For a while now, Viz’s movie division has been releasing their ongoing slate of live-action films (almost all based on popular manga and anime titles like Nana or Love.Com) as one or two-night showings in select theaters across the country, the better, one imagines to gather j-pop faithful in one spot, thus creating more of an blessed event than an average night out at the movies.
So imagine my delight when I found out that a special screening Death Note II: The Last Name would be occurring at a theater only a mere 40 minutes from my humble abode! Being a fan of the original 12-volume manga by writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata (at least up until volume nine or thereabouts) this seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. No waiting for the DVD or Internet piracy for me bucko! Perhaps there would even be cosplay at the cinema! Should I get my hand-made Ryuk costume (lots of duct tape and boa feathers) out of the mothballs?
Time or a lack thereof proved to make the decision for me as Jog (whom I had invited to come along) and I had merely enough time to wolf down some dinner after work before heading out to pick up my non-blogging, equally Death Note-loving friend Craig, who I had also invited along.
On the way down Jog and I joked about possible subtitles for this film or a potential third movie we had heard rumors about. I had hoped the film would actually be titled something like Death Note III: Now with 30% less Mello! or Death Note III: Write harder, but apparently that’s not the case. Craig had seen the the first film the other week (a sworn blood oath prevents me from saying how) and he provided a nice summation of its plot as we drove down to the movie theater (In short: same as the manga, with minor tweaks).
And sure enough, as we entered the theater what did our eyes behold as we walked into the Regal Cinema but a loose gaggle of eager teen-agers hanging around the theater lobby and, indeed, dressed as several of the main characters. I didn’t get enough of a good look at the girl dressed as L to see if she had dared to go shoeless, but I remained impressed nonetheless.
Anyway, on to the movie.
Death Note II: The Last Name isn’t really so much a sequel as the second half of a rather long adaptation. Originally released in 2006, it follows the basic plot of the manga up to a point and according to Wikipedia (my source for all things Death Note-related) netted a ton of box office dough in Japan.
For those not familiar with the story, it’s about a teen-ager (here a college-age student) named Light Yagami, who discovers a notebook where, if you write a person’s name in it, they will die of a heart attack in 30 seconds.
The notebook was left by a Shingami, a otherworldly grim reaper of sorts, who was more bored than anything else and eager to see what deviltry Light might get up to. Rather than try to amass wealth or settle scores, however, Light decides to rid the world of criminals, ushering in a utopia free from fear, with him in charge of course.
The film picks up after most of this has taken place, and Light has established himself as the mysterious serial killer known only as “Kira.” Hot on his trail though are Light’s completely clueless police detective father, a group of loyal cops and the eccentric, equally brainy sleuth known only as “L.”
There’s a nice level of camp to the film or at least a overwrought amount of melodrama, mainly provided by the CGI-designed Ryuk who licked his chops whenever the opportunity presented itself. I especially enjoyed Ken’ichi Matsuyama portrayal as L, who dull eyes would suddenly bug out or would go into a lengthy Buster Keaton-inspired stone face when receiving a bit or portentous news.
I also enjoyed Erika Toda as Misa, a character whom I believe one Internet wag dubbed “the stupidest manga character ever.” While she isn’t completely able to overcome the character’s simpering, love-struck attitude, she brings a slyness and even occasional gravity (at least initially) to the role that I appreciated. And I thought the decision to make her a goth lolita punk, complete with a baby doll encased in a glass coffin rather inspired.
Indeed, it was that sort of tongue-in-cheek attitude that made me enjoy the movie. Death Note II is a primarily goofy affair, with bit characters shouting things like “This is the Kira festival” and his words immediately inspiring chaos. Indeed, it’s when the film attempts to get serious at various points that things feel awkward.
Part of that campy feel may be due to the fact that the movie obviously had a small budget. I’d lay good money down that Light’s room and one other supporting character’s apartment was the same set with the furniture moved around slightly. As a director Shūsuke Kaneko seems to favor swooping pans that end in tight close-ups. It doesn’t surprise me too much to learn he directed a number of Godzilla pictures.
The teens behind us seemed in on the joke as well. At least, they were well versed enough in the world of yaoi and dojinshi that every time a Light or L made a remark that could possibly be regarded as a double entendre, there was a good deal of whooping and cat calls from the back of the room.
Normally this sort of thing would have driven me insane with anger, but I really didn’t mind here. Death Note II is designed to elicit audience participation. It’s Rocky Horror for J-pop fans.
Because I’m so used to hearing the shrieks of fan entitlement (I do spend an awful lot of time on the Internet after all) I had expected the film to follow as closely to the original material as possible. That being the case, I must confess I was happily blindsided by the final twist that, while incorporating some of the bits from the final volumes, manages to offer a surprise or two on it’s own. Perhaps the biggest surprise, though was the discovery that Light’s father was played by Takeshi Kaga, who is best known as Chairman Kaga from Iron Chef. He plays it fairly straight here though. Perhaps there just weren’t enough red peppers to bite into.
While I did genuinely enjoy the film, the one thing I did miss was the sense of tension and Hitchcockian suspense that the manga brought to the table. There’s none of the “he knows that I know that he knows” mind games that L and Light play so masterfully in the comic and anime. Those hoping for a live action version of the famed tennis match will be sorely disappointed.
On the other hand, there’s no Mello.
After the film was over there was a special “making of” supplement that went on way too long and at the end showed the various actors being given enormous bouquets and hugs as their final day of shooting arrived. I found myself not so secretly hoping that as we left the theater, the employees would bid us farewell with flowers and pats on the back, but alas, it was not to be. No matter, the film had offered enough love for me to bask in on the way home.