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Mumbling Kitsune: Experiencing the Death Note Movie
The live-action Death Note movie offers another take on the classic manga
By Nadia Oxford
September 21, 2008
© Viz Media
When the Death Note manga and anime hit North America, it quickly became a fan favourite. It was refreshing to latch onto a series that was based so heavily on mystery, intrigue and psychology.
A Death Note live-action movie was inevitable. Sure enough, two surfaced in Japan in 2006, plus one spin-off in 2008. The spin-off, L: Change The WorLd, stars Death Note's dark-eyed detective as he tries to get to the bottom of a lethal virus outbreak.
It's not likely that L: Change the World will ever sail to America. a Variety review calls the film lacklustre, with L taking on the role of a “semi-superhero” instead of a “candy-munching techie.”
Picturing L in superhero tights is both amusing and frightening, but the fandom's intrigue and interest belongs to the two-part film that re-tells their favourite detective story. The first part, simply called Death Note, had a limited showing in the United States in 2007. It wound its way up to Canada in September 2008, one day before the DVD release. The second part, Death Note: The Last Name will see another limited run in October 2008, and the DVD will follow shortly thereafter.
A New Light
The movie is a must-see for fans of the series as it tells the story of L and Light from a different angle. Their mind games move at a much faster clip because of theatrical limitations (the first part, which ends with Light joining the Task Force runs at 126 minutes), but their bluffs, advancements and setbacks are generally compacted well.
One of the most notable and welcome changes that director Shusuke Kaneko brings to his version of Death Note is his depth. The characters automatically seem more identifiable because they are human, but at the same time we learn a lot more about Light's motivations for killing criminals. Indeed, he's almost sympathetic...for a time. He never quite loses that childish, temperamental bit of his personality that drives him, nor should he.
Old Monsters, New View
The mischievous Shinigami Ryuk is present, of course, as a computer-rendered being. He looks suitably grotesque, but a little rubbery. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as his presence adds that little spark of Japanese camp; Kaneko is in fact the director of 2001's well-received film, Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidora: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.
Some aspects of the live-action Death Note movie are admittedly jarring. The biggest adjustment is getting used to the dubbing, which uses the Ocean Group voice actors from the anime. Needless to say, characters' voices don't often match their lips accurately, but that's nothing new for anyone familiar with dubs of Japanese films. What's off-putting is seeing live actors talk in the voices that were claimed long ago by their anime counterparts. It works in a few cases; Matsuda's naive energy transfers well between animation and live action, and poor Chief Yagami's mournful voice fits any overworked man of justice who is troubled by the possibility that his son might be a serial killer.
Ryuk, who's obviously not real in either incarnation of Death Note, loses the least from the transfer. In fact, he gains significant character thanks to an R rating (14A in Canada) that grants him permission to be raunchier with his observations: “If you ask me, Light, I think you're in deep shit.”
Indeed, the Death Note movie puts quite a bit of focus on the members of the law who suspect and track Light, making the film relatively fast-paced without watering down its intrigue. The plot is moved forward by certain events surrounding Shiori Akino, Light's steady girlfriend—another potentially jarring addition. Seeing Light with a girlfriend who's more than a fixture is, at first, disappointing. In the anime and manga, Light's shoddy treatment of the women who love him speaks a lot about his character, especially since his desire to rule the world seemingly precedes any desire for a romantic relationship. Everything comes together in the end, however, and it becomes apparent why Shiori was a necessary character.
Fans might not enjoy certain aspects of the Death Note movie; the plot changes (however necessary), the rapid pacing that sometimes makes it difficult to tell what's going on, or the bizarre dubbing. Regardless, it's certainly worthy of a viewing. Most fans will probably be restricted to the DVD, but the theatre release is a lot of fun to attend. There aren't many chances in this life to be surrounded by like-minded, costumed fans.