Death Note (Desu noto)


It's a bishop. No, it's a rook...

It’s a bishop. No, it’s a rook…

(2006) Horror (Viz) Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ken’ichi Matsuyama, Asaka Seto, Shigeki Hosokawa, Erika Toda, Shunji Fujimura, Takeshi Kaga, Yu Kashii, Shido Nakamura (voice), Sota Aoyama, Ikuji Nakamura, Norman England, Shin Shimuzu, Masahiko Tsugawa, Miyuki Komatsu, Hikari Mitsushima, Tatsuhito Okuda, Yoji Tanaka, Michiko Godai. Directed by Shusuke Kaneko

If absolute power corrupts absolutely, what would the power of life and death do? How long would you be able to retain your humanity if you could kill with the stroke of a pen?

That’s what law student Light Yagami (Fujiwara) receives when he finds a notebook. Disgusted after overhearing a criminal in a bar brag about having gotten away with murder, he has lost faith in the justice system of Japan. However, when he discovers the notebook, he discovers it has a specific power; that anyone whose name he writes in the notebook and whose face he can picture will die in the method and at the time he specifies; if he fails to specify a time and method the person whose name is written will die of a heart attack within minutes.

After a couple of tests prove the notebook is genuine, Light is visited by the book’s previous owner, a Shinigami (a Japanese god of death) named Ryuk. Ryuk is 9-feet-tall, eats apples and has a dry sense of humor. He resembles a Peter Max drawing of a Blue Meanie, only he’s more of  White Gothie.

Light resolves to rid Japan of her criminal element and begins killing off criminals. As the police notice the epidemic of criminal deaths, Light’s own father (Kaga) heads up the investigation of the deaths which they believe are the work of a mastermind named Kira. Light is at first amused by this but as his father brings in the world’s most brilliant detective, a mysterious figure known only as L (Matsuyama) who turns out to be even younger than Light. Now the two will go head to head, each trying to discover the other’s identity. The closer L gets, the more Light begins to change and lose more and more of his humanity. Which one will win out in the end?

This is based on one of Japan’s most successful manga (the Japanese comic book) which in turn became a hit anime (animated feature). This, a live-action movie (which came out the same year as the anime as well as a live-action sequel to this movie) was a massive hit, showing just how popular this particular manga was.

The premise is a bit complicated but once you get it, it’s wickedly clever. I also found the acting to be pretty good, considering that the movie is the equivalent of a Swamp Thing movie. Ryuk is essentially a digital creation, and quite frankly although the character itself is interesting and brings quite a bit of comic relief, there are unintentional laughs because it simply looks and moves in a ludicrous manner. Even the apple-eating gag gets old after awhile.

Now, I understand that realism isn’t going to be a strong point in a movie about  a death god giving a death dealing notebook to a law student, it simply stretched believability beyond the breaking point in making “L”, the smartest most successful detective on Earth, a teenager. Of course, the movie is meant pretty much for teenagers but for the rest of us, a big fat raspberry for that move. It just brings the movie to a grinding halt.

Despite its faults, this is a wildly entertaining and fun couple of hours. Kaneko does an excellent job of keeping the tension at a high level throughout. While there are supernatural horror elements to the movie, the truth is that this is more of a tragedy as we watch Light with the best of intentions and best of hearts slowly and inexorably slide down the path of corruption and arrogance as his God-like powers of life and death begin to erode his soul. It’s a fascinating and sad process that kept my interest high from beginning to end. How do you like them apples?

WHY RENT THIS: Ingenious premise. Well-acted. Very suspenseful.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Ryuk effect is a bit cheesy. An older actor for “L” would have worked better.

FAMILY VALUES: The subject matter is a bit on the adult side. Some of the deaths are violent.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The filmmakers got permission to reserve a subway train and line to film a crucial scene, something that the Tokyo government hadn’t ever done before.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a director’s interview split over several parts. The extras menu is graphically designed as a group of apples floating on the screen. While the apples remain in the same position, the extra feature that each apple represents changes randomly so that one minute it might be a trailer for the anime version, the next part three of the director interview. It’s different but annoying after awhile..

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $42.9M on an unknown production budget; while nearly all of the box office was from Asia, the movie was undoubtedly a blockbuster.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Drop Dead Fred

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Mother’s Day

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