The Japanese manga and anime comes to life in this amazing live-action adaptation that is driven by the performances of lead stars Tatsuya Fujiwara and Kenichi Matsuyama.
Aspiring law student Light Yagami hopes to one day follow in his father’s footsteps to become a detective. However, when Light learns that criminals are having their cases dropped or given lighter sentences, he ends up in a futile attempt to stop one such person and is bullied. One fateful night, Light discovers a book on the ground called the “Death Note”. Light reads the rules and tests the theory where when a name is written, they will die. Light soon learns his theory has come true and with the help of the God of Death, Ryuk, Light christens himself “Kira”.
As mysterious circumstances revolve around the deaths of many criminals across Japan, Light makes Kira known but going incognito in the process. When the FBI is involved in the investigation with Light’s father in charge of the Japanese police, agent Raye Iwamatsu is tasked with following Light, who is a suspect in the case. Meanwhile, the Japanese police and FBI have a mysterious ally in “L”, who is revealed to be a youngster whose sense of perception has helped solved many cases over the past few years. When Light causes Iwamatsu’s death, Iwamatsu’s fiancée vows to stop Kira and will go to great lengths to prove that the young Light may in fact be Kira.
Tsugumi Ohba’s manga, the story of a mysterious book that causes death and the God complex among its owner, is a terrific story that was adapted into an anime series and come 2006, a live-action adaptation from director Shusuke Kaneko, has arrived. The horror style of the deaths are more akin to films like The Ring and are not graphically gory at all, unlike its 2017 Americanized reboot, which has its moments but ultimately was ignored among the fanbase.
The film is driven by the performances of its leads. Tatsuya Fujiwara, fresh off his hit role of Shuya Nanahara in the Battle Royale saga, goes the opposite route as Light, who goes from likable law student to a mysterious killer with a God complex. In a pivotal moment of the film, Light’s first encounter with the demon Ryuk, is met not so much as fear but more with enthusiasm. And kudos to Shidou Nakamura, who is excellent as the voice of Ryuk. At times, the character pulls off some comic relief, especially when he goes into withdrawals from his favorite food, apples. In one of the film’s funniest moments, when Light and Ryuk are at the supermarket, Ryuk’s reaction to Light telling him that he can’t have any more apples for now is priceless.
Kenichi Matsuyama is amazing as the world’s greatest detective, simply named “L”. While the initial is itself a mystery, Matsuyama’s performance of a mysterious character is quite fascinating. A Sherlock Holmes-like detective with an affixation of sweets, Matsuyama clearly enjoys having fun with the role especially in his interactions with Light’s father, played by the legendary Takeshi Kaga, known worldwide as the original Chairman of the Japanese culinary hit show Iron Chef. Asaka Seto plays the character of Naomi Misora as a woman scored with revenge and intends to go to any lengths to prove that Light is the one known throughout the world as Kira while Erika Toda plays a popular TV star, Misa Amane, who potentially becomes a vital part of not just this film, but the saga as a whole, where this the first of 4 films in Japan.
Death Note is an excellent adaptation of the manga and anime with Tatsuya Fujiwara and Kenichi Matsuyama giving some of their best performances as rivals on the field, one a kid with a God complex and one a detective with a bit of a kid complex. A must see for any live-action fan of manga and anime.
WFG RATING: A-
Warner Bros. Pictures Japan present a Nippon Television Network production in association with Shueisha. Director: Shusuke Kaneko. Producers: Toyoharu Fukuda, Takahiro Kobashi, and Takahiro Sato. Writer: Tetsuya Oishi; based on the manga created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Cinematography: Hiroshi Takase. Editing: Yosuke Yafune.
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Kenichi Matsuyama, Asaka Seto, Shigeki Hosokawa, Erika Toda, Shunji Fujimura, Takeshi Kaga, Yu Kashii, Shidou Nakamura (voice)