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Comic Tales: Death Note January 25, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Action, Fantasy, Comic Book , trackback

The Death Note of the title is a book with the power to kill, all you need to do is write your targets name inside and hey presto! they’re history. Of course there are some conditions; you need to know what they look like for one – if for example you wanted John Smith to die, how’s the book going to know which John Smith is your intended target? On the plus side you can even pick the time and method of departure for your victim.

When this book comes into the possession of Light Yagami, a law student who’s lost his faith in the legal system, he uses it to dispatch criminals the system, for one reason or another, has been unable to convict. He’s like The Punisher with a pen, no need to get your hands dirty when all you have to do is scribble in a book.

The authorities are understandably not too happy with this one man judge, jury and executioner (dubbed Kira by the press) but how far will Light go to protect his secret identity? The “god of death” Ryuuk, the original source of the book, is Light’s sole confidant. Only someone who has touched the book can see Ryuuk, who looks like a Goth version of The Joker with wings.

I’ve not read the manga on which the film is based, so I had little idea what to expect but was pleasantly surprised, although the film certainly has its faults. First among them is that it’s visually pretty dull. You’d expect a film based on a manga to be something of a feast for the eyes but the look of the film is flat and uninspired. Also on the down side is Ryuuk, a completely computer generated character who looks like he’s stumbled in from the animated version of the comic. Apart from eating a few apples (he’s got a taste for them) he doesn’t really interact with the environment at all.

Without flashy effects the film has to rely on the story and luckily it’s more than up to the task. Intricately plotted, with the Death Note allowing for some clever twists, it engages the brain if not the eye. Central to the film is the competition (both characters treat it like a game) between Light and the mysterious “L” who works with the police, helping them close the ever tightening net on the vigilante.

Tatsuya Fujiwara, who starred in Battle Royale, plays Light. He gives a terrific performance, you see him go from idealist to… well that would spoil the fun, but it’s an interesting character arc to be sure. How much wrong would you do to keep doing what you believe is right? And is there, in the grand scheme of things any real difference between the two? These are the questions Light wrestles with.

The thing I loved the most about the film is the cat and mouse game played by the two leads. It brought to mind Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty and “L” is very much a Holmes type - brilliant, arrogant and undiplomatic. He’s a teenage Sherlock with a sweet tooth, with the police relegated to pawns in a deadly game of chess between two super brains. As the enigmatic “L” Ken’ichi Matsuyama brings new meaning to the work quirky, perching birdlike on a sofa while eating the sort of foods that would give a dietician a heart attack, he steals every scene he’s in.

It’s surprisingly long at almost two hours but I never found the time dragged and the ending left me eager to watch the sequel (also included in the rather nice Korean 3 disc set) and I’ll be revisiting the world of Death Note again in the near future.


1. Mine Was Taller » Comic Tales: Death Note – The Last Name - April 25, 2008

[…] This sequel to the original Death Note picks up directly where the first film left off, no real surprise as the films were made at the same time, and has the same strengths and weaknesses as that film. The plot gets ever more intricate, as do the machinations of Light Yagami when he tries to keep the fact that he’s the vigilante Kira a secret. […]

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