Death Note (Desu nÃ´to) (Director: Shusuke Kaneko, Japan, 2006): Based upon a very popular manga, Death Note has since been made into an anime television series, but this live-action version, along with its sequel, Death Note: The Last Name, ruled the Japanese box-office last year. The concept seemed interesting: Light Yagami is a law student and son of a local police investigator, hoping to follow his father into a career involving the law. One night he finds an empty notebook that promises “The human whose name is written in this note shall die.” Pretty soon, criminals all over Japan are dropping like flies, and the police are trying to track down the vigilante responsible for these mysterious deaths. They call in the elusive “L” (described ludicrously as “the world’s top detective”) to help them crack the case. Later, we find out “L” is just a sullen teenager with a sweet tooth, but that makes about as much as sense as the rest of the movie.
I’ve previously mentioned my interest in Japanese anime, but I’ve never really gotten into manga in a big way, mostly because this type of fiction generally sacrifices character and believable plots in the interest of keeping the action going and appealing to their chosen demographic. All these flaws are present in this film adaptation of the manga. The very fact that both protagonists are teenaged boys living in Japan seemed funny, but that was nothing compared to some of the plot holes and stunning coincidences necessary to move this story along to its conclusion. Death Note makes Japan look like a nation bursting at the seams with violent and unremorseful psychopaths, when in reality the crime rate is quite low. And there are really no sympathetic characters at all, since Light, who started by trying to rid the world of crime, ends up killing anyone who gets too close to finding out who he is.
The film is slickly made, for the most part (well, except that the “Reaper” who originally dropped the notebook for Light to find looks like a giant grinning marionette). But it’s unbearably silly. Death Note is obviously entertaining for many people, judging by its commercial success; just not people like me, I guess.