Death Note Live Action Movie Reviews – Death Note and The Last Name By Rachel on October 20, 2008 Table of Contents
Death Note, a popular manga series, has been turned into a popular franchise which includes anime, video games, a light novel and all manner of merchandise. It didn’t take long for this insightful and twistedly fun manga to find its way onto the silver screen in the way of two live action movies: Death Note and its “sequel”, The Last Name. Both films tell the tale of Light Yagami and his battle of wits against the world’s greatest detective, L…
Boredom can be deadly, at least that’s how it turns out when a shinigami (death god) decides he needs a little excitement in his life. The shinigami in question, Ryuk, casually drops his death note into the human world, with instructions on its use.
Death Note Theatrical Poster
The human who picks up Ryuk’s death note, Light Yagami, a gifted law student whose faith in the justice system is shaken, sees the death note as his opportunity to rid the world of crime once and for all- and to rule it.
But just as Light is hitting his stride in reshaping the world by offing thousands of criminals, his efforts are confounded by the mysterious world renown detective, L. L, who always solves his case, has taken on the challenge of uncovering the identity of the quasi-benevolent murder dubbed Kira (Killer) by the public. As the two go head to head, a dangerous game unfolds in which one misstep is a sentence of death. Who will win this cat and mouse, or more appropriately, shinigami and human, game?
As adaptations of the manga, and even as stand alone films, the live action Death Note movies are almost total failures. To start with, Light was never an idealistic, naive teenager. Never. But in the first movie, he’s startlingly naive and damn near stupid in his views on law and justice. Light’s new persona is only the beginning of the reworking of the stellar pacing, story and development of the manga series into an unwatchable, plodding, tedious, five hour crapfest. Fans who have dedicated themselves to the manga series, i.e. read every volume and read them carefully, will silently scream as they watch their favorite detective and his rival bore diehard fans to death. The live action movies have none of the fast pacing, plot twists, tension or suspense the manga has. This is a stripped down reinterpretation of the manga in which only the names (and not all of those) and a few scenes remain intact. It takes forever to plod from the beginning to the point where Misa enters the picture, two and half hours to be exact and the entire first movie. Movies don’t have the same luxury as a series to meander from Point A to Point B, there’s not enough time, but that’s exactly what these two films do. “Fans who have dedicated themselves to the manga series, i.e. read every volume and read them carefully, will silently scream as they watch their favorite detective and his rival bore diehard fans to death.” They add scenes which make no sense, hesitate at points which drag on and on, delete important points all together, tack on insignificant characters and rewrite key characters’ personalities. The biggest omission is the Yotsuba story arc- crucial in the manga in establishing L and Light’s relationship and dynamic, missing all together from the movies. The arc is re-imagined in the most tedious manner imaginable, further destroying the manga storyline and tone.
Granted, there’s always story rewrites in adaptations, and granted omissions are a given, yet the movies still lack the tone and feel of the manga. Mood is something that can still be achieved, regardless of rewrites and adaptations. The manga has mood, drama, tension and pacing. Even barring the existence of the manga, the movies lack any of these necessary tidbits. Another absolutely crucial criteria missing is character development.
Death Note The Last Name Poster
Live Action Light is a pale, empty thing compared to Manga Light. Even without a basis to compare with, LA Light’s a shallow, stupid creature merely going through the motions. He’s initially portrayed as a naive and idealistic justice-hugger jaded by the current system, who then turns to remote murder to realize his goals. But no connection is made with this character to the audience. His actions are meaningless and without passion, worse, they’re petulant.
“Light’s not the only character hopped up on dumb juice, the entire cast of LA Death Note is flirting with an overdose of stupidity.”
We don’t jeer or cheer Light’s deeds as in the manga. This Light is incredibly dumb and wooden and the most disconnected character of the lot. Gone are the arrogance, extreme emotions and self-confidence of Manga Light. This version of Light takes daily doses of stupid and mediocrity to assure the most surefire road to Fail.
Light’s not the only character hopped up on dumb juice, the entire cast of LA Death Note is flirting with an overdose of stupidity. Naomi Misora, so clever and sure in the manga, is absolutely brain dead in the movie: “Hahaha, I didn’t give yous my real name cuz I like know yuz is Kira and junk. Neeya!” Even without the manga to outshine this important scene with the intrepid former FBI agent, it still makes no sense. Neither does it make sense to change Naomi’s finace’s name, Raye Penber, to Raye Iwamatsu.
L and Light have about as much tension between them as an overstretched rubber band. L is another dismal letdown in the movies. Instead of getting the clever, dynamic and off-handedly humorous genius detective who’s on par with Light, audiences are treated to L chowing down on sweets and making the occasional contribution to the case. He just sits there, shoveling sugar down his gullet, and has no presence.
L’s range of emotions are stunted and he’s almost as empty as Light. There’s no spark between the two, no tension or hint of hidden dangers and certain death. There’s no feeling of risk either, something both characters dined on daily in the manga. The absence of contrast between L and Light is stark. Light isn’t evil enough to play off L and L isn’t passionate enough about good to cast Light in shadows. That’s the biggest crime of the movies, that there’s no quasi-friendship cum ying and yang dynamic between these two memorable characters. L and Light have about as much tension between them as an overstretched rubber band.
“…they (the Death Notes) look like something out of a souvenir catalog rather than a book from the realm of death.” The character designs for the movie are much like the manga and stick to realism and the mundane. The clothes are comparable to what modern Japanese wear, with the exception of Misa who wears gothic lolita inspired gear. Shinigami are designed with a more fantastic bend, which is appropriate for Reapers. Oddly, the actual death notes themselves are massive. Not only are they huge, they look like something out of a souvenir catalog rather than a book from the realm of death.
Both films are shot with about as much attention to lighting and perspective as a soap opera. Where are the dark, brooding shadows to cast an aura of suspense? Where’s the cleverly placed lighting to highlight an object or expression? What happened to the chiaroscuro, in mood and lighting? Both films are shot with about as much attention to lighting and perspective as a soap opera. Perspective in the movies is as flat and dull as a noontime series and absent are any shots which have any cinematic appeal. The unmoving pages of the manga hold more visual interest in the first chapter than both movies have in their entirety. Nothing stands out from the story in terms of cinematic language. The visuals are delivered in a straight monotone, without life and interest. The CG for the shinigami could have been better. The death gods look hokey, rubbery and all around fake when they move. When they don’t move, they tend to look believable, but those instances are rare.
Music adds mood and tension to any visual medium, and is crucial in film, either in its absence or its presence. The music for the movies had zero presence and it lays down on the job. It doesn’t build to a scene, it doesn’t create atmosphere, it does zilch. Death Note Live Action Soundtrack The music for the movies had zero presence and it lays down on the job. The opening for the first movie, Dani Californiaby the Red Hot Chili Peppers is a good song in its own right, but makes no sense as the intro to the live action Death Note movie. It’s a rock number with a southern twang. The subject matter, a woman who leads a rough life and moves to California, is an incongruous theme for a movie about a psycho, egomanical teen in Japan who kills criminals with a magic notebook. Snow, also by the Chili Peppers, accompanies the credits for the second movie. Snow is a great song, and is actually more apropos to the film than Dani California. Manatsu no yoru no yume, by Shikao Suga is a theme from The Last Name. It’s another good song, a soft ballad, but is wasted on the film. Acting
Anime Light Versus Live Action Light “Tatsuya Fujiwara (Light) gets my vote for worst-cast actor, ever.” Tatsuya Fujiwara gets my vote for worst-cast actor, ever. Fujiwara doesn’t look anything like the handsome, charismatic Light, he looks like a sack of potatoes attached to a stick figure and acts about the same. Tatsuya either didn’t bother to do character research, or he wasn’t up to the part. Anyway it’s looked at, his performance as Light is about as passionate and animated as a dried up piece of jerky. He doesn’t deliver the main character’s dual, diabolical nature; his charm; his arrogance; his confidence; his persuasiveness; his all around belief in himself. Fujiwara has no concept of Light and it comes through in his performance. Kenichi Matsuyama does marginally better as L, but not by much. Matsuyama looks closer to L than Fujiwara does to Light, and has L’s mannerisms down, yet he still doesn’t capture the detective’s eccentric essence. He’s fun to watch, superficially, but Matsuyama doesn’t deliver the impact and presence of the character. Matsuyama and Fujiwara have zero chemistry on screen. It’s like watching oil and water interact, one slides over the other, not quite meshing, not quite mixing-Fujiwara is water, Matsuyama is oil. The two need more chemistry than a superficial melding like that to be believable and it just isn’t there. “Misa needs to be breathy and light, but Toda’s performance is too straight and heavy, it’s too forced.” Misa, as played by Erika Toda, is another character going through the motions. She doesn’t act, or even look, like Misa Amane. She plays the part far too seriously to ever get Misa’s dim-witted, cheery personality down. Misa needs to be breathy and light, but Toda’s performance is too straight and heavy, it’s too forced. A gothic lolita hanging around Shinjuku on a Sunday would have been a better choice than Toda. The other actors in the movies, with their campy acting and overacting, give the films a distinctive B-movie quality. Most of the blame for the shoddy performances can be attributed to poor direction on the part of the man behind the cameras. Rachel's Death Note Entry for Death Note Live Action
“Death Note deserved farbetter treatment than it received at the hands of these two films.” The Death Note live action movies are a patchwork of badness and poor choices. Some scenes are done verbatim from the manga, but without the feeling, intensity and context. Other scenes are horrible, campy re-imaginings of the series and detract from the story. All are held together with consistently bad acting, lack of cinematography and dearth of emotion. Death Note deserved far better treatment than it received at the hands of these two films. The manga is a brilliant work of fiction and has garnered millions of hardcore fans. True fans of the manga will howl bloody murder after sitting through all five hours of the movies, while other folk may be happy as a clam with this slipshod work of film. I for one am writing this one down in my own personal, anime death note. Rating Death Note, Live Action get 1 outta 5 Hammies! Related Posts:
Death Note, Manga- Series Review
Death Note, Volume Two
Death Note, Volume One
Death Note – Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases
Death Note, Volume One
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Rachel I do love almost all aspects of Japanese culture and try to be involved with it as much as possible. I have no problem admitting that I incorporate a lot of Japanese trends and traditions into my life as I modify them and make them my own. Anime is a big part of that, along with all the sub-cultures, past and present.
21 responses to “Death Note Live Action Movie Reviews – Death Note and The Last Name”
grunty October 20, 2008 at 3:30 pm | Permalink | Reply While not perfect, it’s superior to the anime in EVERY way. It’s relatively short AND doesn’t rely on ridiculous renditions of kyrie eleison to create a mood. I fucking hate the anime. Like or Dislike: 0 1
BluDRed January 28, 2009 at 11:59 am | Permalink | Reply Wow, you really are in the wrong blog if you hate anime mate! I disagree with everything that you said, I started watching the first movie and couldn’t bare it, I abandoned any hope that it might improve and actually entertain me. The IMDB rating for it just completely baffles me as the movie is a total flop and makes the anime look bad. The anime is a masterpiece and will always remain one of my all time favourites. Like or Dislike: 0 0
Rachel October 21, 2008 at 4:01 pm | Permalink | Reply @grunty, I must disagree with you on the movies being short. For me, they seemed a drawn out eternity of boredom and plodding dialog. I also disagree about the anime. It didn’t rely solely on creepy music to create a mood- that was created through pacing, cinematography and dialog. If you didn’t like the anime did you at least like the manga? It’s worth reading if you haven’t already.