top of page

Death Note Live Action Movie Reviews – Death Note and The Last Name

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…

Plot Summary

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 2006
Death Note Theatrical Poster 2006

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.

Character Development

Death Note II The Last Name Movie Poster Anime Live Action
Death Note II The Last Name Movie Poster Anime Live Action

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.

Character Design

“…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

Death Note Anime Light Versus Live Action Light
Death Note Anime Light Versus Live Action Light

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

  • Powered by Contextual Related Posts

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”

  1. 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

    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

  1. 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.

  2. Hieronymus October 27, 2008 at 12:26 pm | Permalink | Reply I have somewhat mixed feelings on the entire concept of Live Action… On one hand it is interesting to see how the characters translate from animation to real life, on the other it often turns out to be a bastardization of what the anime or manga really was. I believe that it could be good to generate more of a fan base, but again is it worth diluting the original for? I posted, not a review, but a reader opinion of the terrible looking CGI in the live adaptation of Death Note on my blog. Like or Dislike: 0 0

  3. Rachel October 27, 2008 at 3:26 pm | Permalink | Reply @Hieronymus, there really is no reason for Live Action adaptations to suck like they usually do, but for some reason, it’s a law of physics that they must be so. Death Note made me cry a little, especially since half the internet is rejoicing as to how good the masses think the movies are.

  4. Mitzy October 27, 2008 at 11:58 pm | Permalink | Reply You highlighted just about everything I felt about both movies. :3 In a way, the die-hard fan in me liked it… sort of… not really. For a while I thought it was just because I already read the story and the animated counterpart that it was just an illusion of boredom to me because I already knew the plot and all the little things that would happen. But when I rewatched it the music was just… nonexistant and I really didn’t enjoy Misa’s actress. (And I adore Misa, so it was a big chop in my shoulder to not really enjoy her character as much as I do. ) I can’t quite tell if they were going for a bit a realism to the story with the characters, if they were just being lazy or just took too many of ‘these and those’ and messed around with it as much as they pleased. Overall I didn’t really enjoy it and I like to think that this is a production that would’ve been better to just collect dust in a back of a warehouse. P.S. I absolutely adore your blog! 8D Like or Dislike: 0 0

    1. Rachel January 5, 2009 at 9:43 pm | Permalink | Reply Don’t feel so bad- watching the LA movies were kinda like watching a Frankenstein version of a beloved pet who died and was reanimated through faulty, and poorly directed, science. Yes you want to love it, yes it reminds you of something you used to enjoy, but dear god, that’s just not Rover any more, dammit! Gah, the movies sucked the love and life from me, and I wept repeatedly through their viewings. P.S. Thanks!!!

  1. Ultrakid November 10, 2008 at 12:42 pm | Permalink | Reply I actually loved the movie. I thought most of the actors did a great job and the CGI for Ryuk was good. The soundtrack of the movie to me wasn’t that good but I loved the theme song, ending theme, and insert song in the movie. The things that bugged me was the bad acting by the minor characters and the music being absent most of the time. Like or Dislike: 0 0

  2. Rachel November 14, 2008 at 8:19 am | Permalink | Reply @Ultrakid, I most respectfully, and completely, disagree that the actors were good, or even OK. The movie had some of the worst acting I’ve ever been forced to endure. I asked myself repeatedly how these chumps got cast as some of the most memorable characters in manga history. A piece of driftwood could emote better than Light and Misa. L was marginally better, and with a better director behind the camera, I believe L could have lived up to his potential. He was the only one who showed a glimmer of who he was supposed to be.

  3. Ultrakid November 21, 2008 at 7:42 am | Permalink | Reply Maybe Tatsuya Fujiwara and Erika Toda didn’t look like there anime counterparts but I thought they were good and the director is actually pretty popular in Japan. But anyways I do love your reviews for live action films you should write more. Like or Dislike: 0 0

  4. AprilMay November 22, 2008 at 3:35 pm | Permalink | Reply I think that they actors were ok at parts…considering I have only seen the first movie. But how can you find someone as hot as Light or L for that matter? Also Misa should have been ditzy-er from what I have heard from comments. Also she should have been blonde. Like or Dislike: 0 0

    1. Rachel January 5, 2009 at 9:51 pm | Permalink | Reply How can you find someone as hot as L or Light? Seriously? Pay any fangirl (or me for that matter) $5 to walk through Tokyo or New York and I guarantee that within three hours they’ll have rounded up at least ten hot L/ Light “could bes”. A little makeup, some hair work, and viola, hot Death Note men. Ah, but could they act better? Yes, hell yes! Hobos could act better than the LA actors in this movie, and if the only criteria is being hot and looking like the characters, bingo, instant L/Light. It didn’t seem to be important to this movie that the characters could act, or look like the source material, so it’s an instant win if the movie was cast solely with random hot people.

  1. keith January 28, 2009 at 8:51 am | Permalink | Reply wow this is sweet i just seen it today Like or Dislike: 0 0

  2. gareth February 28, 2009 at 6:49 pm | Permalink | Reply This was simply awful. Like or Dislike: 0 0

    1. Rachel March 1, 2009 at 3:33 pm | Permalink | Reply Whew, yeah it did! What did you like the least about it?

  1. Amber April 12, 2009 at 10:08 pm | Permalink | Reply I agree completly! I just watched the first movie and the guy that played Light was horrible! and he wasn’t even that good looking! Like or Dislike: 0 0

  2. William May 4, 2009 at 7:08 pm | Permalink | Reply Maybe I am being too dense but i personally liked the movies. I agree with the overacting bit and never even noticed the music in the movie because of how nonexistant it was. The Red Hot Chili Peppers songs caught me off guard and i believe it was more of a case of someone being a fan. But despite those bad sides, compared to other live action renditions of things, i believe they did a decent job. But that is, of course, my unprofessional opinion. Like or Dislike: 0 0

    1. Rachel May 21, 2009 at 8:08 am | Permalink | Reply Well, I respect your opinion, I respectfully disagree. However, Hollywood has gotten a hold of the rights so an American re-make may or may not happen. It can’t be any worse than the Japanese version.

  1. Tsukimaru October 25, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Permalink | Reply I actually completely disagree. I normally agree with you but definetely not this time. =] I really liked what the movie did with Light. I can understand people maybe being annoyed at how different he was from the original but I think in the end Iiked how the movie version ended up. I felt Light became too much of a cariacature in the anime, its far too easy to make your antagonist an intelligent guy with a severe God complex and towards the end I found him to be almost ridiculous. I like in the movie we see him start off completely normal and slowly begin to become twisted, yet never reach the ridiculous meglomaniac ways of the anime. So yeah, I like his movie-verse character better. I also liked the way Naomi was handled. You called her ‘brain dead’ but I didn’t see that at all. She knew he was Kira, she just had to prove it and I didn’t see any moment where she came across stupid. I believe they changed Raye’s name to Iwamatsu because he was Japanese, unlike the Ameican Raye Penbar. Light and L’s relationship was a little lacking I agree, but it was never to awful proportions. I personally love Tatsuya as an actor (he was fantastic in Battle Royale) and think he played Light well enough, not great but far from awful. I also didn’t really care that he didn’t come across as the typical bishounen Pretty Boy. L was pretty much spot on IMO and I have absolutely no complaints with him. Misa’s actress was good too I felt and looked the part (sticking a blonde wig on a Japanese actress would’ve looked completely stupid, plus this is Live-Action, you’ll never find someone who looks exactly like them and can act). I would’ve preferred if she had a little more of the ditzy-ness the original Misa had but she still came across cheery enough and I think if Toda had played Misa too dumb she would have continually pissed me off. The CGI was good enough, assuming they were trying to give the Shinigamis the ‘anime feel’. As for the overall story I probably preferred it to the original. It cut the frankly horrible Near and Mello section, added a 3rd Kira who I preferred over the anime’s other Kiras, gave L the win and showed a better transition of normal Light to Kira. All in all I think this is the best Live Action Death Note that could be done. Sorry for the long, kinda ranty post btw! Like or Dislike: 0 0

  2. Ivan July 22, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Permalink | Reply I’ve just ordered all three live action death note movies from amazon (the third being L – Change the world) and Im not expecting to be wowed to be honest. I havn’t watched any of them yet so can’t really comment but I’ve seen scenes of the movies and they look good to me At the end of the day, Death Note is Death Note and as long as the main storyline is told, thats alright with me. Nothing will beat the anime, one of my favourites of all time. However… Hollywood are apparently going to release their own live action movie version of Death Note sometime soon in the future….and we all know how thats going to turn out….a complete flop…for example, compare the Japanese Godzilla movies to the Hollywood one…..and also…look what they did to Dragonball!!! No matter how bad you may think these Live action versions are, I can assure you that these are going to be 100 times better than the Hollywood remakes. Why am I so sure? because rumours have stated that Light isn’t even going to be called Light….his names Luke…..and when you write a persons name down in the Death Note, the person doesn’t die….they just dissapear…yeah…sounds just like the Death Note we all know and love….-sigh- Like or Dislike: 0 0

  3. dynamic October 19, 2010 at 9:54 pm | Permalink | Reply i think the fact that Kyosuke Higuchi is not the third kira its wrong and really annoyes me it compleatly ruined the film!!! fact


bottom of page