Death Note Review
Written by: jmh314
Many people would say that Asian horror movies have hit a wall and are all beginning to blur together. I was beginning to think this was true, that is until I saw Death Note. I was a little skeptical about this film because mvoeis adapted from manga are not usually all that well done. I was especially skeptical when I learned this was part 1 of a two part film, with the film being split in half like Kill Bill. However, I found Death Note to be quite a breath of fresh air in the world of Asian films, and was an entertaining two hours for being the first half of a split movie. It is not a typical asian horror movie and I am not sure it is even considered pure horror as it is more of a thriller/mystery. There is very little blood and the storyline and characters are what drive this film to success.
Death Note is about a boy named Light Yagami who's studying law, but is unhappy about the justice system in place in Japan. While down on his luck, Light stumbles upon a notebook in the street with the words 'Death Note' on the front. Upon examining this notebook, he finds a set of rules for the notebook that helps state that anyone who's name is written in this notebook shall die. Light begins to kill off criminals who he felt were improperly punished by the governement for his crimes. Japan's citizens see these killings as a blessing and come up with the name Kira, who they believe is the God behind punishing these criminals with their deaths. Aided by Ryuuk, the God of Death that only Light can since he has touched the Death Note, Light begins to rid the world of criminals much to the dismay of the government. Light becomes more and more methodical in his killings as he learns he can manipulate the time of death, as well as how the person is killed just by adding additional details. He plans ahead and fills in deaths to occur days and weeks later to throw the government off track with the killings by the mysterious "Kira".
Once the government determines that this newly annointed "Kira" is behind the killings, they start their hunt to find who the real Kira really is. Fortunately for Light, he seems to be steps ahead of the investigation because his father who works for the government is in charge of the Kira investigation. Just when Light thinks the police will never figure out who Kira really is, the police bring in world famous detective only known as "L". 'L' immediately makes more progress in the investigation and all signs begin to point to Light being Kira. How will Light go about alluding the mysterious detective 'L'? How many people will Light continue to kill with the investigation right on his heels? The pieces of this puzzle take twists and turns that were sometimes slightly predictable but were never extremely obvious. It was a fun ride, and very well done and kept me on the edge of my seat watching Light and 'L' battle at wits end to outsmart one another.
The performances in this film as well as the storyline are what drives this film. Tatsuya Fujiwara, who many may know better as Shuya from Battle Royale, did a great job playing Light. He comes off very sly and believeable, and expresses his emotions about Lights actions very well. The highlight performance is by Ken'ichi Matsuyama who plays the detective 'L'. He sells this strange character in such a way it is hard to describe. His mannerisms and facial expressions are perfect because they can provide both comedic moments, and moments of pure tension. His performance stole the movie. And I give him credit for eating all the sugar and sweets that he does since his character has an unexplained love affair with junk food.
One thing that needs to be briefly mentioned is that Ryuuk, the God of Death that is Light's companion, is done in all CGI. While it is not the most breathtaking CGI, it was quite effective. It looked really great at times, and not so great in otehrs, but all in all this CGI character was well done and never too distracting. His voice actor does well and he provides some comedy to Lights decisions.
Overall, while Death Note is not a typical asian horror film, it is one of the best asian films I have seen in years. The storyline and plot twists kept me wondering where they would move to next and how the showdown between Light and L could get any more intense. They always seemed to be one step ahead of each other causing some very interesting thinking and motives for their actions. Overall this was a very smart and entertaining thriller/mystery/horror that was one of the most refreshing films I have seen in a very long time. It was so good that I immediately imported a copy of part 2 before I even finished watching this film.