Although the Japanese manga-derived Death Note was met with a disappointing two-star review here at Filmcritic.com, I'm inclined to be a little more generous to its sequel, Death Note: The Last Name, if only because Japanese pop culture is pretty cool in general and the film has plenty of style, if not mind-bending substance.
Both films revolve around the dreaded "Death Note," a thin paper book dropped from the heavens by a demonic "reaper," depicted in the movie as a ten-foot-tall CGI-generated winged monster that looks like a cross between the Joker and Keith Richards. Once you possess the book, you simply write someone's name in it and he dies how and when you describe. The Death Note also comes with a long list of rules and regulations that help to power numerous clever tricks and plot twists.
The first time around, the Death Note fell into the hands of Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara), an earnest law student who used it at first simply to wipe out all the criminals in Japan and bring an end to crime. The police, including Light's father (Takeshi Kaga) took a dim view of all this murder, however, and tried like crazy to track down the mysterious invisible killer, a task that got harder as Light turned bad and started using the Death Note to kill off the investigators who were looking for him.
This time around, Light is still on his rampage and enjoying delusions of grandeur when a second Death Note drops into the hands of a Britney-like pop star named Misa (Erika Toda), who also gets off on its powers and comes to fall madly in love with Light when she learns that he, too, has a Death Note.
Desperate for help, the police turn to the mysterious and charismatic L, a twenty-ish shut-in who lives in secluded luxury with his loyal manservant and an impressive array of computers (sort of like Bruce Wayne). The cadaverous, whippet-thin L, who gorges himself constantly on any kind of candy, cookie, or dessert, is a mastermind who never sleeps, and through hard thinking and lots of database crunching, he is able to focus his suspicions on Light, much to Light's father's distress. Light digs in for what becomes an epic battle of wits -- he even joins the search for the Death Note killer to throw everyone off the track -- and the two geniuses toy with each other as the Death Notes continue to be deployed to do their dirty work in increasingly creative ways.
Death Note: The Last Name is not particularly fast-paced or violent. It's just sort of cool and fun, and it's hard not to fall a little bit in love with the supremely weird L. In fact, he turned out to be so popular that the producers rushed out a third film, L: Change the World, that's neither a prequel nor a sequel but more like a "simulquel," squeezing in an additional storyline for L on his downtime from the Death Note mystery. It's the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead of manga. Chalk up another one for Japanese creativity.
Aka Desu nôto: The last name, Death Note 2.
Those chips'll kill ya.