Death Note (Desu NÅto)
directed by ShÅ«suke Kaneko
starring Ken’ichi Matsuyama, Tatsuya Fujiwara, & Asaka Seto
Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara), the son of a police detective and law student, has become disillusioned by criminals managing to slip through the cracks of Japan’s legal system. One night, following a failed attempt at vigilantism, he finds a notebook on the street. The notebook, called “Death Note,” contains instructions for placing people’s names in the notebook, causing them to die. There are some rules. You have to know their name and be picturing their face as you write it. You can also detail the cause of their death or let the Death Note cause a simple heart attack within forty seconds of writing their name. Criminals throughout Japan, and soon the world, are dying at the hands of Light and the Death Note.
The Death Note also comes with an apple-munching death god (Shinigami) named Ryuk who is only visible to the holder of the Death Note. Ryuk has no interest in what is done with the Death Note, but is merely entertained by what the holder does with it and how it changes them.
Light reserves his Death Note vengeance for un- or under-punished criminals. Calling himself “Kira,” Light becomes a folk hero. Light’s father becomes the head of the police investigation and reluctantly has to accept the help of a mysterious detective known only as “L” (Ken’ichi Matsuyama). L communicates with the police via laptop and soon Light starts feeling the pressure closing in and expands his death-dealing to agents investigating the case. Soon the majority of investigators resign from the case, forcing L to work face to face with the remaining detectives, including Light’s father. L is nothing like the detectives, or the audience’s expectations. He is a young, effeminate man with a flair for the dramatic and a predilection for sweets. In Japan, gorging on sweets is exceedingly un-macho, so it is quite funny when L offers pastry shish-ka-bobs to the hardened police detectives.
Eventually Light manages to clear himself to the police, get rid of those in his way, and even get named to the Kira team. But L manages with the help of a bag of potato chips to make it clear he knows Light is Kira, setting things up for the sequel.
Although Death Note feels a bit long at a full two hours, it is never boring and ends with anticipation for the sequel. It moves at a nice clip but at times feels a bit constrained, possibly by budget or by its source material. Although it is based on manga, the film doesn’t have the fanciful comic book feel of US films like Sin City. Apart from Ryuk, the film is really grounded in reality. Ryuk the death demon is made via CGI and doesn’t always mesh seamlessly into the action. He feels slightly unreal, which at times is slightly distracting but never becomes a major issue.
The acting is for the most part really good apart from the role of Light’s girlfriend. Her performance is so dull one wonders why Light is so attracted to her. My guess is this isn’t any deficiency in her acting, but rather she is playing a stereotypical nice Japanese girlfriend, which isn’t really the most exciting character type. Of course it is Ken’ichi Matsuyama as L who really steals the show. The film picks up so much energy whenever he is onscreen.
Viz has produced an absolutely gorgeous DVD of Death Note. The disc boasts a flawless transfer with original the Japanese language track along with the English dub. There are not a huge amount of extras, but the inclusion of a paper copy of the first chapter of the manga is a nice touch.