by Jef Burnham
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The Japanese film Death Note just ended its two-day limited engagement at select theaters around the country on May 20 and 21, 2008. The screenings were accompanied by a half hour of bonus, behind-the-scenes material about the story’s evolution from anime to live-action feature. The film will hit US retailers later this year on September 16, 2008.
Anyone who has seen 1989’s Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins knows just how bad a live-action adaptation of a manga/anime series can be. But I have to say that the Death Note film is an incredibly good adaptation of the anime series, which was itself inspired by a manga. Very little was altered in the storyline, except for a few small things to save time, since the 2-hour film covered approximately the first 12 or so episodes of the 37-episode series. Purists may have been upset by these changes, but I found them to be rather exciting. Having seen the entire series, it was refreshing to be surprised.
The story opens with Yagami Light, a teenager who comes into possession of a Shinigami’s (Death God) notebook, which allows him to kill by simply writing a person’s name in it. He develops a serious God complex and decides to rid the world of evil by killing all criminals. Master detective, L, is the only person with the ability to discover the identity of the mass killer of criminals, known to the public as Kira.
The major problem with the screenings of the film is that the film was dubbed instead of subtitled. For those fans who have been watching the series dubbed, it was exciting to hear that they used the same voice actors who dubbed the American release of the anime. However, I prefer to watch foreign films and series in their original language and found the dubbing to be quite hokey. One problem with the dubbing was that it meant we had no idea what the large amounts of Japanese text on the screen were saying. I can imagine that anyone who was unfamiliar with the series could not have guessed what the text might have said.
The highlight of the film for me was Ken’ichi Matsuyama as L. L is my favorite character, and Matsuyama had the animated character’s mannerisms down cold. He sat, looked at people, watched TV and even ate the same way as L did in the anime. I can’t wait to get a hold of the DVD so I can hear his voice work too. Many of the other characters were impeccably cast, including Takeshi Kaga as Light’s father, Yagami Soichiro, and Shunji Fujimura as L’s assistant Watari.
There is a follow-up film called Death Note: The Last Name, which directly follows the events of the first film, but has yet to be released in the States. Both films bizarrely feature a Red Hot Chili Peppers song as their theme songs. There is also a prequel that follows L, called L: Change the WorLd, which features a Lenny Kravitz song as its theme, and is a totally original storyline, not based on any events from the previous incarnations of Death Note.
Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic living in Chicago.
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