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In Association with
Death Note 2: The Last Name (2006)
Director: Shusuke Kineko

review by Richard Bowden

In the first film, Death Note, the viewer saw the initial phase of the 'death note' mythos: a bored death god drops the power of life or death into the lap of a legal student called Light, and then watches from the sidelines as, using the merciless identity 'Kira', Light combines the power of the notebook and the reach of modern media to create havoc. Powerless to grasp what is happening, and why, the authorities call in L, the world's top detective and Kira and he begin a mental duel.

This principal Kira versus L struggle reached its first climax at the end of that first movie, with Kira's cunning destruction of an FBI task force sent against him and the shocking loss of his first girlfriend. The second movie begins with an entirely new death note book, given to someone new - a wannabe TV anchor woman who, when she starts killing, is promptly christened 'Second Kira'. Worse, this new Kira has the advantage of being able to kill on sight.

Part two of the anime-inspired drama, Death Note 2: The Last Name, brings increased complexity from the start with this new arc, not always to the film's advantage. There have been those who suggest that it is not necessary to have seen the first instalment to fully appreciate the second or enjoy it; I would strongly disagree - without a recollection of previous events and relationships a good deal of Death Note 2: The Last Name would seem even more bewildering or redundant, given that even those who admire the original series, and like this live action adaptation, admit to its final confusions.

The twists and turns are too much to outline here and to be honest the effort would end up illuminating little. Any ironies intended by the narrative I found too complicated to be really convincing, while the ongoing power struggle between Kira and L, surely the central thread, sometimes has to take a back seat, but most distractive are the multiplicity of plot elements. Suffice to say that, by the end of the film, we have seen three death gods; Light has known, then not known, and then known again that he was ever Kira and the number of death notebooks, real and false, has a count of five or more.

Sadly, the increased pace and variety of events is not matched by more sophisticated style of telling: scenes still draw out at more or less the same tempo and, over another two hours or so running time, with twist piling on twist, suspense falters and the most dedicated viewer's attention tends to wander. Even a final stretch heralded by a welcome shift in tempo with a genuinely surprise ending (seen by those familiar with the anime series as an improvement) can't really offset the effects of dull patches along the way.

There are other weaknesses too: J-pop star Misa Amane (Erika Toda), yet another death note owner, adores Light/ Kira 1 slavishly since he executed her parents' murderer. Their growing relationship is unconvincing to say the least; the simpering Amane emerges more as a useful cipher for plot elements, with no real independence, rather than an interesting supporting character in her own right. It's as a conspicuous part of the surrounding youth culture, a mildly satirical figure perhaps, that Amane relates, most comfortably. Like with the first film, an implied critique of mass media and its power remains at the forefront of Death Note 2: The Last Name.

This is most noticeable in the case of newswoman-Kira and the false broadcast ultimately used to entrap her, not to mention the critical internal observations made of its members by ICPO, the police squad on Kira's case and the confusions over what is real and what is false. Most disappointing is the character of Light/ Kira. Apparently the original series made time to give the law student-come-judge, jury and executioner more of a time to demonstrate barmy reasoning and then stage thought-provoking character shifts along the way. In the Death Note movies, even with the luxury of four hours of running time, Kira's psychology moves far too quickly, and with barely described graduations from an intelligence tempted by sudden, ultimate power to someone mercilessly disposing of loved ones to save his own skin.

Having said this, taken as a pair, the Death Note films make for passable entertainment - especially if you aren't willing to wade through the 37 episodes of the anime version and want to see what the fuss is about. The two leads are fairly likeable and charismatic while the plot does undoubtedly create some thought around issues highlighted above. If you're willing to lose yourself in all the complications, and ultimately don't mind much complexity in place of less profundity, then you could do worse.

In Japan, Death Note has proved something of a phenomenon - one reason why the film adaptation appeared so promptly. Sensing a good thing, there's news of a fresh live-action version planned and made in the US. (There's also another related Japanese release, Death Note: L Change The World.) Whether or not this will further condense the familiar package, and how this will be achieved, should be interesting to discover. Meanwhile the disc I had is another bare-bones affair - just regular DVD content plonked down into a more expensive blu-ray format with no extras to speak of - but I understand different editions with more content are available, and I may not have had the final release.

Death Note 1 and 2

Death Note 2: The Last Name

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