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  • 12A
  • Adventure, Crime
  • 2006
  • 141 mins

Death Note: The Last Name

Death Note: The Last Name

Synopsis

The second part of the Japanese franchise about a serial killer features the same cast and crew as the original Death Note. Light Yagami and 'L' continue their sociopathic sparring to see who will win and who will die, proving along the way that th

About

Imagine having the power to end a life with the mere stroke of a pen, administering from a god-like distance your own brand of extra-judicial punishment on an outside world that you perceive as hostile, without regard for due process or indeed for 'collateral damage'.

In essence, this is the premise of the dizzyingly popular Death Note franchise of mangas, animes, videogames and now live-action feature films. This latest manifestation represents a deadly battle of wits between two immature and arrogant geniuses, in a high-concept morality tale with an emphasis on the workings of justice.

In Shusuke Kaneko's first Death Note feature, a punkish, apple-loving shinigami (or 'god of death') named Ryuk (voiced by Nakamura) granted disgruntled law student Light Yagami (Fujiwara) ownership of the Death Note. Anyone whose name the holder inscribed in the supernatural notebook would drop dead - by default of a heart attack within 40 seconds, although the Note's rules (conveniently listed in broken English on its opening pages) allow for other, less straightforward or immediate modes of demise.

Light began summarily executing criminals who had evaded justice, earning himself a cult following as 'Kira' ('killer' in katakana) from the majority of the public - but as Light's police officer father (Kaga) joined forces with enigmatic, sweet-loving detective 'L' (Matsuyama) to bring the murderous 'Kira' to justice, Light was soon killing just about anyone to cover his tracks. The film ended with Light callously sacrificing the life of his own girlfriend as part of a stratagem to gain entry to 'L's' investigative task force, so that he could kill off his rival once and for all.

Made back-to-back with Death Note by the same essential cast and crew, Death Note: The Last Name picks up exactly where its predecessor left off and, despite an elliptical recap of the original's events and of the book's rules, will hardly prove clear to those who missed the earlier film. Die-hard fans, however, ought to have little trouble following the narrative convolutions on offer here, not least because they are merely minor variations on a now well-established theme.

Again Light and 'L' are locked in a high-stakes game of chess. Again the same old debates are trotted out about the rights and wrongs of vigilantism. Again Light cleverly manipulates every rule in the book to his own advantage. And again 'L' makes intuitive leaps that reaffirm his great intellect even as they defy all credibility. In other words, it is more of the same, and then more, and then even more, in an overlong film that endlessly repeats motifs from both the original and itself.

Even the innovations here serve, upon closer inspection, merely to duplicate (and also complicate) what has come before. This time there is a second shinigami named Rem (voiced by Ikehata), there are two more Death Notes, and there are two more 'Kiras', namely the vapid TV chef Misa Amane (Toda), who was in fact introduced in the first film, and the sidelined news researcher Kiyomi Takada (Katase). They, like Light, will confuse their higher principles with much lower drives (love, ambition, revenge), and will (like virtually all the women in these films) be subordinated as mere pawns in Light's game with 'L'. As for their status as television figures, this only resumes a strand of media-focused satire already present in the first film.

At least Light's constant proximity to 'L' (and to his own father) during the investigation into himself brings a certain Oedipal claustrophobia to the proceedings, making Death Note: The Last Name a diabolical reimagining of No Way Out or Infernal Affairs; the ending, changed radically from the original manga, neatly contrasts Light's willingness to sacrifice others with 'L's' newly acquired spirit of self-sacrifice for a greater good.

It is just a pity that Kaneko's direction is once again too workaday to fashion such strong material into a truly engaging visual experience. In a case of a great story being let down by the flatness of its telling, this sequel feels more like the sort of cheap TV show that Misa might make than the full-blown epic of ethics that it should be - with the unusual consequence that the Hollywood remake (now inevitable since Warners purchased the film rights) holds out the promise of being better than Kaneko's original.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Erika Toda, Shido Nakamura, Nana Katase, Ken'ichi Matsuyama, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Shinnosuke 'Peter' Ikehata, Shunji Fujimura, Takeshi Kaga
  • Director: Shusuke Kaneko
  • Screen Writer: Shusuke Kaneko, Tetsuya Oishi
  • Writer (Book): Takeshi Obata
  • Writer (Story): Tsugumi Ôba
  • Producer: Takahiro Sato
  • Photographer: Kenji Takami
  • Composer: Kenji Kawai

In a nutshell

A killer story let down by lacklustre direction, Death Note: The Last Name ought to leap from the screen and soar like a thrill-seeking god of death - but instead it just plods lifelessly from one tired narrative twist to the next.

by Anton Bitel

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