Movie Review: “Tokyo Ghoul S”

The 2017 live action adaptation of Tokyo Ghoul was a surprising success in my opinion. Adapting the anime and manga series (for which, I am a big fan), the Tokyo Ghoul film avoided many of the pitfalls that plagued earlier adaptations of popular series’. Unlike the Fullmetal Alchemist live-action film, which felt like a highlight reel of the series, hammering into iconic moments without the development and careful deliberation that made them iconic, the Tokyo Ghoul film showed a level of patience and a clearer vision of what it wanted to accomplish.

It was not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination (recipient of a “Decent” score from my review), bogged down by certain budgetary-related mishaps and the mere fact it does not really earn its keep beyond being a solid adaptation. It was the best film adaptation I have seen of an anime series thus far (I am not exactly well versed), and I was excited for Tokyo Ghoul S, released in 2019.

As a matter of fact, I kept a watchful eye on Tokyo Ghoul S and am a little disappointed it has taken until now to be able to sit down and watch the film (a year after the film’s release). I don’t have the home-video sales and numbers to support this, but I would think with the release of the Tokyo Ghoul videogame worldwide in November and the anime series coming to an end, there is a market Stateside for the Tokyo Ghoul live-action sequel and they would want to strike while the iron is hot.

I have found it difficult to gauge a reaction to this film. The Wikipedia page is bare bones and it is difficult to find a general consensus for the film. As far as box office reception is concerned, the reported gross converts to about 2 million dollars, a significant decline from the previous entries 10 million sum, but information is not readily available enough to verify that total.

The film was directed by Takuya Kawasaki and Kazuhiko Hiramaki, different directors from the original film, but no less likely for me to butcher the pronunciation of their names. I looked on IMDb with hopes to find more information about them, but this film serves as their only official credential. The screenplay was written by Chūji Mikasano whose resume is more appropriate – he has credentials with the Tokyo Ghoul anime series and will be writing and directing the upcoming Yu Yu Hakusho film adaptation.

Similar to the original film, Tokyo Ghoul S focuses on the events of the first season of Tokyo Ghoul, in-particular it focuses on the story arc between Kaneki and Shuu Tsukiyama. In other words, whereas the earlier film ended about where Episode Eight of the first season ended or Chapter 28 of the Manga, this film actually backtracks at some of what it skipped earlier in the series. I actually like this approach a lot and, without prior knowledge of this, I recommended it in my review of the Tokyo Ghoul film.

If some you aren’t aware, Tsukiyama is a Hannibal Lecter type character with maybe elements of Count Dracula as well, I don’t know why, but it feels right to say Tsukiyama ravages victims. You know the type, he is very artsy and intellectual. His bed sheets are the finest linen, his tastes in music are classic orchestra, and he only eats the most exquisite cuisines. The character is a bit of a classic cliche, if we are upfront and honest about it, and it is something that applies across the board for the character, whether it be manga, anime, or the film. Whether or not that bothers you, I think, will be a matter of perception.

Tsuikiyama takes an interest in Kaneki early on, perplexed and infatuated with his scent. Like Kaneki, Tsuikiyama is a Ghoul and, consequently, Tsuikiyama wants to eat Kaneki. The film portrays his manipulation of Kaneki, as well as the ongoing relationships carrying on between all the characters of the earlier film.

One departure from the original film, the actress who played Touka is now played by Maika Yamamoto, who does admirably in her portrayal. Personally, I can’t say that I like the character’s portrayal in the film as much as I do in the anime series. The character simply does not have the edge in the film that she does in the series itself.

I enjoy the portrayal of Tsuikiyama in this film. I would not call it a vast departure from what we have seen by any stretch. The key elements of his character remain intact, but the way he is framed makes him come across much more like a horror character whereas he always felt, and pardon the expression, a little too animated in the anime.

The cinematography is stylish and slick in this film, something I think made a significant contribution in establishing a unique identity and look. I especially liked the instrumentals and piano-work in the film, which, obviously, is reminiscent of the anime itself, but also accomplishes a certain Castlevania symphonic sound that felt very thematic. Tomomi Oda and Naruyoshi Kikuchi deserve admiration for that.

I have no idea what the actual intent is for the Tokyo Ghoul live-action series, but I feel like I am starting to understand a structural clarity, so to speak. Tokyo Ghoul S feels very much like the second installment in a Trilogy that covers the first season. Whereas the first film laid the groundwork, Tokyo Ghoul S feels incremental, but significant. It has Kaneki’s character discovering the ugliness of the world and further illustrating his empathy toward Ghouls and their lot in life. Tsuikiyama is over-the-top on occasion, but he feels like a mid-level boss (Stefano in The Evil Within 2, perhaps), and like it is all building momentum toward Kaneki’s inevitable encounter with Jason. I like that, and I think the original film and this film work cohesively well at accomplishing that.

That it feels so episodic in nature, of course, can’t help but make me think it would have been better suited as a television series, or better suited as the anime series and manga that already existed. This fact can sometimes feel highlighted in the special-effects on display in the film. Whereas I considered them off-putting in the earlier film, less attention feels drawn to them in this film.

The action feels more based in hand-to-hand combat than all else with only occasional Ghoul-related abilities on display. The action is satiable in that respect, but it feels very produced and dramatized. This is not advanced choreography by any stretch, but, instead, a very simple depiction. The special-effects, when they are shown, are par for the course, with the only exception being Touka’s kagune feeling off, like a pink fin that hangs off her back and flaps around, offering little benefit in combat.

I would consider Tokyo Ghoul S a small improvement over Tokyo Ghoul, a feat that is more impressive than it sounds given how it focuses on material from the first season I am less interested in. Likewise, while it does not subvert expectation and does not offer a “better version” of what we saw in the anime series, it does offer a satiable adaptation and an above-average film. I would recommend it.

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