Thursday, September 23, 2010

Death Notes

At the 2008 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, I saw Death Note. I enjoyed the Japanese suspense film which ended with a cliffhanger. I expected SFIAAFF to bring back the 2nd half of the film series at the 2009 festival. However, they did not. I was hoping they would screen part 2 at the 2010 festival. They did not.

However, Viz Cinema has presented Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name since its opening last year. I believe the screenings were part of the release of the DVDs. On September 4, Viz screened both films as part of the BlueRay release. I decided to watch Death Note: The Last Name and rewatch Death Note since I haven't seen it in 2½ years.

I didn't quite enjoy Death Note as much as before. It might have been that knowing the major plot points took away some of the enjoyment. I notice many films do not hold up to multiple viewings. More disappointing was that I didn't enjoy Death Note: The Last Name as much as Death Note.

The plot of Death Note involves a notebook which Light Yagami finds. He's a college student studying to be a lawyer. The notebook states that if a person's name is written in the notebook while the writer imagines the person's face, that person will die. Yagami tests the procedure with a vile criminal and is surprised to find the notebook really works. Yagami, increasingly disenchanted with the real-world application of the laws, becomes an epistolary vigilante. He metes out death to criminals and alleged criminals who have gotten off on technicalities. His work is so prolific that he becomes a media sensation dubbed Kira. He also garners the attention of the Japanese government who form a task force to catch Kira. Coincidentally, the head of the task force is Soichiro Yagami, Light's father (played by Takeshi Kaga who is better known as The Chairman in the Japanese version of Iron Chef).

Soon, Light goes mano y mano with L, the mysterious and unseen super detective who has joined forces with Soichiro Yagami's task force. At this point, the film(s) get a too cute by a half. There are a bunch of twists and turns involing Light's girlfriend, a Japanese FBI agent, a television celebrity who discovers a second Death Note(book) and two shinigami (or death gods).

The final result was a film that had too many plot twists to keep me fully involved. The film could have benefited by giving more time to the cat and mouse game between Light and L who becomes more suspicious of Light with each death. Ken'ichi Matsuyama as L and Tatsuya Fujiwara as Light Yagami give tremendous performances. Fujiwara gives a complex performance as Light loses his moral compass and becomes worse than the criminals he condemns. Matsuyama's L is more flamboyant with his addiction to junk food and rococo mannerisms. The scenes when Light & L verbally spar are the best part of the film. I also thought more could be done with Light's relationship with his father.

I am well acquainted with a few of Matsuyama previous works. He has appeared in The Taste of Tea, Linda, Linda, Linda and Detroit Metal City which is currently playing at Viz Cinema. The first two films are among my favorites and I've been anticipating Detroit Metal City for a few months.


Death Note starring Ken'ichi Matsuyama and Tatsuya Fujiwara; Japanese with subtitles; (2006) - Official Website
Death Note II: The Last Name starring Ken'ichi Matsuyama and Tatsuya Fujiwara; Japanese with subtitles; (2006) - Official Website

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