Reviewby Mark Sombillo, Feb 12th 2008
Death Note 1 & 2 Special Edition
Yagami Light seems as straight laced as a young man of his upbringing could be. Out in the world criminals start to die one by one. The cause of death was always a heart attack and slowly everyone begins to recognize that these deaths could be attributed to one man, a man that the world comes to know as Kira. Society begins to be torn in two, between those that support Kira's war to eradicate evil on earth and those that think that he has no right to murder anyone, criminal or not. Another individual, known only as L, steps in and declares that not only does Kira have no right to kill but that he was also a criminal himself and must be stopped. But for that to happen, L must first discover the source of Kira's ability to kill seemingly just about anyone he knew the name of. Only when L finds out that Kira holds the Death Note, a supernatural notebook which kills the person whose name is written on it, will he find out that Kira is Yagami Light.
The year 2006 enjoyed quite a number of manga and anime releases that created followings unheard of since the days of Neon Genesis Evangelion. This was the year which saw the height of the Death Note phenomenon. The manga enthralled readers the world over with a unique premise and visually gratifying characterisation. Then, the anime seduced those who needed moving pictures to tell a story to be part of the craze. To complete the hat trick, the movies were released and suddenly those who thought it beneath them to be an anime fan had a way at being part of this story without being labelled an otaku. Death Note has now secured its position as one of the most hyped anime of all time.
But does it live up to the propaganda? Certainly fans of the anime and manga would say that each had its charms and with the leeway to tell a story over several volumes and episodes, it's not hard to admit that the story presented was compelling and exciting. Viewed in that light, the Death Note movies had an air of being rushed. Story elements that would have taken several segments to explain had to be compressed or replaced altogether with somewhat more convenient alternatives. Hence, I'll say it now that if you're going to come to this movie with any preconceptions based on either the anime or manga, then I wouldn't be surprised if you come out of it saying, “was that all?”.
But if you come in to this expecting a good movie story without hoping to experience the same extended suspense that comes at the end of cliff-hanger episodes, then “buckle up Dorothy, because Kansas is going bye-bye.” Intelligence is the key attraction point that Death Note holds. The story is predominantly a game of chess where both Light and L try to outwit each other. It's not your standard detective story where an investigation happens to discover the villain. Instead, you have both sides baiting each other to make a mistake, more often than not with borderline believable strategies. As the story progresses, you never stop wondering which side will prevail because as soon as one side gets an upper hand, a new twist is revealed that turns the fortune of the other, akin to the non-stop roller coaster ride of The da Vinci Code.
I think one must enter into this story with a bit of open mindedness. If you question too many things too often, this movie will probably lose its charm fairly quickly. As I previously mentioned, having have seen the anime before watching the movies, I found myself thinking that some of the plot devices were just a little bit too convenient. Yagami Light having a steady girlfriend and being a major part of the story was a big deviation from the anime, but which I thought was an effective way of quickly showing just how far Light has progressed into his new found religion.
The second movie dared to deviate from the canon storyline even more than the first. As many of the fans of the anime would remember, the final third of the story introduces a couple of new characters into the fray. But if this road was followed for the movies we could have easily seen a third movie pop up. The conclusion reached was believable and quite clever, throwing me off quite a bit from my expectations and that's not a bad thing.
There is no shortage in production values for this movie, with two immediately well known actors playing the major roles. Tatsuya Fujiwara, famous for his lead part in the 2000 movie Battle Royale and its ensuing sequel plays Yagami Light quite convincingly despite his somewhat stunted disposition not really fitting the look of a successful college student trying to achieve the status of a god. Takeshi Kaga oozes out power, as head of the police unit trying to capture Kira. Being legendary for his role as Chairman Kaga from the Iron Chef TV series, I was a bit hesitant that he could pull off such a demanding part, but his calm and controlled demeanour was just spot on. Ken'ichi Matsuyama better suits the look as L with the posture to match, but I sometimes felt that he didn't carry out the quirkiness of his character effectively enough. I'd also just like to put the spotlight on Asaka Seto who played the character of Naomi Sora. Her acting as a supposedly grieving ex-FBI agent deserves an award for “worse gun handling in a climactic situation.” The special effects were also top notch, with the shinigami characters looking creepily real.
Madman Entertainment's 2 disk release is one which is very well advised. The first movie didn't offer a solid enough end, although with it being almost 2 hours in length, an intermission was indeed necessary in order not to drain the audience. At least with both movies in the one release, that intermission isn't too long a wait.
Anime has been around the country for some time now and so it's no big surprise that fans are sampling other forms of Japanese media for their viewing pleasure. Many anime and manga titles often see a full live action release, either through television series or movies. However, the often exaggerated intricacies of these stories don't always translate well to a real world, where such things as defying gravity seem more preposterous. Luckily, Death Note has enough air of plausibility and an eerie ambience to pull through a convincing narrative. Watch it to believe!
Overall : B-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Fantastic special effects and 3D character incorporation. Gripping story.
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