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Death Note review

I’m not a fan of Japanese comics or anime in general. No offense against them, I’ve got my hands full with movies and music enough that I don’t have time to follow them. So I’m simply judging Death Note as a movie, not by its source material. Maybe that makes me unqualified to review it, maybe it makes me more qualify to review it, who knows? You tell me.

Death Note has a simple premise with a complex set of rules - If your real name is in the book, you die. But of course, creator Takeshi Obata and Tsugumi Oba made sure there weren’t any plothole in that, so the notebook comes with a ton of rules, which you will find out when disillusioned law student Light picks up the notebook and starts playing the Grim Reaper with criminals. Having gotten a little overzealous, his killing attracted the attention of law agencies all over the world, including the FBI (or as Da Ali G would say “FB…aiiiiitte”) and genius detective L. And that’s about all that happens.

Unlike recent comic book films, Death Note isn’t purely an origin movie. In fact, the origin is simply done in a flashback, and we’re thrust right into the action with a chain of death note-induced murders. That in itself should tell you that this one’s for the fans. Of course, the blanks are filled in before the end of the first act: Light’s own father being the head of the investigation team (and also the chairman of the culinary academy Chairman Koga!), and the existence of Shiori, Light’s girlfriend. Meanwhile, everyone talks about “Kira” (or Killer in Katakana) because he’s like, so awesome, in a way that you wish the youth would talk about politics. But when a kid with a god complex is killing people, politics just have to be swept aside for important issues, like ethics, morals, and keeping that hair well-waxed all the time.

Director Shusuke Kaneko directs the entire thing by the books, with a few cgi-assisted visual flairs here and there. Considering that he directed two Godzilla and three Gamera films, I didn’t really expect much, especially at creating any sense of tension. There ought to have been a feeling of dread permeating throughout the film, but the episodic structure of the film (probably because they’re trying to cramp all the volumes in roughly 4 and a half hours of screen time) really killed the tension. There are strokes of smart screenwriting here and there, but I wonder if they are the work of screenwriter Tetsuya Oishi or the works of the original creators. The acting is also hit-or-miss with Tetsuya Fujiwara attempting to be all cool and evil as Light, but just achieving blank-faced and kind of evil. For a big-budget high-profile comic adaptation by Warner Bros. (whose Batman Begins should be the model of starting any adaptation franchise), they could’ve found more talented people on this thing.

I’ll still watch part 2 just to see how the whole thing wraps up, since they teased a little too much about the match-up between Light and L, and the idea of the Death Note itself is quite cool, but as far as Death Note the film goes, it’s passable commercial filmmaking. Barely passable commercial filmmaking.

Another look at the film by Kozo at Lovehkfilm (he actually has read the comic and knows a thing or two) is here.

While I’m at it, why not give some news.

- Hollywood Reporter has a report on Peter Chan Ho-Sun’s Warlords, starring Jet Li, Takeshi Kaneshiro, and Andy Lau (who apparently sports an Osama Bin Laden beard). My favorite part is Chan’s honest attitude about working with censors and why Chinese cinema seem to always be so positive all the damn time.

- TVB has a new drama named War and Destiny. I’m not a fan of TVB dramas, but this one is interesting because it takes place in 1937 Nanking (or as the advertisement say, “during the ‘Resisting Japanese War.’”). I guess it won’t be sold to Japan then. But from that making-of I posted, it seems more like melodramatic love stories more than historical epic, eh?

Oh, and here’s a clip involving the invasion of a group of Japanese soldiers, one of whom looks like a guy I saw in Mongkok wearing leather pants and a chain speaking bad Japanese. Yeah, I don’t think I’ll watch this.

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