Ghouls are another monster of ancient lore I’ve been fascinated with since childhood. The first two movies that hit me with the term, ‘ghoul,’ when I was a child was The Monster Club (1981) and the 1979 version of Salem’s Lot. The former is an anthology with the last segment titled, “The Ghouls,” and the latter has a dialogue scene with two kids and one of them asks the other what a ghoul is and the other tells him. It’s from these two early “sources” my interpretation of “ghouls” was formed—demonic looking creatures inhabiting graveyards that dig up the dead and eat the remains.
There were two Tales From The Crypt (’89-‘96) episodes done that centered on ghouls and I enjoyed both of them since the creep factor was high on each: Season 3’s “Mournin’ Mess” and Season 5’s “House Of Horror.” Brian Keene wrote a somewhat interesting novel about the creature titled, Ghoul, which was also made into TV movie for the now defunct Chiller TV channel. I’ve read the novel, but never saw the movie.
Japan’s live action adaptation of Tokyo Ghoul, based on the manga of the same name, which has also spawned an anime series that currently has two full seasons, I found also to be a rather compelling take on the creature. In the reality the movie is set in humankind knows “ghouls” exist and have an uneasy alliance with them. Come to think of it, maybe, no alliance at all, since the population has been driven into the Tokyo underground. These “ghouls” don’t just eat the dead, they’ll eat the living too, and there are good ghouls and bad ghouls. I would categorize the bad as those who’ll hunt humans and eat them, while the good scavenge the already dead. The group the movie’s main character aligns himself with get their food from a particular wall that’s known to attract suicide potentials. The cops know nothing of how popular it is because every night the dead bodies are scavenged and brought back to be eaten.
These particular ghouls can, obviously, blend in with normal humans, but when they ‘ghoul out’ there eyes turn red and their faces get all veiny. Ghouls have super human strength and can heal instantly. Since this is “Japanese fantasy” there’s a level of weirdness expected (and I say that with love) and each ghoul also has a “biological weapon” that breaks out of their back. They call it their “Kagune,” and they’re kind of hard to describe, they reminded me of the kind of appendages you might see on deep sea organisms. One character has his “Kagune” come out of his tailbone, but it doesn’t look anything as conventional as a “tail.”
There are specialized cops who hunt ghouls and kill them. They refer to them as “doves,” and the movie is seen mostly through the eyes of the ghouls, making the “doves” to be the “bad guys.”
These ghouls aren’t like vampires or werewolves in that you can be infected with “ghoulism” in any way shape or form. The only way you are a ghoul is if your parents are ghouls. Well, I suppose a ghoul can mate with a normal human thus producing a half-ghoul, but you can’t be infected by any kind of bite or scratch. But there seems to be one way an average person can join their ranks, and that’s through an organ transplant with a ghoul donor. The movie centers on college student, Ken Kaneki (Masataka Kubota), who has a crush on this girl named, Rize Kamishiro (Yū Aoi). Having known nothing of what Tokyo Ghoul was about other than the utter basics I didn’t know how the “ghouls” would get introduced into this kid’s life, well, unfortunately for him Rize agrees to go out on a date with him, and that’s when she attempts to make a meal out of the poor kid, hence making her one of the “bad ghouls.” She takes a chunk out of his shoulder as they embrace and then impales him on her Kagune, which are four tentacles. He escapes because Rize is crushed to death by a bunch of steel girders that fall from a crane.
Ken wakes in a hospital and it’s later revealed the doctors saved him with an organ transplant from a dead chick that came in at the same time. Rize being that dead chick. Now he’s a half-ghoul, to complete the transformation he has to eat someone, but he doesn’t want to. Human food is disgusting to him now and we get a couple of gross scenes of him trying to keep food down. Once this particular group of ghouls takes him in, he learns ghouls can still enjoy coffee and it’ll stave off the cravings for a while, but not forever. We’ve seen this story before, a person becomes a monster and has to make a choice—be the monster, cure himself, or kill himself. Right now three vampire flicks come to mind with a similar angle: The Lost Boys (1987), Near Dark (1987), and the Masters Of Horror episode, ‘The V Word” (2006). That’s not to say this movie wasn’t interesting. I enjoyed it immensely.
When ghouls go into combat apparently they’re required to don a “mask” that’s specially made for them. Toka (Fumika Shimizu), the female ghoul that ends up “training” Ken, uses a rabbit-faced one. Ken’s is at least much cooler. Throughout the movie his right eye is stuck in ghoul mode, so he covers it up with a patch when he goes out in public, but the ghoul who makes his mask covered the wrong eye, or so Ken thought, but he’s told he wants to see the eye Ken wants to hide. The mouth has a zipper on it, so he can unzip and eat someone, if he wants, which he does in his final battle with one of the main “doves” hunting his group down. He takes a bite out of the cop, and once he swallows the flesh his transformation into a full ghoul is complete, which means he can transform from human to ghoul at will.
During the course of the movie, however, when his ghoul counterpart takes over he goes a tad psycho, drooling, stumbling around, and inadvertently activating his kagune (three tentacles that resembles Rize’s). There’s a nice, creepy scene of Ken stumbling about in public, hoodie pulled up so no one can see his face, and he’s acting out of control, eyeing people’s exposed legs and arms, dying of hunger, but not sure what he’s hungry for. There’s a close-up of his ghoul eye as he’s making weird sounds. Not sure if that ghoul eye close-up was CG or a practical effect. It looked practical actually, and the way it darted around I found just creepy.
There are two “doves” who are the antagonists: Mado (Yô Ôizumi) and Amon (Nobuyuki Suzuki). Mado has long white hair, and truly hates ghouls. There’s a rookie that tags along, who I surprised to see gets killed by Toka.
There are no guns used in this movie at all by the “cops.” Mado likes to strip the ghouls he kills of their kagune and use them as weapons against them. Amon has a strange immense club-like weapon, parts of which are rendered in CGI. Toka has her battle with Mado, while Ken takes on Amon in separate parts of the city. In the end Toka puts an end to Mado, while Ken refuses to kill Amon, kind of triumphing over his baser ghoulish instincts while “violently pontificating” why humans and ghouls can’t come to some kind of truce as he looms over the man.
Obviously with a movie about flesh-eating ghouls there has to be some level of gore, and there is in this one. Not a lot though, someone gets their head literally kicked off their body; there’s a severed arm Toka chomps on; the aforementioned impalement of Ken; blood smeared on faces. Mado gets his arm and leg severed, but no blood seen at all in those scenes. All the ghoul’s kagune are rendered in CGI. All in all I got a kick out of this movie! It’s odd though because I really don’t have any interest in checking out the anime. With Attack On Titan I got into the anime first, then the two live action movies, but with Tokyo Ghoul I’m only interested in the live action movie and according to a review I read on the Anime News Network this is the start of a live action Tokyo Ghoul franchise!
Video/Audio/Subtitles (Blu-Ray): 1080p 2.35:1 (anamorphic) widescreen—5.1 English Dolby TrueHD, 5.1 Japanese Dolby TrueHD—English subs
Extras included . . .
- Anime Expo 2017: Cast & Crew Discuss Tokyo Ghoul: The Movie (7:08)
- Original Japanese Trailer
- Funimation Trailers (Tokyo Ghoul: Season 2, Black Butler: The Movie. Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins, Rurouni Kenshin Part II: Kyoto Inferno, Rurouni Kenshin Part III: The Legend Ends)