With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Monday, February 16, 2009

ACF 231: "Death Note II: The Last Name" DVD from VIZ Pictures reviewed

"L", Light Yagami and TV star Misa Amane

Death Note: The Last Name / Desu noto: The last name
Directed by Shusuke Kaneko
Japan, 2006, approx 140 min.

As I'd previously announced, Death Note II: The Last Name, came out on a single disc DVD from VIZ Pictures last Tuesday. Sorry that my review is a little later than I'd hoped, but it's delay is no reflection on the movie or the DVD, both of which are top notch. Think of the two Death Note movies as the Godfather I and IIs of supernatural police procedural thrillers.

Death Note II, like the first film, is based on the hit manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. (Sales of 15 million copies!) It picks up right after the conclusion of the original Death Note movie, which you'll definitely want to watch first if you haven't already.

The story centers around young Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara), an extremely bright law student whose father, Soichiro Yagami (Takeshi Kaga), is a police chief. Light has found a book dropped by Ryuk, a God Of Death. Merely writing a person's name in it while thinking of their face (so as to avoid mistaken identity) results in that person's death. Disillusioned with the failures of the justice system, Light sets out to create a crime-free world by killing all the criminals he can.

While many approve of the vigilante justice meted out by "Kira" (the name Light uses), others do not. This is particularly true of the police, including Light's father. They call on the mysterious "L" (Kenichi Matsuyama), a young genius detective, to discover who Kira is.

Death God Ryuk and "L"

In the sequel, Light joins the investigation team in pursuit of the vigilante/serial killer. While super-detective "L" still strongly suspects (correctly) that Light is Kira, Yagami continues to seek out the real name of "L" so he can kill him with his Death Note.

Making things even more unpredictable is the emergence of a second “Kira” (Erika Toda). This new vigilante has the “Eyes of Death” which enables her to know the true identity and lifespan of any person. Light Yagami seeks to learn the identity of this other Kira so they can join forces to get rid of "L". Once this is accomplished, Light develops an intricate plot that involves empowering a third "Kira" who has no knowledge of Light's nefarious plans.

Misa undergoing extreme police "interrogation"

Part of the reason for the appeal and success of both Death Note films is the source material, although there are some minor changes in the live-action versions. Also contributing to the sequels success is the return of not only director Kaneki, but also all of the leads and many of the supporting cast from the original. I must point out the remarkable job done by the three young leads: Fujiwara as Light, Matsuyama as "L", and Toda as Misa Amane. They are fantastic considering their age and the fact that they carry the movie.

The video transfer on the VIZ DVD is first rate. The image is sharp and the colors are bright and crisp. The subtitles are in white letters outlined in black, so they stand out and are easy to read no matter what the background is. I watched some of the movie with the English-dubbed soundtrack (more on it in a moment) and with the English subtitles on. There are often minor differences between the words in the subtitles and what's being said by the voice actors. This is usually a sign that some time and thought has gone into honing the dialogue so that the dubbed words more closely match the movements of the character's mouth. Nicely done here.

You can chose from four audio options: original Japanese or English-dubbed soundtracks, both available in either Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or 2.0 Stero. The only fault I found with the disc - and it's a very minor one - is that the English 2.0 soundtrack was mastered at a slightly lower level than the other three. But a small increase in volume will correct this without any distortion.

Aside from various trailers, the only significant extra is 23 minute "Making of Death Note II" featurette. In it director Kaneko offers some insights into the film, including differences between the manga and anime´versions on the one hand, and his live-action versions on the other. I found these comparisons interesting, even though I haven't read the mangas nor seen the anime´films.

Death Note II rates a 4 out of 4 star ACF rating. It's outstanding, and even though there aren't that many extras, the DVD will be a welcome acquisition to any collection.

Keep in mind that the original Death Note live-action film has been available for awhile now. I gave it a 3.5 out of four star rating in ACF 111. [For my review of the original, click here.] Also, L: Change the World, the live-action tale of a significant 23-day period in L's life, is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2009. Both are or, in the case of L: Change the World, will be from VIZ Pictures. This is the live-action division of VIZ Media, which also distributes the Death Note mangas and anime´films.