Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Death Note: Light Up The New World (2016) - Movie Review

Death Note holds a very special place in my heart, given that it was the first manga series that I ever read and properly got stuck into. It ended up inflaming my love for intricate battles of wits and cat-and-mouse shenanigans, all mixed up with some of the most iconic characters in the medium. I’ll admit to not having read all of the series, but I’ve read more than enough of it to know that I adore this series and its writing sensibilities. Naturally, after discovering that the latest anime adaptation showing at my local is a continuation of the story I hold so dear, you better believe that I was going to check it out. But outside of my fanboy expectations, is it worth watching?

The plot: Ten years after the murder spree of Kira/Light Yagami, and the death of both Light and opposing detective L, a series of bizarre deaths point to the re-emergence of the Death Note, a notebook where anyone whose name is written within will die as per the author’s choosing. Except this time, there are 6 Death Notes on Earth and there is a war brewing over who will control them. And in the midst of this war, the descendants of Light and L will meet their destiny.

For a film continuing the story of two of the most memorable characters in the history of Japanese fiction, that being Light Yagami and L, the cast here manages to capture that same spirit while carving out its own niche within that universe. Masahiro Higashide as the main detective of the Death Note task force Tsukuru Mishima is good, although he only really gets to shine near the end when his stakes in the events are made clear. Erika Toda as returning character Misa was a genuine shock, as someone who only knows the story from the manga and honestly couldn’t stand Misa in that version. I say that because not only does she work brilliantly with her character, she also gets the most emotional weight in a few key scenes. Nakamura Shidō II and Miyuki Sawashiro as Ryuk and Arma, two of the Shinigami (reapers) that monitor the Death Notes, are very entertaining in their own right with Ryuk being the mischievous trickster and Arma as a more personally connected ally. Sosuke Ikematsu as L’s successor Ryūzaki is amazing, bringing that same spellbinding charisma to his performance while not completely aping L in the process, and Rina Kawaei as Death Note user Sakura is legitimately terrifying, despite the fact that she only gets one scene to really work with.

In terms of what I have come to associate the name ‘Death Note’ with, and what I like about the story overall, this film pretty much ticks all the boxes in terms of what I wanted out of this. The chases between the police force and Kira are still solid, and Ryūzaki just making a mockery out of everyone in earshot is amazing to witness. In fact, pretty much any scene featuring Ryūzaki makes the film worth watching in its entirety. Now, while this film doesn’t contain anything as stone-cold brilliant as the tennis match between Light and L, or anything as meme-worthy as the infamous potato chip scene, this does have its fair share of memorable moments. The opening street chase involving the task force and Sakura is quite chilling, aided by how crazy Rina Kawaei plays the part, and makes great visual use of the core aspect of the story with the titular Death Note. There’s also Misa’s character arc, the conclusion of which is remarkably poignant; again, I’m not that big a fan of Misa from the original story, but I got seriously choked up by that arc.

As a means of continuing the story, the script goes for a similar approach to the later Saw films, in that it is less about the actions taken by the serial killer and more about the legacy of said serial killer and who will be the one(s) to carry it on. Where the original story was relatively straight-forward, in that Kira’s identities were made obvious to the reader from the offset, this gives more into the mystery angle to show the conflict over the name of Kira. Now, while this is mostly good in how the pieces shuffle around the board, it will occasionally enter the realms of the truly ridiculous. When I mentioned earlier that this film involves the descendants of Light and L, I mean that genetic material is involved. With Light, the explanation is fairly sound, if a tad confusing considering the differences that become apparent between the manga and the live-action films that came before this. With L, the explanation given only makes sense if Ryūzaki is a clone of L… which is a brand of ludicrous that, even considering the plot twists already made in the franchise, I thought this film wouldn’t reach.

And speaking of what this franchise has already done in the past, there’s a weird undercurrent to the theme of legacy in this film. For a story all about people trying to outperform and build on the legacy of others, there are way too many plot turns that are just straight-up reused from the original story. What was once brain-crappingly clever, or convoluted nonsense depending on who you ask, comes across as strangely mundane with the framing here. Now, some of the plot turns that get another once-over are from the original manga and some are from the previous live-action films. As I said, I haven’t seen the other live-action films as of writing this review, and yet I can still tell that they were repeated. This is because, at certain points in the story, the film will point-blank play footage from those films just so that the fact that this writing is running out of ideas is made crystal clear. Given how well this film does at adding to the series mythos at other points in the narrative, the fact that they resorted to this feels mighty foolish.

All in all, even with its nonsensical and hand-me-down moments, I’d still call this a worthy follow-up to the series. The characters are fun and engaging, the writing (mostly) does a good job at tweaking the mechanics of the plot to create some enjoyable exchanges and sequences, and the direction works at bringing the visual aspect of these scenes to life, particularly at the start with the chase through the streets. I might be a little disappointed at the final result, but then again I haven’t read Death Note in years so it might just be nostalgia holding me back on ranking this any higher.

1 comment:

  1. I am a fan of Rina, could you tell me in detail what is her role in this movie? Like what she does, how much time she appears, or what happens to her?