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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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01/07/2008 Archived Entry: "Movie review: Death Note 1"

Death Note 1 (Movie)
Directed by Shusuke Kaneko
Screenplay by Tetsuya Oishi
Based on the manga by Tsugumi ‘ba and Takeshi Obata

Review by Tom Good

This live-action movie version of the Death Note manga efficiently captures the involving and complex plot of the original story. Light Yagami, a young student, finds a notebook called the Death Note that once belonged to a shinigami, or god of death. Writing someone's name in the Death Note causes the person to die. Light realizes he can now commit undetectable murders, and when he hacks into a police computer system, he finds out that many cases are being dropped, so he decides to use his new power to rid the world of evil criminals. When the authorities notice the mysterious deaths, a detective named "L" takes the case and tries to find the person responsible.

The movie makes a few changes to the plot of the manga, but the unique style of the original comes through, and none of the changes hurts the story. Early in the movie version we see Light showing off his basketball skill. This reminded me a bit of High School Musical, and it makes Light seem more athletic and popular than he does in the manga. And here, unlike in the manga, Light has a girlfriend who figures into some important events. This mainly makes him seem more callous later, when he fails to care for her as much as the audience might expect.

Some of the most interesting differences between the movie and the manga have to do with language. The movie is in Japanese with English subtitles, but the words "Death Note" and the instructions within the notebook are plainly written in English. This is also true in the English translation of the manga, but it is not as obvious, because everything else has been translated into English too.

Similarly, the name "Light Yagami" does not seem as strange in the English manga, where it appears among other English words, as it does in the movie where it is spoken aloud in Japanese. This Japanese man's first name is the English word "Light". Not an English name like "Bill" or "Jeff" but just the word "Light." In the movie, every time his father called him "Light," which he pronounces more like "rye-toe," I wondered, "why in the world did you name your son 'Light'?" (The manga explains that the name is written with the Japanese character for "moon." But this does not explain the motivation for it, and only makes it seem even weirder.)

What I missed most from the manga was the character name Raye Penber. The corresponding character, an American FBI agent, still exists in the movie, but he has been renamed Raye Iwamatsu. When I first read the name Raye Penber, it felt like a mistake, like the kind of name a non-American writer would imagine to be a common ordinary American name, even though it isn't. But as I read more of the manga, I grew to like that choice. "Raye Penber" has a great sound to it, it is fun to say, and though there may not be anyone in America with that exact name, there ought to be. Changing the name to Raye Iwamatsu may be an attempt to fix the original "mistake," and it does sound like a more plausible name, but in this case the mistake was better than the correction.

Light and L are both brilliant but odd characters engaged in a battle of wits, and the actors who play them do a good job of conveying this. Light's smirking superiority and L's weird mannerisms come across well. The creepy shinigami character was done with CGI, and looks just like the manga version, with lots of personality. But the many death scenes for minor characters tended to be cheesy and unconvincing. They reminded me of the death scenes of child actors in a school play: "Gah!" Goofy face. Thud.

Misa Misa (another good name), a cute girl pop singer who plays a major role in the manga, appears in the movie but does not get to do much this early in the story. In fact, viewers who have not read the manga may wonder why she appears in the movie at all. The sequel will probably make this clear and supply her with a lot more scenes, but this brings me to the ending. The movie does not tell the entire story of Death Note, and in fact it has a cliffhanger ending that does not explain much of anything. But it is a good enough movie that it will surely make fans eager for part 2. Recommended.

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