Death Note (2006) Review (Part I)
Surprise Sunday Update! Happy Thanksgiving!
Okay, I need to confess something: I actually really like this duology.
Now wait, wait. Before you click off this review, let me be honest.
I saw the 2017 Netflix live action film and – unlike that disaster of a film – this story is faithful (for the most part) to the manga. At least it tries to capture the spirit of the original source.
The CGI used for the death gods isn’t great and the special effects need work but – despite all that – I found myself caught up in the story of Death Note all over again.
Part I of this duology is engaging, intense, dark, and I loved a lot about how it handled the story of Death Note.
Is this film perfect? No. But it is the story of Death Note and I found myself excited as I went along for the ride.
Part I Summary
Part I opens with Light Yagami writing names in the Death Note and the resulting demises. The film introduces the string of heart attack deaths targeting criminals as the mysterious godlike persona known as Kira.
When the police get involved with trying to figure out who Kira is, Light finds himself in a struggle with the enigmatic detective L. trying to capture him.
When L. embarrasses Light on live television by proving that he is unable to kill him, Light launches a scheme to get on the police task force to kill L. once and for all.
Part I Introduction
Part I of the duology handles the introduction of Light Yagami as the cold-hearted killer Kira.
The opening of the film is actually one of my favorite parts of it, with the audience being treated to Light writing names down in the Death Note and the resulting deaths of the criminals.
It lets the viewer know right away what the Death Note is and what it does, explaining the rise of Kira before we even get a glimpse at the main character behind him.
Light Yagami (played by Tatsuya Fujiwara)
Light is introduced as a law student who supports Kira publicly while actually being him behind closed doors.
Tatsuya Fujiwara plays Light well, showing how he balances being Kira the killer while still maintaining a certain degree of likability when he is around his other family members and friends.
The introduction of the reclusive detective L. allows us to see that Light’s pride and arrogance guides his actions as Kira.
When L. has a death row inmate pose as him on television, Light kills him. L. deduces from this that Light cannot kill unless he has the name and face of the person he wishes to murder.
Light from then on launches a scheme to find and eliminate the real L. in order to prove his superiority.
This scheme is hinted at when Light asks his father if he can be involved in the Kira investigation early on in the film. However, things get complicated when Light kills the FBI agent tailing him in order to escape suspicion and the agent’s fiancée witnesses his death.
Light’s plan to get on the Task Force – once revealed – shows him as heartless and uncaring toward others. This, in turn, works in building him up as the maniacal, cunning genius he was in the manga.
I was surprised at just how far he went, but the scheme showed how evil he was, and I really appreciate that the film got that right. I’ll talk more about the scheme when I discuss his girlfriend in a bit.
L. (played by Kenichi Matsuyama)
L.’s character is pretty much exactly the same as he was portrayed in the manga, being behind closed doors at first before revealing himself to the task force late in the first film.
Matsuyama plays the character as this reclusive genius who is obsessed with sweets. I really appreciated his performance, as the writing for him was faithful to the manga and really worked to build up his character.
I like that the writing really stuck to the manga with the smaller details. Little things like him being asked to be called “Ryuzaki” by the investigation team or his habit of sitting in chairs with his knees raised were really nice to see.
Even when he wasn’t on screen and we only saw the laptop he used to communicate with the rest of the police force, I appreciated the smaller details the film got right.
The voice synthesizer and single “L” on the screen looked exactly like it did in the manga. It’s a small thing, but it really made his character all the more special and eccentric.
Ryuk (voiced by Shidou Nakamura)
Ryuk’s section might be a little longer than the others, because there’s more to cover than just the voice actor’s performance.
Let’s start with the voice actor, though. Nakamura plays Ryuk as the rogue, cackling Shinigami and I actually really like his performance. He comes off as genuinely likable and funny.
Seeing his reactions to the world around him was a lot of fun! I especially loved the scene when Light told him he’d have to go without apples for a while because his house had been bugged with cameras and Ryuk absolutely freaked out!
I like that Ryuk makes it obvious that he’s on neither L.’s nor Kira’s side. He doesn’t do anything to help Light (unless there’s something in it for him) and doesn’t tell Light everything about the Death Note right away. This matches up with his character in the manga being just an observer to what’s going on around him.
I do really like how his first meeting with Light is set up. I like that Light is so shocked by Ryuk appearing that he can’t even speak, and I like that Ryuk flies around him. The music that’s played during the scene fits perfectly as well, showing Ryuk as someone who marches to the beat of his own drum.
One issue I have with Ryuk is that the CGI used for him in particular looks rather uncanny and odd. I understand that this film was released in 2006, but because his character has so many comedic moments (such as one bit when he hangs from the ceiling of Light’s room) it makes those moments funny for the wrong reasons.
The last issue is that we don’t get to hear why he dropped the Death Note in the first place – something the manga did very shortly after introducing him.
I understand that there’s a lot to cover but his first conversation with Light could have included it, and it’s a simple explanation. If we don’t get the reason for him dropping it, we start to wonder why he’s following Light around. Just say he was bored and move on.
Shiori (played by Yuu Kashii)
At first, I had reservations about Light having a girlfriend. I was worried it would make him seem less cold and more human.
Luckily, though, Light’s actor and the writing were good enough that that actually wasn’t the case.
The way Light treats Shiori is absolutely reprehensible, and I love that the film actually took this seemingly more human side of him and used it to show just how depraved he could be.
Shiori herself is shown as completely oblivious to how Light really is. This keeps in line with how he treated the girls he was with in the manga, and it made me feel really bad for her once Light’s ultimate plan was revealed.
Her death was especially hard to take in after the reveal. There was no question in my mind that Light was a monster toward her, and the fact that he was unable to say if he really cared about her just made him look even worse.
Soichiro Yagami (played by Takeshi Kaga)
Oh, Soichiro… you remain one of the characters I pity the most in this story.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I really like how Takeshi Kaga plays this character, showing him as the tough yet kindhearted chief of police he was in the manga.
I love that he’ll do anything for his family and shows complete devotion to capturing Kira, despite his worries about his family being under suspicion of one of them being Kira.
I also want to talk a bit about his relationship with L. Despite his early misgivings about L., I love that he goes on to treat him like his own son. It was really sweet to see their relationship in that light. I’ll talk a bit more about his relationships with the other characters when I cover Part II.
Naomi Misora (played by Asaka Seto)
Naomi Misora’s role in this film is a bit different than it was in the manga, but I’m willing to let that slide because of the ultimate reveal regarding her character.
Misora is set up as the devoted fiancée to Raye Iwamatsu, and that devotion is shown as her reason for acting the way she does. The setup is there, and it fits perfectly given what we know about her in the film.
That’s why I don’t have a problem with her character’s changes. Seto also plays the character perfectly, showing her devotion to Raye and later her anger at Kira for what he’d done. It fit given what we’re told about her and made her scenes all the more intense and engaging.
Accuracy to the Manga
Both films in this series take some creative liberties with the source material. In Part I, the biggest change is the setup of Naomi Misora as Light’s main obstacle to getting on the Task Force.
Like I said earlier, I like the way her character is handled, but it is very different from how her character was treated in the manga. In the manga, Light killed her rather quickly and she didn’t have as much an impact on the story as she does here.
That being said, I think the change was inevitable because the film really only deals with the Light and L. arc. If Near and Mello had been in this story, I would be a lot less forgiving because there’d be so much more that needed to be covered after the L. arc wrapped up.
I also like the change with how L. is introduced to Light. Seeing L. eating Light’s favorite chips serves as a huge middle finger to him and I loved seeing L. go that far in showing how suspicious he was of him.
Is it accurate? No. But it works wonders in setting up their rivalry for the second film.
A change I wasn’t so fond of was how Misa Amane’s near-death experience was shown. While the scene itself is accurate, it’s placed in the wrong section of the film, right at the end.
It would have been better if it had been shown right after her interview with that reporter, because that’s when her devotion to Kira is first brought up.
Throwing it in at the end makes it look like the writers had no idea where to best place it and – while it sets up her arc as the second Kira for the sequel – it also appears out of order. I’ll talk more about Misa in Part II.
As for what this film actually got right, I want to give special mention to Raye Iwamatsu’s death scene. Besides Naomi being there when he died, everything else is accurately portrayed, and I liked seeing Light use Iwamatsu to get what he wanted.
Seeing Light watch Raye die was chilling, and I really felt for Naomi when I saw that.
Overall, I really enjoyed the first film of this duology. Despite the changes it made, it still managed to be engaging and a lot of fun to see. I like how it leads clearly into the second film and the actors’ performances are fantastic.
With that, stay tuned for my review of the second film, Death Note 2: The Last Name, coming up in my next post!