pretty close to being familiar mopey-vampire fare, it occasionally gets just weird enough to be worth it.

Ghouls, in this case, are human-looking folks who live in hidden communities, are pretty damage-resistant, have at least one hidden limb that tends to be useful in a fight and, of course, can't eat much besides human flesh. They are mostly urban legends to the general public, although there is a Commission of Counter-Ghoul Operations that fights them in the shadows. Ken Kaneki (Masataka Kubota) doesn't know much about any of that; he's a bookish college student who only winds up on a date with longtime crush Rize Kamishiro (Yu Aoi) because his friend Hideyoshi Nagachika (Kai Ogasawara) pushes him into it. Thanks a lot - Rize is a ghoul and the only thing that stops her from finishing him off is a very convenient industrial accident, and when Ken wakes up in the hospital, he finds out his life was saved by transplant organs… from a ghoul. Now stuck with a glowing red eye and an unseemly appetite, he's fortunate to find "Antieku", a coffee shop run by Kuzen Yoshimura (Kunio Murai), a ghoul who tries to ensure his people have a low impact on the human world, joining Toka Kirishima (Fumika Shimizu) on the wait staff. Unfortunately, his senpai Nishiki Nishio (Shunya Shiraishi) is a ghoul who isn't so inclined to defer to humans, and CCG agents Amon (Nobuyuki Suzuki) and Mado (Yo Oizumi) are following a trail of bodies that can't help but reach Antieku eventually.

It's a bit surprising to see that Sui Ishida's manga comprises relatively few volumes, as these things go, because that is a whole bunch of characters to juggle, and it doesn't even include the regulars at Antieku, supporting cast at both the school and CCG, and so on. It's a setting that seems more apt for an ensemble-based television show, and the film does eventually feel like that - once Ken settles into Antieku, it has the feel of a status quo, where stories will start, characters will meet, and where everybody will regroup before the next thing gets started. As screenwriter Ichiro Kusuno and director Kentaro Hagiwara are getting the audience familiar with the ghoul world, it's not exactly a bad arrangement; they're able to ground things in the familiar while still popping in a gross image or two, pushing things forward bit by bit. It does, however, lead to a movie that perhaps seems to stop more than end, with the characters who are still left around more or less in the same in-between position as they were two or three times before, with what had read as hints of secrets still simply potential, waiting for the next episode.

There's at least some good to be found in the individual segments; though the ghouls tend to stick to the shadows, they also have the sort of wild extra limbs for fighting that comes from Ishida being able to draw whatever he can come up with as a splash page rather than being hemmed in by a specific traditional mythology, making for some enjoyably over-the-top action that's only enhanced by the ghouls donning elaborate masks to both conceal and announce their identities. It's visually fun and Hagiwara stages some pretty decent action as well. Most importantly, even when the film becomes about rival ghoul factions and humans who are in a way just as disconnected from regular life as part of the CCG, the filmmakers never let it disconnect from human concerns and morality.

The cast generally pulls that off pretty well, with Masataka Kubota and Fumika Shimizu having enjoyable chemistry as Ken and Toka, who feel compatible but also thrown together, getting enough details right that, after a few scenes with Seika Furuhata as Toka's human best friend who loves to cook, you can tell that something like half of what irritates Toka about Ken is that he doesn't appreciate how lucky he's been to have been able to eat actual food without gagging despite the topic never coming up directly. There's fun from people like Yu Aoi and Shunya Shiraishi doing excellent heel turns once revealed as ghouls, but some of the most memorable scenes feature Shoko Aida and Hiyori Sakurada as a mother and her young daughter whose ghoul status makes hiding from an abusive ex even more of a nightmare.

The filmmakers do enough well that I'll certainly be interested if they adapt the rest of the manga, picking up where they left off and hopefully building to an exciting climax. Until they do that, though, this "Tokyo Ghoul" feels incomplete and not up to its fullest potential; it's a decent start for those willing to wait and hope for more (or who may already like the manga); maybe less so for those not ready to invest in a potential series unless it kicks off with more of a bang.

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originally posted: 08/22/17 03:19:51
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Kentaro Hagiwara

Written by
  Ichiro Kusuno

  Masataka Kubota
  Fumika Shimizu
  Nobuyuki Suzuki
  Yű Aoi
  Yo Oizumi

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