Death Note (Desu nôto) (2006)

death-noteI admit to never having seen the original anime of “Death Note,” but now I feel compelled to. “Death Note” is an excellent horror film about self-righteousness, and what lengths people are willing to go through to ensure that justice is served when the law fails. Light Yagami is a boy seeking to become a police officer with his girlfriend, but after a frightening confrontation with a child killer who had just been excused of his crimes in a trial, he decides the law doesn’t work. One night, after walking home, he discovers the black book called “The Death Notebook,” a mysterious notebook that kills anyone with the name the holder prints.

Light then secretly becomes an angel of death codenamed Kira, who destroys criminals, and earns a countrywide following of folks who believe him to be a sign from god striking down the wicked. But Light knows better, after being confronted with a twisted winged demon named Ryuuk who explains the intent of the book. “What is the price for this book?” Light asks Ryuuk who responds with a wicked laugh. That’s the question, isn’t it? What price will Light Yagami ultimately pay? But Kaneko simply doesn’t make it a film about a sad little boy killing criminals. He then inserts many other folks into the fold, including many, many plot twists. When it seems Light has fate at his control, a mysterious investigator simply named L enters, and explains that they are on the hunt for Kira.

Light, a pure genius, now attempts to outwit L, who has also narrowed down the list of suspects, killing times, and is intent on finding Kira once and for all. “Death Note” turns then from a horror film, to a murder mystery as L attempts to investigate Kira, while Light attempts to outwit L, who has yet to ultimately reveal his identity to confused officials. But, as the power corrupts Light, he learns that power in the wrong hands is pure evil. Teamed with his wicked accomplice Ryuuk who watches with great interest, Kaneko directs a beautiful horror mystery, introducing many elements and questions. Why the focus on the TV star Misa Misa? How did L figure Kira’s identity? Who is L’s accomplice? Is Ryuuk merely an observer?

Why does he seem so interested in this mystery? Kaneko hopefully answers much of those questions in the last two sequels, but “Death Note” alone is a wonderful elaborate horror film about power and fate. The direction is dark often sleek, with Tatsuya Fujiwara giving a memorable performance as Light, while Ken’ichi Matsuyama is twisted and entertaining as the sugar fiend, L who watches and waits with sheer patience. I enjoyed this film immensely, even if it was a gamble to buy it blindly. Ultimately power corrupts, and Kaneko’s “Death Note” is an entertaining, creepy, and beautifully written horror film about the power of death placed in the hands of someone with the best of intentions. I can’t wait to check out the sequels.