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Original Title:
Desu noto

Japan 2006

Thriller, Fantasy

Shusuke Kaneko

Tatsuya Fujiwara
Kenichi Matsuyama
Shido Nakamura
Yu Kashii
Takeshi Kaga
Asaka Seto
Shigeki Hosokawa
Shunji Fujimura
Erika Toda
Michiko Godai
Hikari Mitsushima

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Death Note

Story: Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara) studies law at an university and wants to become a successful investigator like his father. He has the essential intellect and keenness, but he soon loses faith in law when he hacks into the police computer and discovers that the majority of all criminals for different reasons goes free without ever being convicted.
By accident Light one day finds a little book on the street with the title "Death Note". The God of Death Ryuk (Shido Nakamura) gave his book to humans out of boredom to find out how they would use their new gained power. Light discovers that it is sufficient to write the name of a victim on the pages of the book and to know his face, in order for it to die of a heart attack. Light becomes a self-proclaimed God of Justice and kills numerous criminals and murderers. He is celebrated as "Kira" by the people, yet his deeds aren't morally justifiable by anyone. Especially not by the police which is lead by Souichiro Yagami (Takeshi Kaga), Lights father, who goes on a hunt for Kira. They are supported by a successful private investigator who goes by the alias "L" (Kenichi Matsuyama), who is only in contact with the police via a laptop.
Between Light and L a deadly game breaks loose, whose winner will be the one with superior wit. However, everything becomes more complicated when Light has no scruples anymore and even starts getting rid of FBI agents...

Review: "Death Note" is a manga adaption and even if some fans of the original might feel a bit concerned that the movie differs a little bit from the original script, it has to be pointed out that the film sticks to the manga surprisingly close. This is also what makes "Death Note" an unusual and interesting viewing experience, which just lacks a good pacing and some action every now and then. Nevertheless, the movie makes up for it with a nice story and lots of surprising twists and revelations, that prove to be very captivating. Especially refreshing is the fact that the apparent hero of the movie, Light, is no hero at all. Thanks to a convincing script and main actor Fujiwara we once more slowly get to know that power is corrupting, in fact. Even the more if you are to decide about life and death...

At first, "Death Note" might be a bit irritating, because the repetitive way the initial death scenes introduce us to the film and the gruesome acting abilities of the supporting actors (if you may call them so) give the impression to be watching a cheap TV-production. Fortunately, this changes pretty soon when Light enters the scene. Tatsuya Fujiwara ("Battle Royale") imbues his character with impressive charisma and so he soon has won over the audience. He may be executing criminals, but he just does what he thinks is the right and good thing to do. Furthermore, thanks to his sister, mother and his girlfriend Shiori, portrayed by Yu Kashii ("Linda, Linda, Linda"), he has a very human aura to him. But that's exactly where it starts to get interesting, because somewhere along the way, and it's hard to pinpoint when exactly this happened, Light seems to have lost track of what's justice and what's just plain murder. Light makes use of his power whereever he can and gets corrupted by it, eventually. The path to this fate is paved with lots of suprises for the viewer.

Indirectly Light is forced by the police to take the path to the dark side, as he doesn't want to get caught, naturally. However, a more heavy-weighing reason for his choice is his narcissistic character. When L appears on his playground a fight between the two begins, whose winner will be the one who is always a step ahead of his opponent. Since Light, not without a reason, thinks of himself as a smart guy, he can't allow anyone to attack his ego. He must win this game!
That's also what his rival L thinks of the whole case: It's a game. L is an immature, but intellectually gifted guy, who has a keen power of deduction and actually always seems to be a step ahead of Light/Kira. L is embodied by Kenichi Matsuyama ("Nana"), who bestows his character with an incredible love for sweets, which is just the kind of tic you'd expect from a manga character.

As the two meet on the battlefield it becomes really thrilling. Light and L want to outsmart each other, which means that the viewer gets to see some really witty scenes, that can only be fully comprehended retrospectively, when we are finally enlightened about who did what and when. Here the pacing and the thrill factor bar is finally raised, which stands in strong contrast to the beginning or the middle, where the movie drags a lot and is merely trying to introduce us to the world of "Death Note" with several dialogues and explanations. The film also takes its little time to bring in certain side characters, so that one actually has to ask oneself if there will be anything happening at all later on in the movie. Fortunately, the answer is yes.
Soon we realize that this is no movie, where you should expect any action scenes, but that we are the observer of a thrilling mind game, which is mainly carried by Light and later on by L. The basic idea behind the plot is very nice and more than anything else it's the little details, like the fact that Light can also determine in his book how the victims are supposed to die and what they are doing before kicking the bucket, that give the movie another level on which it can work to provide us with numerous suprises and twists. And that's what's making "Death Note" so worthwhile: it's thrilling revelations!

Apart from the slow pacing there is another thing to criticize, which is the CGI-implementation of Ryuk, the God of Death. The animation of his figure really doesn't look that good and imbues the film with a somewhat cheap aspect. If Ryuk wouldn't have the voice of Shido Nakamura ("Fearless") and there wouldn't be a running gag about his fondness for apples, the interesting dialogues between him and Light wouldn't have been as compelling as they had to be. Ryuk is neither good nor evil, he is almost a rationally thinking being, that takes the position of a neutral spectator, seeing light as somewhat of a subject of research. At the end, when he tells Light that he is even worse than the God of Death himself, we just can affirm this statement.
Special credit has to go out to main actor Tatsuya Fujiwara, once again, who manages with ease to portray his transformation into a power craving "villian" without ever having to discard his charisma at any point. This is one of the movie's strengths.

Director Shusuke Kaneko reminds us of his work in "Cross Fire" with his way of directing "Death Note" and the screenplay. Sometimes the pictures look a bit too much TV-style, but his direction is at least solid. Besides, he just had to stick to the Manga-original as close as possible, which luckily he did, to create a nice, entertaining and even brain-demanding piece of film, if it weren't for the detailed explanations. Still, the movie is packed with numerous revelations and is supported by a nice performance of Tatsuya Fujiwara. The open ending prepares us for a sequel and gives us the impression that we have to expect the focus to shift more on the battle between Light and L, which makes us wait for the second part "Death Note: The Last Name" with pleasant anticipation.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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