Absolute power corrupts absolutely, so goes the saying.
What happens if you have the power to bring about death to any individual with just the mighty stroke of the pen? How would you use your new found ability? Would you decide to inflict capital punishment and take away lives of criminals, convicted, suspected or otherwise? Would you be the grim reaper, transfixed in your own branding of right and wrong, backed by the power of mortality?
Based on a popular Japanese manga written by Takeshi Obata, Death Note tells the story of the god of death, bored with life, making available his Death Note(book) to the human world. Picked up by aspiring lawyer Light (Tatsuya Fujiwara), he soon finds that the rules written in both English (yes) and Kanji on the inside front cover, actually work - whosoever has his name written inside the book, will meet death via a heart attack. That's just scratching the surface, as Light continues to experiment with the capabilities of the book, as well as to internalize all the rules to call upon some serious manipulation of the rules to work to his advantage.
Why does the book operate with that set of rules, well, that's something you have to accept at face value if you want to enjoy the movie. Starting off with the deaths of criminals as Light experiments, soon the authorities take notice of these mysterious deaths, and launch a nationwide dragnet to hunt down the perpetrator. Foreign help is also called in, and L (Ken'ichi Matsuyama), an unseen and only heard police investigator, gets roped in.
It's a battle of wits as Light tries to keep his Kira persona (given by the press) alive while avoiding being caught by an ever zealous L, as both boys (yes, boys) engage and challenge each other. One to continue utilizing the notebook in more creative ways, while the other trying his best to second guess, and to see through guises and red herrings. Things become more interesting when family ties are involved, and relationships get put to the test in an interesting run up to the final scene. I thought Light's character development was crucial to the movie, and Fujiwara brought that through his role quite effortlessly with his impish looks.
The god of death, a frequent companion of Light, master of the book and actually is the voice of rational thought, is totally CG rendered, which allows for its supernatural movement to be as natural as possible. However, the design does resemble Brian Bolland's Joker with its patsy white face and permanent teeth showing grin, except for its extremely huge spanned wings, and punk like hairdo.
Death Note succeeds in making you sit up on the edge of your seat for the most parts - it does have certain slow moments in the movie which plods the pace down a tad too much. While it presents differing views on capital punishment, the movie itself doesn't suggest which is right or wrong, but is almost adamant in bringing forth the notion of the corruption of power. I haven't read the original manga to do a comparison, but as a movie in itself, it works, given its relatively high production values.
Part 2 is already signed, sealed and soon to be delivered. I can't wait to see how the movie takes off from where it ended. Intriguing, interesting and entertaining stuff!