Death Note (2006)

JANUARY 2, 2010


The power in Death Note (Japan: Desu Nōto) is a pretty awesome one - you write someone’s name down and they die (cue Rob Zombie trying it on my name). But unfortunately, the executions themselves are pretty dull; pretty much everyone dies via an After Effects jitter/zoom effect and a heart attack. I was hoping for some Final Destination-esque “setpieces”, but the movie takes a different route, one that is interesting but not quite compelling enough to keep the 126 minute (!) film from lapsing into dullsville on several occasions.

Instead, the police figure out pretty quickly that all of these deaths are the work of one guy, and a great deal of the movie is devoted to them trying to narrow his identity down, and then once the culprit (a guy named Light, dubbed Kira by the press) has been identified, they just watch him and try to catch him in the act. Meanwhile, Light/Kira tries to clear his name while still killing random criminals. This leads to some pretty sweet sequences (I love the bit where a guy takes the bus Light is on hostage, but Light is being watched by a cop so he is unable to write the guy’s name down and end things), but a lot of repetition, and with the film running long even by Asian standards, I began to wonder if they were using the length to make the film feel more like an epic even though it wasn’t one.

There were also a lot of holes and completely idiotic moments. For example, at one point Light kills a reporter who is calling him out live over the news. Ignoring that the guy is just doing his job and isn’t worthy of dying anyway, why would he do it live on the air? All it does is cement the police’s theory about him in the first place, and probably lose public support in the process. I know if some dude took down Brian Williams in front of my eyes, I wouldn’t back him even if his target was Hitler (this theoretical dude is also a time traveler, I guess). And when he googles “Kira”, it returns 50,000 matches, which he claims is all about him. Uh, no pal, some of that are just the blogs belonging to some dude named Kira. It’s also one of those movies with a wealth of rules that don’t make any goddamn sense at all beyond providing conveniences for the plot. Why would you get 40 seconds to add a cause of death to the Death Note? Why is the statute of limitations on a death note 23 days? Such arbitrary numbers.

I do like that they explain that you need to have a clear image of the person you intend to kill in your head though, because I started wondering if all people with that name were dying. It’d be kind of funny if it just killed them all, Terminator-style. Some dude has a beef with his gym teacher, but the guy’s name is George Clooney - what does he do? No one wants Clooney harmed. Likewise, what if the guy was using an alias? If I wrote down Michael Douglas, Michael Keaton would die instead (or as well). The “see them in your mind” thing is a damn good rule.

Since this is based on a manga, that means we have to deal with some additional nonsense not really related to the plot, such as the fact that the embodiment of death is obsessed with eating apples. There is an honest-to-God subplot about the fact that he can’t eat apples while the room is being watched by the cops. Also, said death-incarnate looks like this:

I mean, I guess it looks more like my idea of death than say, Brad Pitt, but still - what the fuck kind of goofy ass shit is that? Between that and the fact that our main character’s name is Light, and with all of the death, I legit thought I was watching some sort of live action Final Fantasy/Persona hybrid movie.

But the movie is entertaining enough for the most part, especially during the scenes where Light has to maneuver around the limitations placed on him in order to continue “Kira’s” work. And I liked that for the most part, they kept it more global (though we never really see it in action anywhere besides Japan), instead of having the kid use his power to kill bullies and teachers who gave him a bad grade or whatever (which is actually what I thought it was about, for some reason). Apart from the reporter and a few “witnesses”, he only kills horrible criminals, so that’s cool.

One of the brief extras is about what happens in Death Note 2, which looks pretty sweet as it seems Light and L (his nemesis) team up to take on another guy who has the Death Note (why is Death Note written in English?) power. I would tell you how to find this particular piece (of about 13, plus a few trailers), but the extras menu is the most confounding and annoying goddamn menu I’ve ever seen. The selectable items are scattered at random over the screen, with no indication as to what are buttons and what are just pictures of apples. And there are three pages of such apples, but there is no way to navigate from one to the other. Every now and then it just switches to another group, and then there’s no way to get back. And nothing is really worth all of the trouble, some of the director’s comments are interesting but most of it is just generic behind the scenes stuff. The trailers spoil most of the movie, and many of them make a big deal of the fact that the film has the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Dani California” as its “theme song”, which is odd since the song is about a runaway girl. But oddly, as I was double checking the song’s title (since every other RHCP song is about California and I can’t tell them apart), I learned that the character in the song is a cop’s child who enjoyed making trouble wherever she went and eventually met her match, so sex aside, it’s kind of a fitting theme song.

What say you?

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  1. The manga is way better,but I actually enjoyed the film adaptations...It´s 2010... isn´t about time you watch "Battle Royale" already??

  2. My all region player broke and I can't afford to buy a new one, so no Battle Royale for me until they release it widescreen in Region 1. Plus it's not a horror movie!

  3. I´ll be happy to send you a copy on region 0, I want to know what you think of that film brother!

  4. Isn't it out in Region 1? I'm sure I saw it at HMV a few weeks ago.

  5. About why the Death Note has an English name: the Japanese word for "notebook" is actually "note," presumably borrowed from English and then abbreviated for convenience. Why "death" is also in English, who knows, maybe they figured it would sound funny (or a little less exotic) to pair the Japanese word for "death" with an English word.

    Incidentally, I've never seen Death Note or anything but I'm glad they didn't change the title to "Death Notebook" or something -- so corny, even though it's actually, like, sort of accurate.

    All of those arbitrary numbers may have some esoteric significance in Japanese, too. The 40-second time limit idea in particular jumps out at me; you may have noticed this from watching J-horror but the number 4 is bad luck in Japan, as one of the ways it's read ("shi") is homophonous with 死 -- "shi," or "death." Since numbers can be read a few different ways in Japanese you can kindasorta use them to spell words, so you'll see "subtle" little references and visual puns where characters will have, like, an apartment number 37564 ("minagoroshi," or "massacre") or something like that. But I haven't seen Death Note, and I don't know of anything special about the number 23 off the top of my head...


    i thought you were referring to the animated version of this, which, without me having to see this, i assure you is much better. too bad i gave the manga to that shitdick jon, i would have just given it to you.


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