Saturday, August 24, 2013

Death Note





"The human whose name is written in this note shall die."

Unless you've been living under a rock when it comes to being a fan of manga and anime, Death Note is a popular manga series created by writer Tsugumi Ohba, and artist Takeshi Obata, both of whom are also famous for the manga series Bakuman. Death Note began serialization in the Weekly Sh nen Jump magazine in December 2003. The series movedto the tank bon format in 2004, and continued till 2006 where it ended.

The story of Death Note is about Light Yagami, a very bright student who has a great distaste for law, helped in part by his father being a detective. Light leads the everyday student life while he works to becoming a detective like his father. However, all of this is changed one day when he comes upon the Death Note, a note that allows whoever uses it to kill simply by writing down an individual's name while having their face in their mind. Light at first doesn't believe it, simply passing it off as a type of chain letter. However, he decides to test it one day, and finds out that the notebook is for real. He soon meets the Death Note's owner, Ryuk, a shinigami A.K.A god of the dead. Now knowing that the Death Note actually works, and having met Ryuk, Light decides to use the notebook to exterminate every last criminal in the world, only living people who he has judged to be kind, where he will rule over his utopia as a new god.

From that point forward, the series follows Light as he executes his plans. However, the police who have noticed the increase of deaths have decided to find out who is Kira (derived from the Japanese word for killer), a name Light's followers have given to him. With both the Japanese police, an internationally known detective named L, and soon a second Kira named Misa on his tracks, Light does anything, and everything to try and make his vision come true.

With Death Note having a very unique and original story behind it, it's no surprise that it became a smash hit (it even being one of Sh nen Jump's best selling manga of all time, with sales over 26.5 million copies). After the manga ended, an anime was soon created. Just like the manga, the anime became majorly successful both in Japan and the rest of the world. The anime even helped launch some international fame for the Visual Kei band Nightmare, and the alternative metal band Maximum the Hormone (both of which are two of my favorite Japanese bands). With a couple of video games under the series wing's as well, Shueisha did indeed have a hit on their hands.

So it was no surprise that in 2006, two Death Note live action films were produced. Directed by Sh suke Kaneko, known for directing the Heisei era Gamera movies, Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, and Azumi 2: Death or Love. The films were split into two parts. The first movie, simply titled Death Note was released on June 17th, 2006. The second film, titled Death Note: The Last Name was released on November 3rd 2006. The first one setting everything up, with the second one concluding the story.

Both films did phenomenally well in Japan, and when they briefly made an appearance in North American theaters, they did pretty good as well. But of course, box office sells don't always mean that a film, or in this case films are any good. So the question is, how loyal to the source material are the movies, and how good are they?

Taking a cue from Julie Andrews, there's no better place to start then the beginning.

The first film in itself as I stated sets up the mythos for the story. As far as volumes covered, it really only covers volume one, although it does incorporate some aspects of volume two. It runs through Light getting the Death Note and meeting Ryuk, L's introduction, and Light's battle with Raye Iwamatsu (not Penber as he was called in the manga and anime), and Naomi Misora.

The second movie is thus the film that wraps up everything else. But if you were expecting an ending close to the manga and anime, you're shit out of luck. But more on that later. The volumes covered are pretty much 3/4 through 12, but with 12 being fairly minor in it's role here. So I should say 3/4 through 7. New character introductions are really limited to just two. Misa (who technichally was first introduced in the first movie, but only as a minor role) and Kiyomi.

Now no film can be complete without it's main characters. So let's briefly talk about the three main characters in the film, and how well they were portrayed.

Light is played by Tatsuya Fujiwara, known internationally for his role as Shuya in the cult and international hit Battle Royale (my favorite Japanese movie of all time next to Audition). Fujiwara plays the role quite nicely. His portrayal of Light is very similar to the Light in the manga and anime, cool, cunning, and when pushed, menacing. However, whereas the Light in the original source material would turn quite psychotic at any given point, Fujiwara's Light does not. While he does capture the rest of Light's character qualities, the psychotic side is substituted for that of a more calm and quiet one. Whether this is done to be more realistic is unknown, but the difference isn't really something major to complain over. I did miss that insane maniacal laugh Light had in the anime, but I can live without it. As a whole, Fujiwara does a good job.

"Are you impressed by my strength to hold up a phone with this many trinkets with just two fingers?"

L is played by Kenichi Matsuyama, best known outside of Death Note for his roles in Detroit Metal City, Gantz, The Taste of Tea, Linda Linda Linda, and the live action adaption of the manga series Nana. Known mostly for playing oddball characters, Kenichi definitely nailed the character of L in my book. He was able to capture all of L's isms, and bring them wonderfully to the big screen. From the holding of the phone, to the way he walks, to the way he eats and sits, even to those awkwardly hilarious facial expressions, Kenichi got it spot on. Where as Fujiwara's portrayal of Light stayed true to the original character only altering what was needed, Kenichi pretty much stayed faithful to the original version from both the anime and manga.

Now, if you payed attention to the three cast members I put at the top of the review, you'll notice a third and final name, which is the name of a female. And considering it can only mean that she's playing a main character, it's easy to figure out that I'm about to talk about everybody's favorite cook show hosting, pop idol, Light fan girl Misa. Misa was played by Erika Toda, best known outside of Death Note for her roles in a number of different TV dramas. Now before I get to my thoughts on her acting portrayal, let's just get this out of the way.

Who gives a rats ass if she's not blonde like in the manga and anime? I actually prefer Misa as a brunette then as a blonde. And on top of that, Erika Toda is ten times more beautiful and attractive then the Misa in the anime and manga. Now with that out of the way, let's talk about her actual portrayal.

Whereas the character in the original source material was insanely obsessive and bat shit crazy, Toda's Misa is a bit more tame. She's the crazy nut job that we've seen her as in the anime. Instead, while she's still pretty found and to a degree obsessed with Light, the craziness of the character has gone away. And by that, I mean she's not hyperactive anymore. Once again, she's played here in a more sensible quiet nature. Personally I enjoy the performance. I find her a bit more menacing here where's she more quiet then when she would go off like a bullet in the manga and anime. Out of the three main characters, she's the one that was changed the most in my opinion (although there are some characters they changed even more). But change and all, Toda did a good job at portraying Misa (I want Japan to actually make a Misa Misa cooking show now).

The rest of the cast was very nice as well. Light's father was the stern yet caring detective/father he was in the original material, Watari is the good butler whose actor has made me call Watari the Japanese Alfred, and the rest of the cast as a whole were really good.

Now, this being a film based off of a manga series, things were bound to be changed. So let's go over those.

"Draw me like one of your French girls Light."

The first movie features very little change. Only two plot points have been changed from the original material. The first is how Light acquires the Death Note and meets Ryuk. In the original manga, Light finds the Death Note outside of his school. And, after a couple of weeks of usage, Ryuk comes to him in his house. In the movie, Light now finds the notebook outside of as bar, and meets Ryuk after using it only once. The change doesn't really affect anything else in the movie. And to a degree I think I see why they did it. In the manga/anime, Light was still in high school when the story started, and thus found the Death Note there. The Light in the movie is already in college, so finding it outside of a high school would be a bit weird. Why they didn't have him find it on the college's campus I don't know, but it's not something to complain about.

The second plot point changed is the whole struggle with Naomi Misora. In the anime, after Raye's death, Naomi goes straight to the police trying to find answers. Light happens to walk by and after talking to her, figures out that she's the fiance of the FBI agent he killed. He offers to walk her around the town to get her used to the area, an offer she takes. After giving him a fake name, Light tells her that he works for the police, and needs her name for any future contact regarding the Kira case. She gives in, giving him her real name, which results in Light killing her via suicide.

The movie version on the other hand changes this completely. Instead of what I described above, Naomi now has a take no prisoners attitude. She tracks Light down at his college while he's eating with his girlfriend Shiori. She introduces herself and explains what happened, and how she thinks Light is Kira. Light and Shiori argue that he isn't, and Naomi leaves after giving Light her business card with a somewhat fake name on it. Later on, Naomi kidnaps Shiori and brings her to an art museum. Light arrives at the museum after being told to come to it by Shiroi, who was forced to by Naomi. The two of them (Naomi and Light) have a back and forth conversation, Naomi saying that if Light does not come out as Kira, she'll kill Shiroi. Meanwhile, the police are trying to get to the museum. After minutes of this, the police show up. Naomi distracted by the sirens creates an opening for Shiori to escape, which she takes. However, Naomi fires off a round which hits Shiroi, killing her. Shocked by what she has done, Naomi kills herself. After the incident, Light reveals to Ryuk that he organized the whole thing. After finding out Naomi's actual name from the chapel she and Raye had registered at, he made her entry in the Death Note be that she would kidnap a girl, force her to bring her boyfriend here, and would in the end kill that girl, as well as herself. When Ryuk brings up that you can't use the Death Note to make a person kill another person, Light reveals the second pat of his plan. To ensure that everything would go as planned, her wrote down Shiori's name, setting it up to correspond with Naomi's entry.

This second change is probably the biggest one of the film, considering it rewrites an entire story arc of the original source material. However, I think I actually know why they did this. In the original version, it's just Light and Naomi walking around, talking about the case. A scene that is in all honesty, fairly boring. And being that this is a live action adaption of the series, something tells me the writers thought that they needed something a bit more action packed then just walking and talking. Well that's my theory at least. Regardless, the scene is really great. It builds up the tension, leaving you the viewer waiting for it to all resolve, and with this being Death Note, resolve badly. And the scene that follows with Light and Ryuk is very good as well. Throughout the film, we know that Light is very cunning, and will do anything to achieve his goal. But we never really saw him being evil in his planning, until this scene. This is when everything comes full circle for the character, and we finally see that indeed, he will do anything to create his new world.

Now, on to the second film. The second film, while following the story from volume 4 to 7, with the ending of volume 12 stay fairly true to the original source material, the whole movie is completely and vastly different from the original manga. The story of the second movie is pretty much the whole Misa arch, and thus we are treated to both her and Light's imprisonments, and the third Kira. And that's where the first real major change happens. In the original story, the third Kira was Kyosuke Higuchi, an executive of the Yotsuba Group, which is just a group of people from a corporation who meet weekly to discuss killings happening in their group. In the film, Kyosuke is replaced with Kiyomi Takada, a television reporter who is jealous of one of her coworkers. Both kill for the most part in the same way, the only real change is the fact that Kira III is now a girl. Once again, it's a change that isn't really important.

And to be honest, that's the only true major change next to the ending. I know from the way I introduced the film you'd all be expecting a lot of changes, but the movie is only different from the manga because of the change from Kyosuke to Kiyomi. The story is pretty much the same, it's just changed to fit the new character. Everything else is the same as it was in the manga and anime...although I'm still pissed we didn't get to see L and Light duke it out while handcuffed.

And then we come to our ending, which is the only other major change of the film. Like in volume 7, Light uses the rules of the Death Note and Shinigami to kill L. He forces Rem to kill off both Watari and L to save Misa, which in turn kills Rem. Now in the manga, L dies right there and then before he can say who Kira is. And at that point, the characters of Near and Mello are introduced. But in the movie, they pulled another switcheroo. This time, L was aware of Light the whole time, and wrote his own name down in the Death Note. Along with an elaborate plan involving a fake Death Note, L and the entire task force are able to out Light, which results in his death when he tries to kill them off using a piece of the Death Note. Light, like in the manga and anime is shot down, and finally killed off by Ryuk. The movie then ends a year later, on Light's birthday which his family celebrating it along with Misa.

Whereas the ending was probably changed in the first movie to make it more actiony, I can't really offer an idea as to why they changed it here. Maybe they figured it was better to only treat the series (main series) as a two picture deal, and decided to make the changes to wrap everything up in the second movie. Who knows. I can't really speculate as much as I did with the first one, because I can't really think of a possibility to speculate about. So yeah, case closed there.

As a whole, Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name are fairly good movies on their own right. If these were not based on a manga/anime, they would make very original films (just like their other counterparts). Each film has very good cinematography, showing off Japan as both a world of light and goodness, and dark and full of evil, much like Japan actually is. The musical score is good as well, and fits the films fairly well. I do wish though that we would've gotten to hear at least one of the Nightmare or Maximum the Hormone songs used in the anime, but I can live without them here. And hey, the Red Hot Chili Pepeprs actually contributed two songs to the movie to act as opening and ending themes.

The acting as I mentioned earlier is very good. Both Fujiwara and Matsuyama play Light and L to perfection in my opinion, and the rest of the cast did great in their respective roles. I know I didn't mention how Ryuk and Rem were played, so I'll briefly do so now. Both voice actors did a great job, although hearing Rem with a male voice is somewhat odd since I remember the character being a female in the anime, and even the manga if I remember correctly. Somewhat goofy CGI aside, their portrayals are pretty good.

Death Note and Last Name get the jobs done. They present Death Note in a live action format very well while staying true to the original source material while taking a few liberties which don't really impact the story, and in one case is actually better then it's manga/anime counterpart. Both films are some of the best manga to live action movies I've ever seen. In that field, they're not the best (a little yakuza film holds that title for me), but they're up there as the best. As stand alone J-Horror and thriller films, they certainly aren't the best. But they aren't terrible or bad. And while they don't give Kiyoshi Kurosawa a run for his money, they do give you the viewer a compact story which is quite though provoking. Which as a whole, is all you can really ask for in both a thriller, and any movie as a whole.

I give Death Note and Death Note 2: The Last Name my official seal of non sucky goodness. Four apples out of five.

Death Note Grade - B

Death Note 2: The Last Name Grade - B -

Combined Grade - A -
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