Death Note Movie Review

The subject of Death Note -- a supernatural notebook with the power to kill anyone whose name is written in it -- sounds interesting enough, but visually it can't be all that entertaining. A guy scribbles a name in a notebook; person with said name dies. Repeat. Thus, to keep the story suspenseful, the filmmakers would have to pay special attention to other elements in storytelling, such as creating tension, executing clever plot twists, and perhaps developing the characters (if they're feeling ambitious). Unfortunately, Death Note does none of that.

Based on the manga with the same title, Death Note centers on Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara), a top high school student who aspires to rid the world of evil by writing criminals' names in the Death Note. There are some rules to using this notebook: While writing the person's name, you must picture his or her face; if you don't specify the cause of death, the person dies of a heart attack by default; if you possess a Death Note, you'll be haunted by its original owner -- in Yagami's case, a pale reaper who resembles Marilyn Manson with wings. Internet fans have dubbed Yagami "Kira" -- derived from the word killer in Japanese. Police, of course, are eager to arrest Kira to put an end to these mass murders.

Sounds pretty cool, right? And you might think, "Good thing Death Note was made in Japan -- a country whose cinema is famous for some of the best horror flicks, such as The Ring and The Grudge." But you'd be wrong.

Rather than being a suspenseful, dark film, Death Note looks more like a Japanese music video. The colors are bright and jolly; Yagami looks and acts like a J-pop star; and L (Ken'ichi Matsuyama), the world's #1 detective trying to catch Yagami, is wearing far too much eye shadow to be taken seriously. The camera restlessly moves to and fro, following each character in the frame as if to say, "Hurry up! Let's get this moving!" But this isn't a film that should be rushed. It'd be better to let simmer.

The cat-and-mouse relationship between Yagami and L has the potential to be fascinating. Both characters are regarded as considerably intelligent -- and both are blindly trying to uncover one another's identity, very similar to the relationship between Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon in The Departed (originally, Infernal Affairs). But Yagami's and L's ploys to trick one another seem rather half-baked. The film is only engaging in the sense that you might spend more time thinking, "Well, if I were in Yagami's shoes, a smarter way to trick L into thinking ____ would've been to do ____."

And if it's possible to not recommend a film based on one scene, it'd have to be the one in which Yagami and his girlfriend go on a date in the museum. A sappy Japanese song blares loudly in the background while the two contemplate making out right then and there. All joking aside, the scene looks like a chapter from a karaoke laser disc.

I suppose the film is engaging in another sense -- in thinking about what I'd do with a Death Note. I'd probably write my own name in the notebook while watching this movie.

Aka Desu nôto.

Cast & Crew

Director : Shusuke Kaneko

Producer : Seiji Okuda, Takahiro Sato, Toyoharu Fukuda

Starring : , Ken'ichi Matsuyama, Asaka Seto, Takeshi Kaga

Comments

Death Note Rating

" Grim "

Rating: NR, 2006

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