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Soundtrack review: Tokyo Ghoul (Don Davis – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Tokyo Ghoul (Don Davis – 2017)

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“Tokyo Ghoul” is a Japanese dark fantasy action horror film based on the manga series Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida. The film is directed by Kentarō Hagiwara and stars Masataka Kubota as Ken Kaneki and Fumika Shimizu as Tōuka Kirishima. Tokyo Ghoul is set in an alternate reality where ghouls, individuals who can only survive by eating human flesh, live among the normal humans in secret, hiding their true nature to evade pursuit from the authorities. Ken Kaneki, a normal college student who, after being taken to a hospital, discovers that he underwent a surgery that transformed him into a half-ghoul after being attacked by his date, Rize Kamishiro who reveals herself to be a ghoul. Struggling with his new life as a half-ghoul, he must now adapt into the ghoul society, as well as keeping his identity hidden from his human companions. Don Davis wrote the score and it was about time since it’s been 10 years or so since his last score.

The main title theme takes me by surprise with its lyrical and emotional tone; this dramatically charge piece could work very well as an end title cue for a movie that will have a sequel with the way it builds up into striding action. It’s rare that a cue projects such clear images in my head but here I see a main hero ready to fly to his next adventure in another movie. Here I am going into a score expecting mayhem and horror and I find myself listening to an emotional and poignant beginning of the composition. As the story truly begins the tone changes to mystic and mysterious and even if the music is minimalistic it has the effect of a dark mist that covers everything and it doesn’t need to be thicker because it can still hide danger. It’s a tonal downward spiral as with every cue the score gets darker and creepier.

For me any fantasy or horror score works best when it has some meaningful emotional moments inside; Don Davis carefully weaves his canvas to include all the relevant feelings and I get cues like “Yoshimura’s meat dispensary”, warm and melodic. “Hunger for hide” is almost fairy tale like with the bells chiming and the soft string section while the subdued and elegant way the strings play in “Kaneki’s despair” make for another gem of a cue. The composer focuses on the emotional tribulation of the story rather than the horror and I am just stunned to hear the lyrical heartbreak of “Hinami eating flesh”. There is a piano motif in here that just gives me goosebumps and it comes back in “Pre-teen lust”. I did not expect to find a tender piano love theme in a score for “Tokyo ghoul”. This is what listening to film music is all about, creative surprises like this one.

Even in the darkest fantasy horror pieces “Tokyo ghoul” still shows why Don Davis’ 10 year absence from film music is a crime; the slithering motifs, the gothic like buildup, the horn section and the epic finish of “Ryoko’s head” bring my favourite cue from the album. I also didn’t expect to find a cue title like “Touka and Yomo’s Cognative Dissonance” in a dark fantasy horror score. This score as everything from powerful action to quiet reflection but what impressed me the most was the emotional content, the orchestrally elegant, almost elegiac moments that punctuate the moments of pain and inner turmoil in the story.

“Tokyo ghoul” is a beautiful and complex orchestral score that makes me fall in love again with the fantasy horror genre; I really can’t ask more from a score than to tell me such a meaningful story, to have the epic moments blend in with the emotional ones so well and to make me feel from start to finish whether it be sadness, motivation, fear or gratitude. Don Davis is back with a bang and he was well worth the wait.

Cue rating: 93 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 36 / 60

Album excellence: 60%

Highlights:
Tokyo Ghoul Main Title
My Mother the Corpse
Ghoul Discussion
Touka and the Trash
Yoshimura’s Meat Dispensary
Kaneki’s Despair
Hinami Eating Flesh
Pre-Teen Lust
Ryoko’s Head
Touka and Yomo’s Cognative Dissonance
The Surprise of the Rabbit
The Kaneki Metamorphosis
My Mother’s Arm
Amon Amongst Friends
Anger Unlimited

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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