Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Death Note II: The Last Note (2006)

The sequel to 2006's live-action manga adaptation, this entry tells the contuining story of Light, who uses the Death Note to kill whomever he wishes by merely writing their name within its pages, and L, the gifted, intuitive cyberdetective obsessed with uncovering his identity. Without ruining the last film, the ending implied that there would be a sort of team-up between the two characters, and this film largely revolves around the implications of that partnership, from both sides. While L is nearly certain that Light is the enigmatic "Kira," as he is known, he is continuously thwarted by Light's ability to use the constituents of the book to his advantage. Meanwhile, the rest of the world reacts, in various ways, to Kira's unrelenting presence in the media, along with the arrival of, what seems like, another Death Note into the hands of another "Kira."

As it is more directly bound by plot and specific characters than the last installment, this follow-up is not quite as thematically ambitious as its predecessor, and does not focus on the societal impact of Kira's actions as much as their effect on the familiar characters from part 1, and two crucial new female characters. Where the last one played with the viewer's emotions in regards to Light, and how he simultaneously expressed empathy and ruthlessness through the Death note, this one paints the characters in broader strokes, and makes less of an effort to keep their motivations behind their actions ambiguous. However, in exchange, there is more an emphasis on immediacy and suspense, and, after a full movie setting up the duel between L and Light, it is a blast to see their rivalry take center stage while the global ramifications of the Death Note pile up around them. The fundamental differences in their characters are more highlighted this time around, and their strained, yet somewhat understanding interplay is the main joy of the film. Also along for the ride, with further extrapolation, are Light's police official father, his apple-eating guardian god-of-death, Ryuk, and L's loyal handler, Watari; one of the advantages of the two films being filmed with such little time-lapsed is that not only is the entire cast present, but everyone looks and acts exactly as they should, considering the plot begins mere moments after the original's ending.

Highly Recommended for fans of the original, or of ambitious, morally ambiguous manga or cinema. I was not as taken off guard with this one as I was with the first one, but that is only due to my lack of awareness of the series prior to that viewing; in terms of sequels, I kept waiting for this one to show the dirt under its fingernails from playing in its own playground for too long, but the film managed to ride the momentum provided by the original until its thoroughly satisfying wallop of an ending.

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