Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Brilliant young law student Light Yagami (Tetsuya Fujiwara) is frustrated. He believes deeply in the law and justice but alas from his personal observations the system seems broken as criminal after criminal escapes justice through the rather loose Japanese legal system. Then one fateful day Light finds a notebook. According to this wacky book, which has a rather explicit and detailed instruction set, if you write someone’s name in the book they will die. There are safety measures in place just in case you write in ‘John Smith’ or something like that just so you know because I was wondering about that. Sure Light is skeptical at first but after a run in with a particularly unsavory recently released murderer he writes in the name. Sure enough my man dies of a heart attack.

Turns out this book was ‘clumsily’ dropped by the ghoulish looking Ryuuk (voiced by Shido Nakamura) who is death himself. This apple loving demon looks a lot worse than he actually is as he simply hangs around Light eating apples, observing him doing his thing as Light scribbles the names of scores of criminals in his little murder book.

Unfortunately, even in Japan, killing criminals is against the law and the law is hot on the ass of Light’s internet alter ego known as Kira. In particular the police force have called in an eccentric mastermind only known as L (Ken’ichi Matsuyama) to narrow down the field of suspects of who could possibly be killing these criminals, of which he does a fairly masterful job of.

By now a couple of things have happened in that Light has mastered the true power of the book in that he knows he can devise scenarios in which his future victims will kick the bucket, he’s also become consumed with the power he possesses, killing not only criminals but law enforcement agents that he feels are working against his attempts to create a better society, plus he’s become a person of interest by the FBI though no one knows exactly how he, or anybody, is killing these people by remote control.

Now the battle lines have been clearly drawn. The criminal genius Light has gone off his rocker killing almost indiscriminately and the genius for justice L is convinced that Light is his man though he hasn’t the slightest idea how he’s doing what he’s doing. May the best effeminate looking genius win.

I have been waiting a while for this to come stateside and Shuseke Kaneko’s take on the popular manga did not disappoint. Nor would I expect it to since Mr. Kaneko has made a trio of Gamera movies and as such has probably cemented himself in my personal Hall of Fame for life, whether he wants to be there or not. I think that making movies about giant, fire breathing turtles probably helped Kaneko out, in that the premise of The God of Death casually dropping a notebook in which simply scribbling in ones name can cause one’s death is probably about as ridiculous as they come… behind giant fire breathing turtles. It only takes a brief amount of time for us to set aside the outlandish premise and completely buy into it, largely due the performance of Tatsuya Fujiwara who gives a very believable performance arc from one who is skeptical at first, then gradually becomes a justice seeking knight before becoming drunk with the power of the Death Note.

All the performances were very good in this film and the setup for the story, particularly how they setup the character L to be the genius that he is supposed to be and how the police were able to narrow down the net in capturing the killer Kira was all very well done. This is key because ‘Death Note’ isn’t a movie that is filled with a lot of intense visual action, horror or any other ‘exciting’ elements stuck within its narrative, with the possible exception of the God of Death, but he was put in almost as comic relief. It’s the story itself, the characterizations and the moral dilemma that incurs when putting the Death Note to use that makes this such a compelling movie to watch.

Since this film and its sequel ‘Death Note: The Last Name’ were shot back to back be warned that this film does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, but not at the expense of leaving us with an ending that is too terribly open ended. By all means watch this before watching the first sequel, but having now seen both films ‘Death Note’ is one fine mind bending, methodically paced thriller.

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