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Review © Larry D Burns, 2008.

Directed by Shusuke Kaneko, 2006, 126 mins., starring Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ken'ichi Matsuyama, Asaka Seto, Erika Toda, Yu Kashii, and Takeshi Kaga.

Based on a wildly popular manga, later turned into an anime series, Death Note poses the question, "What would happen if one person has the power to take a life and become judge and jury to those who are guilty?" While this may be a hugely philosophical debate in itself, this film barely scratches the surface of the implications of such a responsibility. I guess you pretty much know how the rest of this review is going to turn out by that statement. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Much like Kill Bill, the film is told in two parts. Why they decided on this seems based solely on the idea of selling more tickets since the first part (the film I'm reviewing right now) really doesn't have much going for it. There's easing into the story, then there's simply making an excuse to fill up a one hour and forty minute running time to become a full-fledged feature. And it's a looooong hour and forty minutes. Much of it is simply that - filler - which is downright annoying, particularly when you find yourself screaming "Move on already!" at the TV every few minutes. Yeah, that was pretty much me during the entire running time of the film.

Actually, on reflection, it's more like "shuffling time" :-)

Pretty much a basic vigilante justice story, the film goes about trying (desperately) to be a moral compass for right and wrong. But it suffers with its own shortcomings in terms of plot progression and conflict (or lack of such) that it becomes a tedious ride that merely prepares you for the second part. Nothing much happens in the film and clearly they're just getting you ready for the good stuff (the sequel). Whether or not the sequel is better, I don't know. I just know that based on what I've seen here, I have no intention of seeing the sequel. Harsh? Well, see it and judge for yourself.


"Only the Death Note can create a perfect world without crimes."

The plot is pretty much paper thin. A series of mysterious deaths are happening around Tokyo, which all have one thing in common: the victims have all either been acquitted of a crime they are supposedly clearly guilty of, or currently on trial for the same. Also, another giant coinkydink links them together: they all died of an massive, unexplained heart attack. The deaths are splattered all over the evening news, and before you know it, the entire city is abuzz with rumours of a mysterious vigilante whom they have tagged as "Kira", which means "the saviour". Pretty much overnight, a fanatical cult of worship of this Angel of Justice springs up, including the ubiquitous teenage fangirls fawning over their perceived hero of the people.

While all of this is happening, a law student named "Light" (Tatsuya Fujiwara, who has thankfully removed the frightwig which adorned him so very fetchingly in the two Battle Royale films ;-)), who seems to be disenchanted with the entire justice system, watches on. It's later revealed that Light is the owner of the Death Note, a notebook which allows the owner to kill whoever they want just by writing their name in it. Along with the book, Light receives a Death God, a Shinigami, to watch over him, or something, hey, it's just an excuse to have a giant CGI thing there. I don't really know what the Shinigami is doing with Light, all I know is that it just looks like a giant plastic action figure and eats only apples(?!). Presumably giant plastic ones. Of course the book should only be used on criminals, the dregs of society, and Light wields the book as such. For now, anyway.

Meanwhile, the police are at their wits' end as to the explanation of these deaths, seeing them as not just mere coincidences but as actual deliberate assassinations, although there is no evidence of such. Amidst the chaos, a mysterious man offers the assistance of an internet figure named "L" (eventually emerging as Ken'ichi Matsuyama, who is now seemingly the new owner of Fujiwara's old frightwig) who only speaks to them through a laptop. Could be George Bush, could be Steve Jobs, could be Taro Suwa for all we know at this point.

Soon enough, the FBI gets involved in the case too, and the whole thing starts to degenerate into an overlong, fangirl-pleasing pout-a-thon, involving the Death Note finding a new owner in the guise of a local female pop celebrity who seems to be even more morally corrupt than Light. But I guess that story will be explored in the sequel - a sequel that does seem to have a lot more happening in it. Well, based on the trailer I saw on the DVD, at least.

So, I've never read the mangas, haven't seen the animes, and have no intention of watching the sequel. Does that mean this film is bad? No, it just means I didn't like it. The plot is slow, even though based on the summary above, a lot seems to be happening. But truthfully, there isn't. The film is basically death, investigation, death, suspicion, death, abduction, death, resolution. I really didn't have any expectations with the film. But watching it didn't really do much for me. I didn't get excited, didn't get involved in the characters, basically didn't care. Like I said, it's probably just a way to get to the sequel, which I doubt is any better than this one.

An "extreme" movie Death Note almost defiantly is not. There's almost no blood, no strange goings on, no tension of any sort. It's just a film that never really gets its point across. Is it a morality play? Is it a cyber-thriller? A Charles Bronson vigilante tale? An episode of Felicity (yeah, the romance angle with Light and Shiori feels like that at times)?  An excuse to wheel out some scaaaaaary rubbish CGI giant plastic monsters? What? What?

Supposedly the manga and anime versions delve much deeper into the the Death Note world, but I just don't see how much deeper you can get with a story of a bored, disenchanted law student who decides to take the law into his own hands. I mean, where's the emotional conflict? Where's the emotional transition of being a nobody to having this dangerously powerful ability? There isn't even a struggle on Light's side to (believably) justify and defend his actions. You'd think that with an almost two-hour running time, they could afford to throw in a better backstory on all the characters - their motives are never adequately explored. Perhaps it's explained further in the sequel, manga, and anime. But if I have to drudge through all that source material to get interested in the story, then clearly this film has failed in its attempt to get me to care. A film should engage the viewer from the get-go, no matter if it's the first of a two-parter, or a series. They may have saved the good stuff for the sequel, but, you know, I have no way of knowing that, not being psychic and all.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:

Entertainment Value: 4/10
Acting: no frightwig/10
Sex: 0/10. Don't be fooled by that picture of the stripper. There. Is. None.
Violence: 1/10
Boobies: none. Might have brightened up proceedings. Take note, producers!
Frightwigs: 1. On the wrong character, no less.
Giant CGI Plastic Action Figure of an Apple-Munching Death God: 1. And crap.

Films in a Similar Style:

*** BOORRR-IIIING!!! ***

Death Note Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.

You can download this wallpaper here: [1280x1024]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2008

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Shusuke Kaneko
Tatsuya Fujiwara
Ken'ichi Matsuyama


http://www.shusuke-kaneko.com/eng/index.html - director's homepage
http://www.encorefilms.com/deathnote/index.html - official US site for this film and its sequel. Trailers ahoy!
http://wwws.warnerbros.co.jp/deathnote/ - official Japanese site for this film and its sequel
http://www.dreadcentral.com/reviews/death-note-2006 - ...and for the opposing view, this review from Dread Central is as good as any
http://twitchfilm.net/archives/010551.html - Twitch interviews Shusuke Kaneko on the Death Note promo trail
http://cinemawithoutborders.com/news/126/ARTICLE/1317/2007-07-10.html - 4½ stars? You what?
http://cinema-repose.com/?p=28 - one last good review, and we're done...

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