Tokyo Ghoul: 'S'
2019, NR, 107 min. Directed by Kentaro Hagiwara. Starring Masataka Kubota, Shota Matsuda, Maika Yamamoto, Shun'ya Shiraishi, Kai Ogasawara.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Sept. 13, 2019
The first live-action film of Sui Ishida's long-running and gory manga Tokyo Ghoul came out in 2017, and the bloody sequel opens up with little quarter for newcomers. This world is immediately shown as a hideous and warped place, where cannibalistic ghouls prey on humans – the only sustenance that can support them. Ken Kaneki (Kubota) has recently become one of the wolves preying on the flock, a half-ghoul created by surgery, and he's trying to get used to his new inhuman status – including his kagune, an organ that all ghouls have that produces some kind of bladed extrusion from their body. Fellow ghoul Touka Kirishima (Yamamoto) is trying to train him in his new abilities, as well as making it clear that he's no longer human, and that people are meat.
However, not all predators are created equal, and there are those hunters that hunt the hunters. Shu Tsukiyama (Matsuda) is the Epicure, a cosmopolitan ghoul with a refined palate who seeks only the finest delicacies (the ingredients for his favorite breakfast meat make blood sausage seem like celery sticks). He's set to break the golden rule that ghouls don't eat ghouls, and the half-and-half Kaneki is just too delicious and rare a treat to leave untasted.
Tokyo Ghoul falls into the grand tradition of heroes embracing their monstrous nature, but the real dynamic is that Ken is an awkward nerd failing to cut it with the cool kid ghouls. That the coolest of the emo kid ne plus ultra takes an interest in him gets an added homoerotic subtext every time Tsukiyama – Mads Mikkelsen's Hannibal with even floppier hair – wistfully plays the piano and moans about eating him.
Initially, that could be written off as inadvertent, since manga has a long tradition of effete villains. But when the painfully naive Ken is invited to an underground ghoul restaurant that seems to owe more to the orgy sequence from Eyes Wide Shut than MasterChef. any understatement disappears into high camp. Especially as that's when the monster-hunting Commission of Counter Ghoul turns up, armed with quinque (bladed weapons derived from the kagune) that just look like giant CGI Final Fantasy swords.
Tokyo Ghoul: 'S' is at its best when it embraces its high weirdness (Shu setting up a cannibalistic threesome is hilarious) but it's never sure what it wants to be. Its CGI-enhanced fight sequences are too fleeting to be anything other than a snack, while characters and subplots are teased but then forgotten (fans of Ken's overly chirpy friend Hide will be especially disappointed). The bigger problem is the lack of focus. The first film was shredded for being too gruesome (a strange criticism for a horror adaptation), and while 'S' never shies away from its own stomach-churning visuals, Ken is too milquetoast and Shu too histrionic for their dinner date to ever leave you satisfied.