Silver Screams V: Death Note (2006)

Silver Screams V continues with Leon Nicholson looking at Death Note starring Tatsuya Fujiwara and Ken’ichi Matsuyama.

Despite plenty of cultural influences that finds its way into their movies that most of the West does not understand, it’s clear that Japan is a great filmmaking nation. Legends and talents such as the great Akira Kurosawa (The Hidden Fortress, Throne of Blood), Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano (Battle Royale), Sonny Chiba (The Street Fighter) and Hideo Nakata (Ringu) all hail from here and at some point, whether mainstream or offbeat, their movies, at some point, have changed the face of Japanese cinema.

The Japanese have also left a legacy and influence on Western cinema. Movies such as Yojimbo and Seven Samurai have been re-imagined into the classic movies we know as A Fistful of Dollars and The Magnificent Seven. Japanese cinema has also left its mark on directors and producers including a certain George Lucas and Star Wars. In addition the US has certainly jumped on the bandwagon and the popularity of J-Horror with (inferior) remakes of Ringu, Ju-on and Dark Water and One Missed Call. With this in mind will Death Note leave a legacy on western shores or will it be too quirky or cultural driven for non- Japanese viewers?

Death Note follows Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara)  –  a brilliant law student with tons of potential who however, is bored stiff and fed up of red tape and a ‘lack of justice’ within the system. His father is Chief of Police, and in so many of these scenarios, he is expected to follow in his footsteps. Then one day, Light comes across a ray of hope in what he feels could be the answer for a better world – a book called Death Note. With the guidance of an apple loving Shinigami or Death God named Ryuk, Light initially thinks by trying to rid the world of thugs and criminals he is using the book for good. As time goes on however, Light, under the media guise Kira, uses the Death Note for his personal gain. Meanwhile, he is pursued by a Sherlock Holmes type genius detective who goes by the name of “L” (Ken’ichi Matsuyama) who is determined to prove that Light and Kira are one and the same. From here a game of cat and mouse develops with Light desperately trying to protect his identity.

Death Note has an intriguing premise which merges the supernatural and murder mystery sub-genres. “L’s” exceptional mind is similar to Poirot or Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock but it is his relationship, or rivalry, with Light is akin Holmes and Moriarty, which ends up being one of the best factors about this movie.

Tatsuya Fujiwara impressive showing as the intellectually gifted yet evil and misguided Light is bettered only by Ken’ichi Matsuyama’s  OCD-esque quirky “L”. The characterisation is important here as it shows how someone with good intentions can quickly change if too much power is given to them in a short space of time. Light, here demonstrates that point when he literally had the power of a god he abused it to the max. The supporting cast also do a solid job in assisting Fujiwara and Matsuyama but it is the CGI Death God that is the star of the show as it’s full of personality and character rather than a one-dimensional stooge that it so easily could have become.

Shusuke Kaneko is meticulous and extremely detailed with his direction – just like the lead characters Light and “L” and the film itself tends to focus on story and relationships rather than the CGI aspect culminating (in my humble opinion) in a better movie.

Death Note is however, far from perfect. Unintentionally amusing death scenes and a few hammy performances are but a few hurdles to clear but once those have been overcome, what the audience is left with is a pretty damn good movie

Death Note is a well performed and directed entertaining movie that continues the tradition of transferring Manga/anime to the big screen. In its own way it is qurky but is very much well worth the watch and with the US remake seemingly on its way, it’s clear that this story has left its mark on Western audiences. This however is only half the tale as the follow up Death Note: The Last Name, brings closure to the whole tale.

FMV Rating ***½

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