Live action adaptations of anime don’t always work very well. However, the first “Death Note” movie is a chilling thriller with serial murders, demons and investigative mind games.
The movie starts straight out with a series of news reports on numerous criminals, all killed by a heart attack. All the deaths are tied to a college student named Light Yagami, who writes names in his “Death Note” book to kill them.
Director Shusuke Kaneko takes the story a step further with a scene in which Light met one of these suspected serial killers face-to-face. After the yakuza (Japanese gangster) member almost stabs Yagami on the spot, Light leaves the bar in the pouring rain. He’s clearly frustrated that this murderer was set free.
Light’s life takes a turn when the black “Death Note” book falls to the ground. Thinking this book is a joke, he writes the name of a serial killer whose face was on television. The next day, he opens the newspaper to find that this criminal is dead.
After killing the yakuza guy he met last night with his new book, Light runs into Ryuk, a demonic spirit who dropped the “Death Note” from the sky. Ryuk says the book is all his and that if Light doesn’t want it, Ryuk will just erase his memory of the book and find another owner.
Eventually, Light proclaims himself a god of justice by killing unprosecuted suspects. He adopts on the Internet persona name “Kira.” For all you English nuts, it’s supposed to stand for killer. Get it? Kira is a killer?
Anyhow, most of the movie is based on the first few chapters of “Death Note.” Soon, Light’s father and a mysterious man named L lead a group of investigators to track Light down.
The second half of the film takes a dark turn as more people start to track down Light. Without saying too much about the ending, this movie shows off Light’s lack of remorse for anyone. He’s willing to risk everything to protect his precious book, even if he kills the person he loves the most.
The Japanese actors handle their roles with expertise in this new film. Tatsuya Fujiwara sounds every bit as cold and calculating as Light Yagami. During the scenes where he is eating potato chips and studying, no one would never suspect that Light is watching a hidden television for people to kill.
More than anything, this first film proves that Light is a true bastard who is more interested in killing off all criminals for his own idealized vision of Japan. Thankfully, Light hasn’t killed the main protagonists yet, so there’s enough room for director Kaneko to wrap this story up in the next film or two.
There are just a few problems with this movie. First, the ending credits features the Red Hot Chili Peppers song, “Dani California.” There’s no reason why a California song is in a film set in Japan, aside from the edgy, funky guitars in the song and the lyrics about “resting in peace.” It sounds completely out of place.
Second, the demon Ryuk looks like a cheap computer-generated cartoon. The animators produced enough fine detail in his costume to make him appear half decent, but he still moves around like a puppet from the “Jason and the Argonauts” movie.
These are just minor, silly setbacks to a down-to-earth adaptation of a heartless story. The “Death Note” movie is a true descent into hell, because this time Light is an actual person, watching everyone for a chance to murder them.
Better yet, this movie includes some of the funniest English dubs. If you like your “Death Note” movie raw and intense, watch the original Japanese voice track. However, if you want to hear Japanese college students with valley girl-style accents and criminals who shout, “Son of a bitch!” and “Stop f***ing with me!”, feel free to watch the English dubs.
My favorite dub joke is one uttered by the English voice actor for the criminal Takuo Shabuimoto, who says, “It’s coming back. How it feels when the knife cuts deep into the flesh. And when it finally sinks right into the heart, ‘Eeeeeeeeee! YAAAAAH! What am I doing here in this place? I don’t remember!”
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