Last week I got out Japanese movie Death Note on DVD. Actually, my bf got it out, and since the label said “genre: foreign/horror” I was ready to run at the first sight of blood, gore, and/or undead children. However I was pleasantly surprised and fascinated by what is actually a really smart film with a pretty face, disguised as a horror flick.
The movie is based on a manga of the same name and is about Yagami Raito, 夜神 月, (“Raito” sounds like the English word “Light”, and his name is Yagami Light in the English subtitles), a straight-As law student in Tokyo. One day by chance he finds a black notebook lying in the street. On the front cover is the title “Death Note”. The notebook pages are blank but inside the front cover is a “How to use it” list
The human whose name is written in this note shall die
After picking up the notebook Light sees a terrifying monster hovering near – a shinigami (死神?), a god of death. The purpose of a shinigami is to take human life, each shinigami has a notebook and the name of any human who is written in the notebook will die – that person’s unlived years will then be added to the life of the shinigami. The shinigami whose notebook Light finds is called Ryuk (リューク) – and he is one freaky lookin’ dude. Although his appearance is creepy, in the film he is cgi and pretty fake looking, as if he’s a computer game character. He is probably the character who looks the most similar to his manga counterpart. Only the person who has touched his notebook can see Ryuk, and while he often chats with Light (see this screencap at popcultureshock) he rarely gives him advice, he is mostly content to sit back and watch what happens after his notebook has been found. Like a big crazy ghost that loves apples Ryuk follows Light around wherever he goes. (I kinda think he looks like a cross between a clown, a shark and the bride of Frankenstein).
Click to englarge!
At first Light doesn’t believe that the Death Note is real (would you?), and while watching a live news broadcast one day decides to test it by writing the name of a criminal who has taken a group of people hostage. When the crim’s death by heart attack is reported a minute later, Light realises the power he holds. Disillusioned with the inadequate justice offered by the law, Light decides that he will go on a crusade, killing the evil and bringing about a safe new world. Criminals everywhere begin dying mysterious deaths as Light fills the notebook with their names. This strange and frightening phenomenon is widely reported, and the unknown assassin is dubbed “キラ”, “Kira” (Kira is derived from the English word “killer”) by the media.
As more and more criminals die of sudden heart attacks, the public is split over whether Kira is a saviour or a serial murderer. A mysterious, faceless detective known only as “L” is brought in by the International Police Organisation to find and catch the unknown Kira. The rest of the film shows the complex mind games the two play as each tries to outwit the other and discover their secret identity.
I think it’s important to know that this is not a scary film! I know it seems really dark and twisted, largely because I couldn’t find any decent screencaps of the human characters, but in reality it’s more… a “the danger within” kinda scary. It’s really interesting watching the way society reacts to Kira. He becomes an instant pop figure and hundreds of websites dedicated to him spring up on the internet. He makes people feel like someone is looking out for them and delivering justice. On the other hand in a society ruled by fear there is little freedom and while teenagers are going crazy for Kira the police regard him as a pychopathic mass murderer and are doing their best to find him. Trust me, I don’t doreally scary films. I know it’s scary at first like “oh my gosh everyone’s dying!!!11!!!2”, but that’s over pretty quickly and you move on to different, deeper questions like “what is justice?”, “who deserves to die?”, “why don’t more guys wear eyeliner?”
When the faceless L’s identity is finally revealed, he’s not really what you’d expect (unless you’ve read/watched Death Note before), but at the same time fits the part perfectly. The character of L has developed a loyal following of Death Note fans.
The transformation of Light himself is also very interesting, he quickly goes from having a pretty normal reaction to the Death Note to thinking of himself as “a god of the new world.” I guess the complexity of the storyline, coupled with the desensitisation which quickly happens with so many people dying all over the place, does make this film feel less… raw? No, it was never raw. …soft, I guess. I mean, it’s not incredibly edgy, but it was interesting subject matter presented in a whole new way. Erin F. of popcultureshock.com wonders if this movie can be enjoyed by those unfamiliar with Death Note(manga, anime series, etc.). I would say the answer is “yes”. Not everyone, maybe – it’s not a loud, mature, urgent, affronting film – but some people, yes – I didn’t know anything about Death Note other than what I read on the back of the DVD case. Erin also says
If anything, Death Note feels like a date movie.
Fair enough. I watched this movie with bf, and there were some gasping “what’s going to happen?”, hide-behind-his-shoulder moments, but I think it would probably appeal more to (fan)girls than boys… I could be wrong.
Another thing – if you’re hiring this film from a DVD store or whatever – get this one and the sequel at the same time. If you think it’s gunna be your thing, then you’ll want to see the next one. All the more so because the ending for the first one is as the end of a TV episode – pretty maddening. I believe this film and the sequel, Death Note: The Last Name, were released just a couple of months apart in cinemas, and you can definately see why – they’d probably have had riots on their hands otherwise.
Here’s the trailer! It has English and Chinese subtitles. It looks all dark and scary with that creepy music at the beginning right? But the themesong for this film is Dani California by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Yeah. Scary.
Kira vs. L, round 1! Ding! Ding!
Director: Shusuke Kaneko
Starring: Fujiwara Tatsuya, Matsuyama Ken’ichi, Kaga Takeshi
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