Friday, April 10, 2009

REVIEW: Death Note

デスノート (Desu Nōto)

Released: 2006

Shusuke Kaneko

Tatsuya Fujiwara
Ken'ichi Matsuyama

Asaka Seto
Yu Kashii
Shido Nakamura (voice)

Running time: 126 min.

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

"Death Note". Life imitating art? In the manga, the anime, and the film, Kira, the killer who utilizes the power of the death note, becomes a pop sensation. Websites flood the internet, devoted to Kira and the almost cult religions status he attains. People walk the streets, worshipping his judicial methods of execution. People believe his is the god of death. In the real world, "Death Note" has become a pop sensation. In Japan , both films shot to number one at the box office, and spawned a prequel. In North America, you can’t enter an Anime store without being inundated with various "Death Note" memorabilia, whether it be imitation notebooks, Ryuk, Light and L toys, key chain dangly things and various other "Death Note" stuff. In short, the series took on the life that Kira embodies.

"Death Note" follows Kira aka Light, a University student, studying to become some sort of law enforcement officer, who stumbles upon the death note. The death note is a note book, filled with a series of rules. The rules are simple. Write down a person’s name, picture them in your mind, and then shortly thereafter they die of a heart attack. You can describe how they die if you wish, ultimately mapping out the last moments of the individuals life. Light, unsure of the validity of the notebook, runs a few tests, but ultimately uses the death note to deal out the kind of justice he could have only imagined as a member of the Japanese law enforcement agencies. At first he only kills criminals, people who the law failed to convict. But eventually the power the death note brings slowly corrupts him, and the lines between who he shouldn’t kill become blurred. The death note also brings with it a god of death, Ryuk, the original possessor of the book who only the owner of the notebook can see. He also draws the attention of Interpol, and their top agent, a mysterious fellow named L. Soon L and Light become engaged in a vicious game of cat and mouse, and the stakes become ever more engaging.

"Death Note" is bound to anger some. As an adaptation of a manga, it does change some key information, but only so it makes sense as a film. L is no longer a bored high school student, but now a University student with a strong sense of justice. As a film, it’s the first of two parts. It ends with a cliff hanger, so if you’re expecting a resolution, you ain’t going to get it here. But ultimately it all works. The manga is not a morality tale. It refuses to answer questions about the nature of justice, and the role it plays in society. The film, while not providing a straight up answer, does address these themes. L’s descent from a moral, just person, to a corrupt, narcisisstic man bent on dealing out his own sense of right and wrong is dealt with beautifully in the film. But what makes the film captivating is the game of cat and mouse that unfolds between L and Light. Just when you think L has Light cornered, it all unravels. And then it all begins again. What really makes this film stand out though is Ken’ichi Matsuyama’s performance as L. It’s not nearly as breathtaking as his performance in "Detroit Metal City", mostly because it’s not nearly as schizophrenic, but it’s so quirky, and he carries such a bizarre physical presence with him, that it’s still interesting to watch.

Ultimately, "Death Note" is a very entertaining film, which keeps you guessing until its cliff hanger ending, and also touches on themes of justice, morality, and the nature of right and wrong. And besides, how can something that has gathered such a devoted following be all bad?

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

No comments: