January 05, 2007

DEATH NOTE (2006) the franchise

DEATH NOTE (2006, Japan, Desu Noto)

Death Note mania has been sweeping Japan – first the manga, then the anime series on TV, and two live-action movies, both released in 2006.

Death Note: The premise
Beings called death-gods mope around in a desolate underworld, and when they write down a human’s name in their special notebooks, known as Death-Notes, that person will die soon afterwards. Problems begin when a death-god drops a death-note book into the human world. ‘Light’ Yagami, a high school student, finds it and, aided by the instructions conveniently written inside the cover, realises its potential power and decides to try it out...

I was certainly intrigued by the premise, particularly because of the amount of publicity generated by the live-action version, starring Tatsuya Fujiwara (the lead in Battle Royale) as ‘Light’.

Death Note: The anime
The anime is still running on Japanese TV at the moment. It should run to about 36 episodes and begins well, with Light finding the book and trying it out. Unlike any other student, Light is a highly intelligent over-achiever who instantly seems to have a plan how to use the book – plotting on making society a better place by killing off the worst criminals in the country. It takes no time at all for him to consider whether capital punishment is an appropriate way forward, and make snap judgements over whose life he takes.

Light Katagari who uses the Death note, with Death God Ryuk

The sudden enormous increase in mysterious deaths among prisoners soon attracts the attention of the police, something Light didn’t foresee, no matter how clever he thought he was. The series then takes a rather dull turn as Light has to play a game of cat and mouse with the investigative task force. ‘L’ is the police’s ace detective, who is incredibly also a teenager – he’s also an offbeat genius who likes sweet desserts, siting on chairs with his knees under his chin, and holding mobile phones as if they were smelly socks.

'L' the creepy teen genius investigating the bizarre murders
From what could have been an awesome far-reaching story, instead becomes a one-on-one battle of wits between ‘L’ and Light. It could easily be adapted into a stage play, the settings are all so confined. It also resembles a bizarre update on Columbo, but with a premise that’s more far-fetched than supernatural and with a character that’s more silly-looking than imaginative.

At least the anime looks good, with dynamic dramatic angles and gloomy layouts. The death-god looks less out of place (in the movie he’s a CGI animation) and L looks suitably gothic and lugubrious.

Death Note: The movies
In the movie posters, you can see Light and L who appear in both Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name. L has proved so popular, that a new film is being planned for the character. Perhaps he could become a next generation Kindaichi. He's certainly more interesting than Fujiwara as Light - a meaty role thrown away by the actor who also failed to hold our attention in Battle Royale 2. I can see him playing vapid heroes convincingly, but not villains. Ironically the same character in the anime appears to have more depth.

Ryuk is the death-god who dropped the book and looks like a The Joker with a pair of bat-wings. Only Light can see him and at least it’s amusing to see him walking down the street, with Ryuk floating along beside him. Ryuk in the anime provides what little comic relief there is, which is sadly missing from the live action version, which is very dry indeed. The desolate domain of the death-gods isn't shown either.

It’s directed by Shusuke Kaneko, whose three Gamera films I greatly enjoyed, and Pyrokinesis and Azumi 2, which I’ve yet to watch. I’d like to have seen someone give such a gloomy tale a lighter touch. Some sort of relief is also needed from the endless mind games and battles of logic played by the two leads.

Surely Light could at least be a little more frivolous and knock off his least favourite chat show host. I mean, whose name would you write in the Death Note?

For potential fans, the wait is over, the first film will soon be available Region 3 from Hong Kong with English subtitles, the rights to the anime series have been purchased so expect the anime on DVD in English sometime soon, and several volumes of the translated manga are in the shops now!

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1 comment:

  1. There is a funny Simpsons comics take on Death Note - Krusty plays the Clown demon unsurprisingly!