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Tokyo Ghoul
  • Composed by Don Davis
  • Shochiku / 2017 / 60m

Based on the Japanese manga series, Tokyo Ghoul is about a pleasant group of individuals – ghouls – who survive by eating human flesh.  They live amongst ordinary humans such as you and I, and nobody knows who they are (except, presumably, for the people whose flesh is eaten by them).  It’s directed by Kentarô Hagiwara and follows someone who is half-human, half-ghoul – and finds himself on the run from both sides (presumably in Tokyo).

Don Davis – or, to give him his full name, DON DAVIS – appeared to be riding the crest of a wave when he scored The Matrix Revolutions in 2003.  His music for that trilogy was genuinely groundbreaking, brilliant film music that suggested a master at work.  But since then… virtually nothing.  He has only scored one film that was actually released in cinemas in the 14 years since (The Marine, in 2007) – there’s been a handful of tv movies, a couple of games, his opera, a bit of orchestration work for Randy Newman – but that’s it.  He did write demos for the Wachowskis’ next project after The Matrix trilogy, Speed Racer, but ultimately they decided to go another direction – but it seems very odd that he has not picked up other work.

Don Davis

Anyway, we can rejoice in the fact that he’s back, and with Tokyo Ghoul he really is back – this is a large-scale, predominantly orchestral score that is very entertaining, bringing over a few elements from the scores that put him on the map in the first place, combined with some new ideas and some classic action and horror music stylings.  And there’s a great main theme – a big, bold, ballsy main theme.  We launch straight into it in the main title cue – a bit soft to begin with, but the orchestra soon swells up and away.  It reminds me a bit of a David Arnold Bond theme (sans vocals, of course) – only a bit, but it’s got that sassy quality to it – mixed with one of Christopher Young’s grander horror themes.  It makes numerous appearances through the score, Davis milking it for all its worth particularly in the later stages.

After a few brief cues, things really kick off again in “Eating Human Flesh”: after some electronics, up comes this enormous blast from the horns and trombones and all of a sudden we’re almost back in The Matrix.  It’s brilliant to hear this again: smart music, dynamic and exciting.  The piece then goes into a sustained period of foreboding before exploding back to life (and just after the four-minute mark, listen out for what is presumably a little homage to John Williams).

There’s an emotional sidestep during “Yoshimura’s Meat Dispensary” (which must be one of the finest track titles in my music library) – it’s a hauntingly sad piece for piano and strings, really quite lovely; and then an ironic hint of a lullaby underpins some rather terror-laden sounds in “Hunger for Hide”.  A secondary theme is introduced in “Hinami Eating Flesh”: you might not expect it from the track title, but it’s a romantic piano melody with swelling strings, classic love theme territory.  After the demented calliope “Mask Shop Mambo” that secondary theme gets another airing in “Pre-Teen Lust” (another noteworthy track title: could lead to an interesting conversation if someone discovers a file with that name on your computer).  “Ryoko’s Head” begins with another burst of Matrix brass but the piece builds up into something really quite sweeping and epic with a gigantic rendition of the secondary theme.

There’s a great action piece (“The Surprise of the Rabbit”) with the brass section of the Nashville orchestra really going hell for leather, then a beautiful pause for breath in “Grieving Ghouls and Hominids Too” with anguished emotions expressed by strained strings – and then comes the score’s pièce de résistance, the fantastic “The Kaneki Metamorphosis”.  Choppy strings and subtle percussion accompany a horn rendition of the score’s main theme and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger – it makes me think of Christopher Young’s exceptional finale cue from Priest.  It’s rousing stuff, tremendously satisfying.

That cue actually signals a change in direction for the score, which spends much of its final twenty minutes going through a series of large-scale action tracks dominated by variations on that main theme.  “My Mother’s Arm” actually opens with quite a tender passage but it soon explodes into life and leads into the spectacular “SUV Upside Down”, with synth percussion joining the frantic orchestral frenzy (it’s a shame the cue is so brief).  There’s a hint of the action finale from Avatar in “Amon Amongst Friends” before another pair of intense cues: “Hoist by his own Quinke” sees the intensity come largely from anguished drama mixing with the thrills, then “Anger Unlimited” lives up to its name with some growling, snarly writing, once more focusing in particular on the brass.

A few shorter, softer cues see the score approach its conclusion: “Sewer Side” and “The Yoshimura Yawn” both feature tender, very attractive renditions of the secondary theme, the former in particular dripping with emotion.  Then comes a rendition of the main theme in “To Infinity and Beyond” that has a certain heroic feeling to it.  I’d rather the abum had ended there than with “Hear You”, a “remix” of the main theme that seems to be trying to do what Ben Watkins did in The Matrix sequels, but I don’t like it.

Admittedly the first half of the album does have a few tracks that could have been pruned to improve the listening experience, but there’s more than enough quality in Tokyo Ghoul to make it an easy recommendation.  The theme is great, the chance to hear Davis revisiting the territory that he trod so successfully earlier in his career is hard to resist, and overall the thing is just very entertaining.  Whether it leads to a well-deserved renaissance in his film music career remains to be seen, but anyone who has enjoyed his past work will certainly love this opportunity to hear something new.  At the moment the album is only available as a Japanese import but apparently a US and European release is on the way.

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  1. Daniel Henderson (Reply) on Wednesday 20 September, 2017 at 21:20

    Thanks for the review. I had completely forgotten this was coming this year. I did a little digging and for those not wanting to spend $30-40 getting this from Japan, Milan will release it on October 20 for the US (not sure if Europe is different).

    Big question is does the Milan release keep the same number of tracks? I can’t find a tracklist for it.

  2. Joseph Ratzinger (Reply) on Thursday 21 September, 2017 at 04:37

    Is rather interesting that asian filmmakers hire underutilized western composers for their films, like Christopher Young in the monkey king

  3. silverghost (Reply) on Thursday 21 September, 2017 at 13:56

    @Daniel Henderson, most likely Milan will keep same track list. I know when Wolf Totem came to US on Milan Records it was the exact same track list from French release earlier that year. And I had to wait half a year for it.

  4. Rubadub Dub (Reply) on Wednesday 27 September, 2017 at 13:39

    I am Rubadub Dub. I am the Jordanian ambassador to Japan. I live in Tokyo and there are no ghouls. You must inform your readers that this film is a work of fiction. It is not an accurate document of Tokyo. Ghouls are more frequently found in Osaka.

  5. J.B. (Reply) on Sunday 15 October, 2017 at 04:54

    Beautiful score. The secondary theme sounds very similar to Davis’ main theme from The Unsaid.

  6. Daniel Henderson (Reply) on Tuesday 14 November, 2017 at 13:39

    Heads up: Toyko Ghoul is now out for us in the West on Milan. Much better buy at standard CD price than buying it from Japan.

  7. Daniel Henderson (Reply) on Thursday 21 June, 2018 at 09:00

    Hey James, any chance of a review re-do of the expanded Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions?