Only the Japanese can come up with something like this. It’s simple – there’s a book that exists which will kill anybody whose name is written in it. Imagine what you would do with something like that? If you were good, would you use it? You might say no – but what if you turned this around and decided to get rid of all the bad people in this world… criminals, child molestors, mass murderers, chavs… What if you had the power of life and death?… What if you could be God?
That’s the premise of the Death Note movies, which themselves were based on a manga by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata and an anime which we’ve already reviewed (here and here) at Den of Geek and were very pleased with.
In this live action version, Tatsuya Fujiwara (you might remember him from the Battle Royale movies) plays the central character Light Yagami. He resents the crime and corruption in the world, and as a lawyer in training he feels powerless. However, the Death God (or Shinigami), Ryuk, drops into his lap the Death Note, a book which gives him the power of life of death. He is is now the self-proclaimed “God of the New World”.
The movie is centered around this rather amoral character, but in his own mind he is doing the right thing, and this is what is central to the story. He is killing the ‘bad’ people, but it questions the right in doing so, especially when he starts to murder the forces of law and order who start to get in his way.
In the movies he is pitted against a mysterious detective called “L”, who is super-intelligent and quickly deduces what Light Yagami is up to, in his guise as “Kira” or “Killer”. The story centres around the conflict between the two characters in a game of cat and mouse, with the plot twisting and turning, never going where you expect it to.
What these films do so well is turn around general good and evil conventions, and each does this with a very high body count (after all, it only takes a name to be written for somebody to die). Names are central to the story – it is the only way the various characters can avoid death, and the search for them, in order to have the power of life and death, is something very original – you won’t be surprised to know a live action American remake is planned.
If you’ve ever watched a Japanese horror movie you’ll know the gist – girly boys with girly hair, lots of intense stares – but this is more of a psychological thriller with supernatural overtones. It’s a brilliant idea for a story and the first movie perhaps carries it off better as the second does turn very complicated as more characters join in the fray – but if you’re looking for a live action film that does the manga justice – look no further – this is what you’re looking for.
Death Note:Death Note: The Last Name: