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DVD: Death Note 1 & 2 Special Edition


After having my appetite wet by the episodes on the Death Note V1 DVD, I’ve been champing at the bit to watch this Special Edition DVD. You see, so popular was the anime series that it was made into two live action movies: The first covering the events of the first nine episodes of the series and the second completing the story. In turn these adaptations were extremely popular too. In fact when the first was released in June, 2006 (titled ‘Death Note’) it bumped The Da Vinci Code from the top of the Japanese box office, and held the number one position for two weeks. The second instalment released in November of the same year (titled ‘Death Note: The Last Name’) held the top box office place for four weeks and became one of the top grossing Japanese movies of 2006.

Obviously, when you condense a series into a shorter form like this, there are bound to be changes. But while I’ve only seen the first four episodes of the series It’s probably not my place to point them out. I will say thought that what I have seen of the series was covered extremely faithfully in the first movie, any changes were more than acceptable deviations from the source.

Having said all that, I’d like to completely disregard the series from this point and talk about the films as their own entities, especially seeing that both the series and these movies owe their origin to a manga series which preceded them both:

Ok, let me just get this out of the way and we’ll move on: “Frikkin awesome!”

I took the opportunity over the weekend to watch both instalments of this adaptation in the company of some friends, none of them knowing anything about the content of the DVDs. Our first surprise came when we discovered that there was no English audio track… that’s right, cover the children’s ears, I’m about to use the most heinous word in the English language: SUBTITLES!

All melodrama aside, don’t let the fact that these film don’t come with an English dub prevent you from giving them a shot. This is an extremely cool, albeit farfetched, story. The characters are certainly well realised and the plot, while complicated, is immersive and gripping.

Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is a brilliant student, who becomes seduced by the power afforded to him by a ‘Death Note’: A Death Note is a ledger in which Shinigami (Japanese Gods of Death) use to take the souls of humans. Simply by writing the name of a person in the book, that person will die. The ability to use the Death Note does not belong only to the Shinigami, any human who finds a Death Note may use it. When Light finds the Death Note and realises the power of the item in his possession, he sets out to create a new, peaceful world by ending the life of every known criminal.

A divide soon grows. Many see the mysterious deaths of countless villains as the act of a untouchable champion, whom they name Kira. Others see the deaths as the work of a maniacal serial killer who, no matter how powerful, must be stopped. To this end the Japanese authorities hand control of the Kira investigation over to a mysterious, brilliantly-logical, sugar-addicted, detective, known publicly only as ‘L’ (Ken’ichi Matsuyama).

The director Shusuke Kaneko, who has a bucket load of Gamera and Godzilla titles to his name (so you KNOW he’s got the goods) manages to craft a very effective visual style for Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name. There’s also a notable appearance from Takeshi Kaga, best know to us stupid westerners as ‘the dude from Iron Chef’, but after seeing his performance in the Death Note movies (and given the fact that they were huge grossing movies in Japan), I suspect that he has a substantial career that we’ve not been privy to.

As I mentioned before, this is a complicated plot with new twists and reveals happening regularly across the course of the two films. It’s an original idea and extremely well executed – part of me really wants to see a big budget English language remake of these films, but the part of me that knows better hopes that never happens.

This isn’t a case of a movie and it’s sequel being packaged together either, you MUST have the second disc sitting there ready to watch or else you’ll spend a good 20 minutes screaming at the TV set once the first one ends. The good news is that you’ll at least get to rock out to some ‘Chilly Peppers while the credits roll, but I can’t imagine that’s how Japanese audiences contained themselves during the six month window between the cinema releases. [source]

©2006 ?DEATH NOTE? FILM PARTNERS (c)2003 Tsugumi Ohba Takeshi Obata
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