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Review © Tyler Robbins, 2010.
Directed by Shusuke Kaneko, 2006, 141 minutes, starring Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ken'ichi Matsuyama, Erika Toda, Takeshi Kaga, and Shido Nakamura.

I am no Usher, but I do have an album's worth of Confessions, many of which articulate themselves in the reviews I do for Snowblood Apple.  Looking backward, I have (over)shared about my family, my Southern upbringing here in the States, my mental health, even my inability to appreciate the high art of The Grudge 2.  But perhaps the most shocking confession I could make is that despite all my hemming and hawing about weirdness and gonzo and bizarro entertainment, and how more of it needs to be made, at the end of the day sometimes I just want to watch something kind of normal and drawn out and (dare I say) boring.  As an anime fan, FLCL and Evangelion are my grand prix jury prizes; they are articulate, unusual, and of a high enough standard that as I've transitioned from eleven-year-old to adult, I've been able to continue to dig them with as much, if not more, reverence.  But sometimes after a full day's work, one does not want to come home and watch a Christ-parable about giant organic robots who fight a specifically-fixed number of angels intent on destroying Earth's remaining post-apocalyptic population.  And so yes, that is why, inexplicably, I like Death Note.

In June of 2006, Death Note (Desu Nôto), the imaginatively drawn-out manga and anime about a young man’s conflict over his sudden ability to manipulate and control death, made its wildly successful transition to cinemas.  While an overdrawn two hours in length, that film was merely the first of two parts of the story of the death note, a goth-y Lisa Frank notebook thrown down from a bored spirit who lived in a world lacking sufficient cable television to keep him otherwise entertained.  The second half of its story, a presumably equally bloated two hour and twenty minute follow up punnily titled The Last Name, made its debut in December of that same year, and its box office receipts would help it to become one of the highest ranking films of the year in Japan.  In 2008 both of these films were shown in limited release in the United States, giving them a wider audience internationally, and giving me a reason to leave the house on a Friday night and mingle with other human beings; and now the pair, and the third film in the series, L: Change The World, have finally been given a standard Western DVD release, with all the English dubbed bells and whistles that middle school boys demand of their cinema consumption.

Larry Burns tackled the first film in his review last year, surmising that the film was a bit boring, tedious, too long, and perhaps relied on the audience's familiarity with the source material a bit too heavily, thus making the film too shallow to be a truly engaging experience.  Not that I've ever been one to grossly associate my own opinions with someone else (see: Visitor Q), but Larry mostly got it right from my point of view.  Although I might be a bit more forgiving, having something of an interest in its various medias, Death Note was, in fact, long and tedious.  The Last Name, though... well, sometimes like a good wine, a film series gets better as time goes by.  And sometimes bottom shelf service station wine will always just be bottom shelf service station wine.  Read on to discover what quality level my consumed alcohol is.

Synopsis

Tatsuya!  Good to see you again!  Your hair has grown in nicely since that accident at the turn of the century that caused you to wear so many frightening disguises.  And might I say, I think it's awfully kind of the Japanese film industry to look so forgivingly on your shortcomings as an actor and to give someone with so obvious an emotional-lacking as an artist steady work in film.  Your disability hasn't stopped you one bit, and for that you are inspiration to all!

And so Death Note part the second begins where Death Note part the first left off.  So Kira is the mysterious Death God that is killing all of the world's bad guys and generally making a mess of things, and the population loves him for it, because it's a well-known fact that the stinking masses enjoy watching others suffer so long as it is not them suffering and that they do not have to expend energy so that others might also suffer, for their pleasure.  Light is Kira, which means the person responsible for all of this mayhem and false idol-worship is actually a Princess Sparkle Pony in the attire of a university student, which makes a ton of sense actually in this post-modern world where internet fameballs have higher profiles than the people who make our laws.

Anyway, our favorite goth-lolita Paris Hilton, Misa Misa (!), has a death note now too (and, inexplicably, a pop album), and she just loves Kira to death (pun!) for killing the man who killed her parents and got away with it (although it's never explained how Light knew this man found innocent in a court of law was actually the murderer).  So, like Paris Hilton, she becomes subservient to this man she loves, he who allowed his girlfriend to be killed for his own powerful machinations, and openly tells Misa he will kill her too, the charmer.  Meanwhile, a woman who presumes herself a regular Walter Kronkite (but is probably more of a Martin Bashir judging by her pro-Kira bias) at the Nippon news agency tries to usurp her bauble-headed competition, the show's anchor, who we will call The Inheritor Of The Fright Wig.  The Inheritor is having none of this, because you see, she has had all of the sex possible with the producer of the news program to assure her job, and no dumb college graduate with an actual interest in news is going to wrangle it from her.  Also, women are harpies, and all females either fall into the categories of being slightly dumb, fame-obsessed, and utterly subservient to boys, or are aggressive, lonely, and intensely jealous of their peers.  Thank you Death Note for clearing that up, I thought perhaps the world had progressed since the lingering stereotypes of the 1990's.

Light decides to join L's investigation of the killings to deflect blame off himself, and because L is the only character in these films who makes sense, despite being the weirdest, least likeable, most grating person to ever walk barefoot on a film screen, he knows from start to finish that Light is Kira, and what the heck, let's spend an hour and a half of the remaining film playing along with him just to get to this story's inevitable conclusion.  So L brings Light and Misa Misa into Super Secret Headquarters and chains them up all goth-lolita style (as is their wont!), and some convoluted plan by Light is supposed to trick L, which we know is impossible, because L is very smart and has no pride or anything he wants to prove to anyone else for as intrinsic a prize as peer recognition, while Light is extremely prideful and kind of an overall dick who has, in a matter of seconds, made the transition from innocent law student to mass murderer with nary the arch of an eyebrow.  I've ordered pizza with more conviction.  Martin Bashir gets a little death note herself, and bauble-head gets embarrassed on live television by Kronkite-lite (it's wonderful when women undermine each other, because women are catty, amirite fellas).  Eventually the story steamrolls to a finale, and if you've any familiarity with the manga or anime, you can guess how it is adapted, and if you haven't, well you can also guess how it all ends because this, I hate to break it to you, is not brain surgery.

The short of this review is: this film, in tone, in direction, in characterization, largely mirrors what is consumed in the first Death Note film.  There is little I can add to Larry's summation that these characters are too shallow, and especially when one takes into account the rapid "character changes" that my beloved Tatsuya makes in the last third of this entry without actually bothering to change his character in any way, shape, or form, then yes, it is apparent that it does still kind of suck I guess.  The character of Misa is probably the closest to any actual person, in that young women like to caricature themselves in the images of pop stars despite often possessing superior intelligence to the people they emulate, but all of that is lost in the mix, and all we really ever know about this poor young woman is that her parents died at the hands of a man with the tact of Eddie Izzard, and now she wears chain-based clothing.

The longer explanation of The Last Name, though, does have to concede that this is a better movie in many ways.  Although looooonger, it's got pacing so tightly under control that I spent a single sitting, without even a pee pee break, watching this piece and did not once feel like my time was being wasted, or that stories were being strung out for the sake of making an epic-length film.  It is still not comparable to the New Wave, and it's certainly not all that "extreme" in its depiction of death, but I might (precociously) interject that Ring's method of death was nearly identical and that film is the basic crux of how this site judges the concept of extreme Asian cinema in the post-1998 era.  The CG is improved, and the rate at which we are able to consume what is given to us is made rapid-fire by the final chapter of the movie, and so yeah, in that case, it's not so bad.

(As for Tatsuya, the man is dumb.  I've tried to appreciate this twinkling and sparkly representation of precious Japanese youth culture, but time and again I realize that I have a coffee table with a better ability to portray basic human emotions.  When queried on this subject, a fan/stalker of the man intimated to me that perhaps I didn't understand him at all, that my critical eye missed the point entirely: Tatsuya is such a master of acting, he is in fact the Pope of his craft, that his acting ability now transcends emotions.  Or he's just really, really bad at pretending to be a human being, and from his uncomfortable skinsuit to his history of fright wigs, it seems likely that he is probably just one of those petite, sex-aaay robots the Japanese keep saying they're working on at every tech convention.)

Thespian criticisms aside, although by the story's end there are a few plot points that have managed to get lost in the shuffle due to the faster speed of the film's events, I thought it told a decent narrative in a way that would appeal not only to fans of the anime, but passers-by as well.  It is not easy to adapt a manga into a film, especially one with such a long and winding story arc, and although this is no Uzumaki, it is a few pegs above several entries into the Tomie series of films in expressing in movie form what is felt within the manga itself.  At the end of the day, I might not rewatch Death Note, but I would probably spend an evening cooped up in bed with a frozen dinner in front of The Last Name if I had nothing better to do.  Not remarkable by any stretch of the imagination, but a wholly engaging (if stupefying) experience that spot-checks its predecessor's shortcomings, The Last Name ties things up nicely, and all things considered, fans and foes alike probably couldn't have asked for anything more.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment: 5/10
Violence: 4/10
Chills: 2/10
Gross-outs: none, unless you count too much sugar intake, slow down L
Sex: 0/10, although Light and L share some furtive glances, and I think there's some real chemistry there
Agility while surviving as a Death Note film: surprisingly head over water

Films in a Similar Style: Not surprisingly, Death Note, but surprisingly, not L: Save The World

*** Passable ***

Discuss this movie here at the Snowblood Apple Forums!

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Shusuke Kaneko
Tatsuya Fujiwara

Links

http://wwws.warnerbros.co.jp/deathnote/ - Official film site
http://deathnote.viz.com/ - Viz Media's Death Note site, where all American importing of the series congregates in one safe place
http://www.deathgod.org/ - An old fansite with some real effort put into it; endlessly entertaining, and sadly now "on hiatus"
http://www.lovehkfilm.com/panasia/death_note_last_name.htm - A much more in-depth review than my own, a bit more scathing as well
http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117933281.html?categoryid=31&cs=1 A real live business review, and boy is the industry speak nearly as mind-numbing as Light's constant exposition ;-)


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