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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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12/08/2007 Archived Entry: "Movie review: Death Note"

Death Note
Directed by Shusuke Kaneko
Screenplay by Tetsuya Oishi
Based on the manga by Tsugumi Ôba and Takeshi Obata

Review by Ginger Mayerson

I've never read the "Death Note" manga, but I sure liked this TV movie. Not only did I enjoy it, I understood it! The writer and director didn't cut any corners setting the story up. There's about goodly opening stretch of tense music, shifting scenes of bad guys dying, news reports, public reaction, and some very tidy handwriting in a lined notebook, and then (cue the tense music) Light Yagmi is introduced as the person writing in the notebook, therefore being Kira, the person able to kill at a distance, and this serves as a great prologue. It's a pretty good hook—it worked for me—and it sets up a flashback to the pre-Death Note Light at collage. An innocent, optimistic youth, Light is tall, good looking, an ace at pick-up basketball, has a hot girlfriend named Shiori, and has just passed the bar exam. He adores his police detective father and is all set to pursue justice in the legal system. Unfortunately, after criminally hacking into his father's police database account, he is shocked to discover that the legal system is much less effective than he thought it was and becomes horribly disillusioned. Just to further torture himself, he goes out and finds some criminals in a tacky strip bar who were set free by the courts, and they freak him right out. And then, on the way home from this traumatic experience, he finds the Death Note. For a brilliant legal mind, I think he should have been a little suspicious of finding a bone-dry paper notebook in the pouring rain that was in its own circle of dryness. I, personally, would have been very disturbed by that, but I don't write manga, so maybe Light's was the normal reaction. Anyway, he takes it home, laughs indulgently at the weird directions for killing people in the book and watches a little TV. While watching TV, Light decides to try out the Death Note directions on a crime in progress. And the rest is history. Or something.

The movie (because it is TV movie: clunky, but endearing) picks up some steam when the fabulous death god, Ryuk, swoops down on Light and begins to provide some creepy comic relief, exposition, and even a little foreshadowing. Ryuk has a big crush on Misamisa, the hyper-girly host of "Happy Sweets!!!" Hell, even I have crush on Misamisa. I'd never want to be within earshot of her, but she's otherwise irresistible. Ryuk and Misamisa are more like charming well-made props than characters in this movie. Ryuk is CG, so in his case even more so, although the voice actor and the CG animators do a good job giving him a presence [1]. But hey, it's based on a manga, so we're not talking about Ivan Fyodorovich Karamazov and Madame Bovary here. Ryuk still has some of the funniest lines in the movie, not to mention becoming a kind of moral post-it note as the story progresses. Misamisa is a doll that flails through her scenes and makes high screechy noises, but by the time we get to her scenes, she's a welcome relief from the tense, bass drum music and the moody masculine stares of the other characters.

Speaking of the other characters. The actors playing Light (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and L (Ken'ichi Matsuyama) do a pretty good job with what they were given to work with in the script. For Light it involves a lot of narrowing his eyes and thinking really loud at us. For L, it's in the rare smile or sudden movement that puts the character across. He's usually crouched in a chair, eating sweets, watching and/or providing exposition for the viewers at home. There is one sweet eating scene that stands out in my mind: L dumps a half dozen sugar cubes into a teacup of milky tea and stirs it with a lollipop. Well done, I say. But, kids, don't try that at home. Your dentist will scold you (and then hurt you very much).

Both Light and L are really sexy, which is, I suppose, how it should be. Too bad it's not yaoi because they were made for each other. L never gets near a sexually available woman and Light's scenes with his girlfriend are about as exciting as watching ice fishing. So now that I'm thinking about it, this might have been a very discreet nod to the Light/L yaoi crowd. And if so, hey, thanks! I mean, in a perfect world, Light would have thrown all the Death Note nonsense over and carried L off into a blissful domestic partnership where they would become the gay Nick and Nora Charles of Tokyo. Or something. Ah! Huh... What was I writing about? Oh, yes...

All the other actors were either adequate or inadequate in their roles. Takeshi Kaga, as Light's policeman father, got as much as was humanly possible out of his cardboard part. I hear he was on Iron Chef, which I've never seen. L's henchman, Watari, had very little to do in the movie, but he did it very well and with a lot of presence. I have to say that after Light and L, the only other big fangirl squee was for Watari's first appearance. Light's girlfriend and many of the police officers didn't really have characters, they were just there to mouth plot points, and merely read their lines (and not terribly well either). Buy, hey, it's a TV movie, no one was watching it for award wining acting.

I originally saw this movie and the sequel at AnimeExpo last July. The sequel has75% more Misamisa! I think she even gets chained up at one point. So, fanboys, there IS something to look forward to!

I will be sending this screener off to Tom Good for a more manga-informed (and probably adult) review [2]. I also have to get it out of my house because I've watched it for two nights now, and each night I've been unable to not stop at the bakery around the corner for chocolate éclairs to eat while watching L chow down. This is very bad, and as my idol Misamisa screeched so brilliantly: "I ended up getting fat instead! Now, who's the devil?" Hey, recommended, with or without chocolate éclairs.

[1] According to Wikipedia, Nakamura Shidō, who was great as Dragon in "Ping Pong," voiced Ryuk. So that would explain a lot of why the character had some heft.

[2] Death Note manga reviews by Tom Good:
Death Note, vol 10
Death Note, vol 1 and 2

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