Death Note – Light up the NEW World: Written by Katsunari Mano, directed by Shinsuke Sato. Starring: Masahiro Higashide, Sosuke Ikematsu, Masaki Suda, Mina Fujii, Rina Kawaei. Running Time: 135 minutes. Inspired by the original manga by Tsugumi Oba.
I still consider the original manga and anime of Death Note, written by Tsugumi Oba to be a bona-fide literary and animated masterpiece of storytelling, character design, atmospheric pacing, and suspense. At the very least it remains an unassailable part of the Japanese anime canon, required for viewing for anyone wishing to have at least one iota of cred on the convention floor. Ever since that initial lightning bolt, a number of efforts have been made to recapture its success, including (most notably) a live-action Japanese film based on the original story and (most recently) a Netflix original series based on the same. This movie (and I will refrain from repeating its absurdly long title) is a continuation of that trend, providing an “official” sequel to the events of the original live action film.
An introduction reveals that Ryuk was not a lone actor in sending Death Notes into the world; after Light died, the King of the Dead decreed that anyone who found a fitting successor to Light/Kira would follow him on the throne, resulting in a large number of Notes being deliberately sent to the Earth. The police catch on to this pretty quickly, and a new task force is soon formed to track down, collect, and seal away the Notes to prevent another Kira from rising again. This force is, for the most part, an entirely new set of characters. Matsuda and Misa Amane (to my horror) return, but otherwise these are all new faces and names, including the requisite ‘L’ stand-in, a protégé of his named Ryuzaki, whose main gimmick is wearing a silly mask when out and about that I actually found rather fitting.
For a wholly an unnecessary sequel as this was, I must admit I enjoyed watching it a lot. You can only get anything out of it if you know the source material, but it’s slickly-made and well-paced. Unfortunately, it just can’t quite capture the palpable tension that made the original story so compelling to follow. It is also undone by a largely lackluster second act after a first act that is pretty well-crafted. The notion of an expanded number of Death Notes in the world, and the added rules to their usage that follows, is a great concept, as is spreading the action around the world a bit more (because why should Tokyo have all the fun?), but none of the characters end up being memorable enough to stick the landing.
Having Matsuda back was great, but he’s not in the film nearly enough, and while it was fun to see Ryuk cackling again, he’s much more directly involved in the action in a way that somewhat contradicts his strict neutrality from before, which was a core part of what made his character so fascinating to begin with. Instead of the chess-game turns and reversals that marked the climaxes of the original story, the last sequences of the film are mostly shootouts with helicopters and SWAT teams, and a final twist connecting the main police detective and Kira is not nearly earned enough to have more than a rote, perfunctory impact.
Ultimately, this is a film that neither had a reason to exist to begin with, nor manages to create one for itself by the end by being good enough to stand on its own. It is not a bad movie by any means- like I said, I did enjoy it a lot- but I can’t recommend it to either die-hard fans or anime agnostics. Which, in the end, is a death sentence of sorts for this kind of film. As usual, it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie.