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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.11%
Worth A Look: 11.11%
Pretty Bad: 11.11%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 3 user ratings

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L: Change the World
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by Jay Seaver

"Death Note 3? Not quite."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL: Kenichi Matsuyama's performance as "L" may not have been the best thing to come out of the "Death Note" double feature, but it's certainly one of the most memorable. Fans mainly familiar with the original manga may find the idea of a spin-off movie featuring the character unlikely, but the premise does work for the movie series, even if some of the execution is lacking. (Spoilers for the "Death Note" movies follow, as you may expect)

Light Yamagi has been defeated, but to do so L had to write his own name in the Death Note, condemning himself to a peaceful death in his sleep 23 days hence, to make sure Yamagi could not use the book against him. He also lost two of his best agents, Naomi and Raye, along with his mentor and main conduit with the outside world, Watari (Shunji Fujimura). A good chunk of the first act is L cleaning up loose ends - burning the Death Notes, informing other members of his secret organization of Watari's death, and working on the massive backlog of cases that accumulated while he fought Yamagi. The world is not going to let L go quietly, though - two agents ("F" and "K") have sent children to Watari: A nameless boy who is the sole survivor of an epidemic that killed an entire village in Thailand (before the military burned it to the ground) and Maki Nikaido (Mayuko Fukuda), 12-year-old daughter of Dr. Kimihiko Nikaido (Shingo Tsurumi), the only man with a cure for a disease that combines the lethality of Ebola with the contagiousness of the flu.

As I commented upon seeing Death Note: The Last Name last year, a little bit of L goes a long way: What's funny and eccentric in a supporting character that exists around the fringes of a story can become tiresome as he steps to center stage, and L's various tics (exaggerated hunt-and-peck typing, a voracious appetite for sweets, terrible posture) start getting derisive rather than amused laughs as they persist. L was created as an adversarial reflection and comic relief, and trying to get by on the same jokes and be a dramatic lead is a recipe for potential disaster, especially since we've already seen L gain layers in The Last Name by revealing humility that Light lacked. Kenichi Matsuyama is still compulsively watchable in the part, especially considering how incongruous he appears trying to take a more active role in the investigation.

It's a pity his last case isn't more interesting, or at least better-written. A doomsday-virus scenario isn't a bad choice for L's final adventure - it's something that can be fit into the time frame the filmmakers inherited, suitably grand-scale enough to compare with death gods and magical notebooks, but different enough to not be a repeat of that story - but it's also a pretty familiar situation by now, enough so that the audience can tell when the writers are being sloppy: The (white, english-speaking) military group that wipes out the Thai village ("no witnesses!") disappears soon after, never to be connected to a governmental entity or the Blue Ship environmental terrorist group after they've delivered their pyrotechnics. L's note that the virus is worthless as a weapon without an antidote doesn't apply to truly radical groups that want to cull humanity for the sake of the rest of the environment (and he has no idea whether the idealists or the capitalists are in control of Blue Ship at the time). And, of course, there's the usual bits of scientific ignorance: The situation L describes calls for a vaccine rather than an antidote, bringing a biological agent from concept to mass-production in a matter of hours, nasty symptoms that quickly reverse themselves when hit with an antidote.

Change the World is far from a complete failure, though - in addition to Matsuyama, the rest of the cast is pretty entertaining: The villains are a pretty entertaining unit, even if they are somewhat standard issue. Once L gets out of his headquarters and into the world, director Hideo Nakata (best known here for the original Ringu) stages a couple nice chase scenes, with new FBI agent ally Suruga making a good comic foil (occasionally with a wink and a nod at some of the sillier aspects of the series; one guy Sugura encounters points out that he's obviously Japanese rather than American, and why the heck should anybody in Japan do anything when he flashes his FBI badge?). The transformation of L into something akin to an action hero works when you figure knowing the date of his death might make him a little more daring, and the movie ends on what I assume from the reaction around me is a call-out to the original manga.

Still, for as slick as "Change the World" is - Nakata apparently got a nice budget based on the success of the previous films - there is a feeling that it's ultimately unnecessary, and appendix to "Death Note" rather than something equal to the story that spawned it.

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originally posted: 07/13/08 15:20:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/14/12 shakahoma not the third installment expected but a great time for us drive-in movie fans 4 stars
5/26/09 usha i've always loved kenichi's movies and death note films also fall in them. so cut the crap. 5 stars
7/22/08 Max A step down from the superb Death Note movies 2 stars
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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 18-Aug-2009



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