Sunday, December 21, 2008

Death Note (live action movie)

Light Yagami, son of a police chief, is an intelligent, hard-working student who has never caused his family any trouble and seems destined for a successful life. However, his strong sense of justice is offended by his discovery that many criminals in Japan go unpunished.

When Light finds a strange notebook, with instructions saying that anyone whose name is written in it will die, it is Light's strong sense of justice that prompts him to try the notebook out with a criminal's name. When the man dies, just as the notebook promised, Light continues to use it to kill off criminals. Soon, a being named Ryuk finds Light and introduces himself as a shinigami (god of death) and the former owner of the notebook. Ryuk is not on Light's side, but neither is he against him - all he's really interested in is the entertainment value of Light's actions.

It's not long before Light's killings are noticed by the media and the police, and this mysterious killer is given the name Kira. While Light hopes to one day convince Shiori, his girlfriend, that Kira's actions are just (she doesn't know he's Kira, by the way), the police are doing their best to track down and stop Kira. Eventually, the police find it necessary to team up with L, a brilliant, eccentric, and mysterious detective. It's L who figures out that Kira must be someone close to the Kira task force, and L and Light soon find themselves engaged in a battle of wits. Light will have to decide how far he's willing to go and who he's willing to sacrifice in order to keep his secret.

I didn't really have any idea what to expect from this movie. I absolutely loved the manga and I enjoyed the anime, but could a live action version of the story really be any good? Would Ryuk look so fake that it would be difficult to suspend my disbelief? Normally, when I'm this uncertain about something, I read lots of reviews before I buy it, but I happened to see this at the store while I was in the mood to buy some entertainment.

I watched this movie both in the original Japanese (with subtitles, of course) and in English dub. Watching it in Japanese was fun. Watching it dubbed in English was a little jarring - it's been ages since I've seen a live action movie dubbed in English. As far as I know, the English dub cast is the exact same cast used in the anime. This isn't mentioned anywhere on the DVD container or in the language selection menu, but it really should have been. The English dub cast is phenomenal, which is part of the reason why the dub was at all enjoyable. Unfortunately, like I said, it was a little jarring to watch a live action Japanese movie dubbed in English. Also, the English dub voice actors' voices didn't always seem to fit the actors. Chris Britton was perfect as Light's father in the anime, but his voice seemed a bit too old for Takeshi Kaga, the actor who played Light's father in this movie. Alessandro Juliani, who voiced L, is the main reason why I want to eventually own the anime - he did a fantastic job, and I wish he had more anime voice acting roles under his belt, so that I could hear him in lots of other things. He was still great as L in the live action movie, but his performance here wasn't as good as in the anime (he seemed... tired or bored, maybe?), and his voice didn't really seem to fit with the actor (not his fault, though). For me, though, Brad Swaile as Light took the most getting used to. Just as in the anime, he was wonderful, but it was hard to adjust to his voice coming out of Tatsuya Fujiwara's mouth.

The story is very similar to that of the manga and anime, with a few noticeable differences (the Death Note film Wikipedia page has a nice list of the differences). For me, Shiori was the biggest difference. As far as I've been able to discover, she exists only in the movie. Light seems to care for her, which makes what he does in the end of the movie seem all the more cold-hearted and horrible. Actually, Light's love (although maybe that's too strong a word) for Shiori was a bit of a shock to me - in the anime and manga, the people around Light are merely pawns in the game he plays against L (and, later, Mello and Near). I don't think he even really cared for his family members, not after he became obsessed with the Death Note.

This lack of caring for others seemed to be a symptom of his obsession with the Death Note, and maybe this movie confirms that to some extent. Not only does Light seem to have some affection for Shiori, he isn't quite as obsessive about the Death Note itself. In the anime and manga, Light devises all kinds of ways to keep others from getting their hands on the Death Note, none of which is present in this movie. True, two hours isn't enough time to fit everything in, but I still think it's interesting.

In the movie, Light also seemed to be in risky situations slightly more often than he was in the anime or manga. In order to condense the story a little, Raye's fiancee is actually there when he dies - if she had just looked up before the train left, she would have seen Light's face and the movie would have been over. Light should have panicked at that kind of close call, but he didn't. None of this was even an issue in the anime and manga, since the events happened differently.

The nice thing about the differences, however, is that they kept the story from being completely predictable for those who, like me, have already seen the anime and read the manga. Shiori has a big part in the ending of the movie, which is not based on any scene found in other versions of the story (although Shiori and her ending struck me as having a lot in common with Kiyomi Takada, a character in the manga and anime).

One of my greatest worries about seeing this movie was Ryuk. How would they do him, and would he look any good? Well, he was better than I expected. The first scene where he appears is a bit painful to watch - there's something about the way that Ryuk's movements were done that makes him look very fake. However, later on the in the movie he actually looks pretty good. The only thing about him that made him look not quite there was the way his lighting was handled, and that might have been done the way it was for artistic reasons. Ryuk had the same light source as anything else in the scene, as far as I could tell, but his lighting wasn't always as bright as the lighting on the real-life objects and people around him.

I think I'll wrap up my discussion of the movie itself by talking about Misa Amane. My copy of the movie includes a sheet with a list of the main actors and actresses in the movie (plus the voice actors in the English dub). This list of Japanese actors and actresses includes the people who played Light, L, Light's father, Misa, and Shiori. This led me to believe that Misa might have a bigger part in this movie, but that wasn't actually the case. In fact, if you haven't read the manga or seen the anime, during Misa's scenes you'll probably spend most of your time wondering why she's even there. It isn't until the end of the movie that it becomes clear that she's going to have her own Death Note in the second movie.

This movie includes a few extras. The interview with the director isn't very informative, nor is it very lengthy. There's also a trailer for the Death Note anime, and previews for a few other Viz Pictures titles. In addition to the list of actors and actresses included with the DVD, there's also an ad for the second movie, Death Note: The Last Name, and a 25-page preview of the first volume of the manga, which is nice if you haven't already read it.

Overall, I don't think this was the best version of the Death Note story. The original version, the manga, is still the best, in my opinion, followed by the anime (which was almost comical in its overdramatization, at times). However, I still enjoyed the movie, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well Ryuk was done.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (anime TV series) - In this alternate history (?), the Empire of Britannia has invaded Japan. Japan is now referred to as Area 11, and its people are 11's. Lelouch appears to be an ordinary, if extremely intelligent, high school student, but in reality he's hiding many secrets. One of those secrets is the power of Geass, which was given to him by a mysterious young girl who was some sort of military secret. Geass allows Lelouch to make anyone obey his orders, and he uses it great deal as he begins living a double life as Zero, the masked leader of a rebellion to combat Britannia's tyranny. Those who'd like another anime starring someone with maybe a little more power than is good for him might want to try this series.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa; Fullmetal Alchemist (anime TV series); Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie (anime movie) - In a world where alchemy is considered science, Ed and Al, two young brothers, have broken the primary rule of alchemy, the law of equivalent exchange, in an attempt to resurrect their mother. As a result, Ed lost an arm and a leg, and Al lost his whole body. Now they're on a journey to discover the Philosopher's Stone and use it to restore their bodies. Those who'd like another story that deals with ethical shades of gray might enjoy this title.
  • Paranoia Agent (anime TV series) - A mysterious kid with a bent golden bat has been going around attacking people. Two detectives are investigating, so that they can stop this kid, dubbed Lil' Slugger. Lil' Slugger's actions sometimes reveal the (often strange) secrets and private lives of his victims. Those who'd like another story in which cops are chasing after someone who seems to have amazing powers might enjoy this anime.
  • Descendants of Darkness (manga) by Yoko Matsushita; Descendants of Darkness (anime TV series) - Even after death, there's paperwork to do and criminals to catch. Tsuzuki Asato is a somewhat goofy (yet powerful) shinigami (god of death) whose job involves ensuring that the dead remain properly dead and out of the lives of the living. Tsuzuki gets a new partner, Hisoka, and the cases they investigate keep bringing them up against Muraki, a serial killer. Muraki seems to know an awful lot about Tsuzuki and Hisoka's darkest secrets. Those who'd like another story in which cops are chasing after a somewhat supernatural killer might enjoy this title.

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