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Tokyo Ghoul "S"
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by Jay Seaver

"Still eating people, still want to be friends."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Tokyo Ghoul S" is a "more of that" sequel; it doesn't particularly expand the mythology or have its characters grow and change that much, but delivers audiences another serving of what they enjoyed about the first. Folks who liked the live-action "Tokyo Ghoul" movie that came out a couple of years ago will likely have fun with this one, and those who missed it won't be overwhelmed. It's not the most ambitious franchise entry, but it doesn't send the series off the rails.

As established last time, "ghouls" live hidden among humanity, unable to eat much other than human flesh and able to fight with extra limbs. Ken Kaneki (Msataka Kubota) is unusual in that he started out human but was given transplant organs from a ghoul; he now works at the "Antieku" coffee shop that caters to ghouls, alongside Toka Kirishima (Maika Yamamoto). Most of the ghoul community understandably keeps out of sight, but Shu Tsukiyama (Shota Matsuda) is not most ghouls - known as "The Gourmet", this trouble-making idle riche type lives to dine on the finest and most unusual human specimens, like the model with different colored eyes he hunts in the opening. A chance encounter with Ken sends his cravings into overdrive - a human with the flavor of a ghoul? How delicious and transgressive!

You would think that some of the ghouls that Ken met in the first movie would have noticed that he smelled incredibly delicious, but to be fair, most of them are trying to live quiet, minimally-murderous lives, and have thus made a habit of repressing their predatory instincts. Not that the screenplay by Chuji Mikasano shows any particular need to explain that in such a way, and it's actually rather striking in its relative lack of ambition: After the first film introduced a whole semi-hidden world, the people making this one banish the Commision of Counter-Ghoul Operations to the sidelines despite the exceptionally high-profile murder that opens the movie, and tend to tread water with Ken and Toka keeping their secret from their human classmates/best friends. The supporting characters from the first are, at best, used as potential hostages and victims here, as the scope narrows to focus on Ken and his immediate problems, making it personal.

On top of that, there's a thread about racial and ethnic identity that the filmmakers either can't see or can't quite get hold of in how Ken's mixed biology marks him as neither human nor ghoul enough for some, down to the hypocrisy of how Shu demands Ken eat human flesh before being feasted upon. I wonder, idly, how these movies might play out when set in a less homogeneous society than Japan, where the "monsters hiding among us" premise becomes a lot more fraught. The issue of ghouls being, as needed, different people who want to live peacefully with their neighbors or mass-murdering monsters who can't be dealt with via anything but violence was there in the first film and may just be baked into the premise, but it's in sharper relief here.

Fortunately, there's never really a doubt where The Gourmet stands on this issue, and his utter amorality where eating well is concerned is exactly the sort of unrelenting, often darkly comic engine the movie needs, most entertainingly exemplified in the running joke of his increasingly listless response to beautifully plated meals like the thigh of a vegan distance runner (as an aside, it sometimes seems like the brain-eaters on <I>iZombie</I> figured out how to maintain a food supply on the fly better than these guys who have supposedly been around forever). Shota Matsuda realizes that there can be no half-measures with this material and attacks it with gusto, arrogantly tossing every ostentatious bit of wardrobe and giving Shu a sheer glee in his depravity that puts him well ahead of the archly amoral ghouls surrounding him but also makes him fun to watch; the relish signifies that he has accepted himself for the monster he is. The rest of the cast kind of has to aggregate their charisma to counter him, but that's a fairly decent plan: Masataka Kubota is good at playing earnest young heroes like Ken, while the rest of the returning cast mostly take on smaller roles but still add the right amount of optimism (reluctant or otherwise) to the mix. Maika Yamamoto steps into the role of Toka well enough for what the script gives her to do, which is sadly more pessimistic scolding than connection with the other characters.

That sort of recasting of a major character isn't usually a great sign for a sequel, nor is bringing in a new creative team, and while <I>Tokyo Ghoul S</I> doesn't suffer too much for the changes, there is a sense of things being scaled down a bit, with more focus on what can be done with a bit of gore rather than elaborate demonic appendages. There's still a few noteworthy bits of fantasy action which directors Kazuhiko Hiramaki & Takuya Kawasaki handle well enough, and like Matsuda, they recognize that a great deal of the appeal of this particular story is the theatricality of it, which they commit to without ever once winking.

That attitude is a nice way to compensate for what seems like a slightly less ambitious sequel, though one which shouldn't let down the people who enjoyed what the first dished out.

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originally posted: 09/17/19 11:00:36
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  25-Jul-2019 (MA)

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