Saturday, February 19, 2011

Death Note (2006)

Bleak, serio-comic Japanese film about a young man who comes into possession of a book that has the power to kill any living person on earth by merely writing their name down in it. The protagonist (if you can call him that), Light, is an average teen who finds the book in a dumpster, and is immediately descended upon by a creature named Ryuk, who identifies himself as the previous owner of the book. He explains the rules to Light, and acts as sort of a guardian angel, only without the angel part; he is more of a sounding board for Light's ideas than a conscience. Initially well-meaning and focusing only on nationally known criminals, his antics with the book become so nefarious and undeniably supernatural that a force begins to oppose him, led by the police and an ominous force named L who communicates through a surrogate and a computer. The moral and practical implications and pressures of what he is doing begin to take their toll on Light, and he descends into a pragmatic madness to justify his use of the book.

The film is based on a Manga, and it is evident by the structure of the plot; even more so than Akira, this feels like a perfectly compiled "Greatest Hits" of a larger, more overarching story. Light is a very complicated protagonist, and his issues are certainly not resolved by the films end, enticing me to next seek out the films sequel. His relationships with his girlfriend, his father and, later, L, are layered and real, way above most western portrayals of dark, haunted teens. Him and Ryuk, his Jiminy Cricket, have a uniquely personal interplay that makes one easily forgive the so-so computer animation of his character; neither being a saint, they talk of morality and responsibility in vague terms, aware of goodness but never fully compliant to it. The whole film has a moralist edge that conflicts with the pseudo-nihilism of the characters, and it works in the films favor, creating a world where ethics are impotent without power, while achieving power corrupts ones ethics.

Highly Recommended for fans of gritty Japanese morality tales a la Battle Royale. As I have not read this or any other manga, I cannot refer to how it compares to the final film, but I've heard from friends that the Death Note manga is overdrawn, melodramatic, and superficial, none of which I would say about the cinematic adaptation.

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