The story centers on a world where mortals live alongside so-called ghouls who need to eat human flesh to survive and our hero is a college student, Ken Kaneki (Masataka Kubota), who has to live his life as a half-ghoul after being attacked by one of the malicious monsters. This context is important as the surreal and often silly sequel doesn’t offer any real backstory or world-building as it throws you straight into the supernatural world of the murderous flesh-eating ghouls.
This entry into the Tokyo Ghoul franchise introduces a new foe in Shuu Tsukiyama, a horrific and powerful ghoul serial killer known as the Gourmet due to his tendency to eat specific parts of his victim. Think of a glam Hannibal Lecter with a taste in ostentatious full face masks and you’re almost there.
The status quo as the film begins is that the Gourmet is terrorizing Tokyo with his murders and Ken Kaneki is still getting used to his new life as a half-ghoul. He’s being trained and looked after by some kindly flesh-eaters who run a local coffee shop as he acclimatizes to his double life as a human by day/superpowered cannibal by night.
Like many lower-budget manga/anime adaptations, Tokyo Ghoul S feels more like a serialized television special than a movie during some moments but that’s not always a bad thing. Characters get time to breathe, to know each other, to train, eat food, and go to school. It’s a teen-focused world with Kaneki and Tsukiyama basically becoming college age analogues for Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter.
It’s not a coincidence that the famed flesh-eater has come up again as the directing team of Takuya Kawasaki and Kazuhiko Hiramaki as well as the film’s writer Chūji Mikasano were clearly all huge fans of Bryan Fuller’s recent Hannibal TV show. Plates of food are shot with an erotic eye and Tsukiyama loves nothing more than cooking up a haute cuisine piece of the human anatomy. Sadly, the team don’t have Fuller’s outrageous eye or his commitment to horror-drenched homoeroticism that made that show so special.
Watch our review of the original 2017 Tokyo Ghoul movie:
Though Tokyo Ghoul S does suffer from a relatively slow start, as soon as Tsukiyama becomes obsessed with Kaneki and his strange half-human scent the film really amps up the action. When the directors get their claws into (the budget and) a big fight scene or effects moment, the screen comes alive. There are a couple of pretty brilliant and bloody set-pieces that will make you wish that they took up more of the runtime possibly instead of the unnecessary human/ghoul romance story that slots into the middle of the movie. The fight choreography is often simple but striking and is most importantly always entertaining.
If Tokyo Ghoul S stuck to the action and horror side it could be a really solid genre entry, but alas it often gets mired in melodrama and loses the tension and pace that it does manage to build relatively well. Honestly, this is a struggle that the film shares with many live-action anime and manga adaptations, so if you’re a fan of these movies then you likely won’t notice the drag as the creative team attempts to build more mundane human moments on top of the fun, fresh, and sometimes even frightening monster ones. With the expansive selection available to audiences via streaming, Tokyo Ghost S might not find an audience. But if you’re a horror fan looking for something different than your average ghost and monster fare then you should seek it out and see if the strange manga mashup works for you.