Kaneki Ken (Masataka Kubota) is shy and reserved by nature, preferring to bury his nose in a book than talk to those around him, but he does have one friend at college, Hide, who tries to bring him out of his shell. Today they are in a café and Hide starts up a discussion about the spread of ghouls across Tokyo, a strain of inhuman creatures who can nevertheless pass for people and can only eat our flesh to survive. Apparently, there have been reports on the television news about them growing closer to the district the university is in, but Kaneki is distracted by another student, a shy reader like he is, Rize (Yû Aoi), who he tentatively begins a relationship with...
Who knows where that would lead? How about a midnight walk where they end up in an embrace, and the girl of his dreams takes a bite out of his neck? We should have seen it coming, but Rize was one of them there Tokyo Ghouls of the title and is only stopped in her tracks from eating Kaneki alive by a fortuitous ton of scaffolding falling on her. It was that sort of movie, naturally based on a manga which in turn had become an anime, and as was the way with such things, the live action version was not far behind, in general fairly well received by fans of the original comic no matter that it appeared to be optimistically planning a series of movies to tell the whole narrative.
This did seem as if there were bits being left out, for the fact that there are a bunch of these ghouls, we're told, spreading across the city and it's implied, the world, the sense of this being a major phenomenon was largely missing. Indeed, there was a curiously small scale feeling to the proceedings, as presumably if the movie had taken in any more it would have sprawled into a third hour after the initial two and come across like an instalment of the Underworld franchise, only with the flesh-eaters instead of the vampires and werewolves. Nevertheless, the building of a society of these monsters, and making them sympathetic, was uppermost in the thoughts of the screenplay.
Fair enough, there were evil versions of the ghouls, like the one who chomped Kaneki, but once he is infected and transforms into a flesh-eater himself he is adopted by a not unkind group of them who make their living as baristas, since coffee, in a weird detail that renders this a tad more distinctive, is the only thing that can stop them craving people meat. Every so often there comes a horror that claims to turn the carnivores in the audience vegetarian, temporarily if not permanently, and for the first couple of acts Kaneki's descent into what is essentially cannibalism will be appealing to that naked lunch disgust as he struggles with his newfound impulses. However, it doesn't last as this parlays into a whole lot of soul-searching as the horror goes somewhat emo, as it tended to do this century.
To add interest, there was a team of government secret agents who were avowed to wipe the ghouls out and remind us that these good guys Kaneki has been involved with still eat people, no matter their better qualities. Yet the agents are a rum lot who refuse to accept the ghouls may have emotions, and in some cases, immense guilt at their appetites, which we can see and presumably are supposed to empathise with - being aware of what the anti-ghoul league get up to, including cutting off their tentacles (yes, they grow extra appendages for some reason) and using them against the supernatural entities in handy briefcases, you may be left wondering if either side is really worth our empathy. But by that point we are sufficiently engaged with the hapless Kaneki, who swings from emotionally stilted to tears of self-pity at the drop of a hat, to wonder what he can do now: the answer is a cliché superhero battle to end the film on a setpiece or three. It's pretty decent as far as it goes, but the sort of thing where you wouldn't be too driven to seek out later instalments. Music by Don Davis.