" ...The surprises are worth waiting for. "
Title: Death Note by Viz Pictures
Format: Suspense Thriller on DVD
Reviewing Monkey: Our Ape Masters
Based on the popular manga and anime, Death Note
is one of the latest in a long line of recent live-action comic book adaptations.
It tells the story of Light Yagami, a young college student who happens upon
a Death Note--a notebook belonging to an ancient Japanese death god. Inside
the unassuming black book are instructions warning that anyone whose name is
written in the book will die.
Light, an aspiring law student who's the son of the head detective in Japan's elite special crimes unit, decides that the book is a gift from the gods to help him rid the world of evil. He starts by executing a psychopath holding a group of children hostage, and proceeds from there to go on a rampage eliminating every major criminal across the world.
Dubbed Kira (Killer) by the Japanese press, Light's murders make him a hero to the public but land him the number one spot on Interpol's most wanted list. What follows is a pretty darned interesting yarn that is half psychological thriller and half golden-era cat-and-mouse mystery.
But, unfortunately, right there is where I have to stop my synopsis unless I want to give away a long list of very serious spoilers. Filled with twists and told in a very classic Sherlock/Moriarty style, despite the supernatural element the Death Note represents and the constant presence of Ryuk, the death god who originally dropped the book, the movie is actually much more a mystery-thriller than conventional fantasy...and anything else I say will spoil at least part of the surprise.
And the surprises are worth waiting for. Solidly conceived and creatively composed, Death Note is definitely better than the majority of the main-stream thrillers we've seen in the past several years. The story is fresh, the idea is original, and the back and forth between Light and the authorities is pretty well thought out.
Truthfully, my only real complaints about the movie stem more from its directing than its story. Even pardoning the awkward pacing and over-acting common to Japanese cinema, you'll still have trouble with the odd transitions, horribly two-dimensional secondary characters, and way you're bludgeoned over the head with the movie's insistence in spelling out each and every nuance of the story (thus removing even the smallest traces of subtlety--and any need to think by the viewer). The same holds true for the director's decision to render Ryuk, the death god, entirely in CGI--which, while making him faithful to the manga, unfortunately feels entirely out of place in this otherwise effectless feature.
And, speaking of faithfulness, fans of the other versions of Death Note will likely be pleased overall with the accuracy of this live-action adaptation. Though there have been some notable changes, including Light's overall motivation to use the Note, most of the movie follows the trends of flicks like Sin City and 300 and tries to reproduce the manga scene for scene. Unfortunately, very reminiscent of the afore mentioned 300, the movie has that awkward combination of cutting some things I would have really liked kept in and adding some scenes that don't quite work. In fact that change in Light's motivation actually works against the overall effect of the movie, making the twist ending a little too unexpected and a bit out of place.
Still, all in all, Death Note is a solid showing with a story that's worth spending a couple of hours on. As long as you can put substance over presentation I'd recommend it.
The Good: A fun cat-and-mouse thriller with an intriguing premise and plenty of clever twists.
The Bad: Amateur directing and some odd choices in adapting the story keep this from being a classic.
The Overall Ugly: Can an emotional, dramatic, climactic confrontation be ruined by FBI agents shooting their guns like Tupac blasting a gat? No...but not for lack of trying.
What it's Worth: Market