Humans or ghouls? You won't know whom to root for in Tokyo Ghoul

Hiyori Sakurada (left) and Masataka Kubota in Tokyo Ghoul.
Hiyori Sakurada (left) and Masataka Kubota in Tokyo Ghoul.PHOTO: ENCORE FILMS

REVIEW / FANTASY HORROR

TOKYO GHOUL (NC16)

120 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3.5/5 stars

The story: Ghouls, indistinguishable from normal folk, roam Tokyo and feed on human flesh. Kaneki (Masataka Kubota) undergoes surgery after an attack and finds himself turning into a half-human, half-ghoul hybrid whose loyalties are torn between the two worlds. Based on the manga of the same name (2011-2014) by Sui Ishida .

Ghouls are monsters who feed on human flesh and must be exterminated at all costs. Or are they?

Like in Giddens Ko's recent Mon Mon Mon Monsters, the humans here are capable of monstrous behaviour as well. But Kentaro Hagiwara's dark and violent Tokyo Ghoul is more nuanced and layered in its indictment.

The viewers' guide to the world of ghouls is the luckless Kaneki, a socially awkward young man who is inadvertently turned into a halfhuman, half-ghoul hybrid.

Kubota (Death Note television series, 2015) gives an intense performance as, at first, Kaneki desperately tries to satiate his hunger, but throws up everything he ingests, and then realises with horror that the whites of his left eye have turned a sinister red.

As he gets initiated into the mysteries of a hitherto unknown world, we tag along for the ride. His struggle to retain his humanity keeps us invested in the story.

One of the cool things about the manga, and the film, is the character design of the ghouls.

In their natural form, their power resides in all manner of fantastical appendages, such as tails and claws, called kagune, which differ from ghoul to ghoul. The face masks, which range from an innocuous rabbit to a ghoulish black leather veneer with a zipper over the mouth, feel like fan service detail.

Diving deeper into this community, Kaneki meets a shy girl ghoul, Hinami (Hiyori Sakurada), that he is protective of. This sets him on a collision course with the humans bent on wiping out the ghouls, Amon (Nobuyuki Suzuki) and Mado (Yo Oizumi).

It is a measure of how balanced the story-telling is that you do not know whom to root for when the humans battle the ghouls.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2017, with the headline 'Who are the monsters, humans or ghouls?'. Print Edition | Subscribe