Mark Slonsky sends this review in all the way from Japan!
I must admit I not a big follower of the original Manga. I did know of its existence in Shonen Jump as a serial and the buzz surrounding it’s casting which is why it peaked my interest. The film itself is much like a setup for the following sequels. It’s obvious they are hoping to build a possible franchise and make their money with this one because of the U.S investing. After the Warner Brothers logo left the screen we dissolve to a dark rain falling on Central Tokyo. A book flutters to the ground and the minute it hits, the area around it dries. It’s the Death Note. The film opens with a bang. Killers, corrupt politicians, and all kinds of slime who have beaten the system are dropping like flies from mysterious heart attacks. Being Japan the youth have begun to follow the deaths almost like the latest fad. Talk shows interview people on the street who appreciate what the killer is doing and those who see him as nothing more than a murderer. Our ‘killer’ Light is played by “Battle Royale’s” Tatsuya Fujiwara and we see that what he is doing he believes to be just. At least that is how he feels at the beginning of the film. His girlfriend is a bit alarmed by the popularity surrounding a killer and as this happens we see how Light came to be the present owner of the book. After finding it on the ground he later encounters a local thug that had threatened him from the night before standing at a train track. Light writes his name into the book and before the train can pass the punk is clutching his chest and convulsing to death on the ground. Light is quickly seduced by its power and does not even question the reparations that come with using it. However this does not make him stupid. If anything the story shows how absolute power corrupts absolutely. We see as Light begins to see himself more and more as a celebrity and this feeds his ego which leads him to achieve much more riskier killings. He even begins to go after the police and law enforcement agencies that are hunting him down. Using the book correctly relies on the following of a set of rules to create death.
The bulk of the story is an elaborate cat and mouse game. Overwhelmed the police are approached by an intermediary who works with a sweets-crazy semi-recluse who goes by the name of L to hunt down the killer. The police are wary of using L’s intelligence as a guide to find Light but they are impressed by his expertise. Light has a partner in his quest as well, the God of Death Ryuku who if any of you have seen the Manga, is a dead on representation of the comic. The God of Death is done surprisingly well and looks like a mix of prosthetics and added CG. He is voiced and possibly played by Shido Nakamura one of my favorite Japanese actors who played the killer in Neighbor #13. Ryuku is the original owner of the book and an observer of the disorder Light is causing. There are various hilarious scenes with him and his aggravating need for Apples, which are like a fix to him. They even show what it is like to view the world thru a God of Death’s eyes as he views Light’s life clock ticking away above his head.
As things progress Light begins to come under more suspicion as many clues begin to lead to him. Often it feels as if it could all come spiraling down at any moment. It’s only when Light begins to go after those attempting to stop him do you begin to see him as no longer a hero but a villain. It’s when he begins to write out elaborate deaths for his enemies that you see how deep his malice can go for those who go against him.
Fans of the story will be glad at the exact replication of the Manga on the big screen. Even Misa the bubblegum pop idol is here referencing herself in the third person! Her role is a small one but the possibilities for her storyline are obvious by the end of this film. I don’t want to give away too many twists that to its readers are common knowledge now but there are quite a few big ones. An American friend of mine says it sounds as if they adapted the first 4 or 5 volumes of the Manga released in the states. The film has a high gloss feel and it’s ending is very open for future sequels which as of this writing are being aimed for a release in October (November). If anything I believe with this kind of popularity it may get a dubbed release in the United States or at least a DVD quite quickly. This is not your typical J-Horror fare, which is definitely dying at the moment with all of the scary-girl with long hair movies flooding the market. The gore in the film is almost non-existent but I could see it getting an R for a few scenes if it were to be released in the U.S. The director Shusuke Kaneko is moving up after the flawed ‘Azumi 2: Death Or Love’ but has another project on a smaller scale called ‘God’s Left Hand, Devil’s Right Hand’ which from the pictures and bits I’ve read is a lot more extreme and more like the kind of films fellow BD members would enjoy.
Overall the film is a refreshing change from the usual Asian Horror out there today but it’s pace is quite slow and it’s action is minimal so it may seem a bit bland to those not fans of the Manga. However, it is definitely worth checking out. I, for one am waiting to see what they will be doing with the sequels so I can enjoy this first installment even more.