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Death Note: The Last Name
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by Jay Seaver

"Ending a story is always harder than starting it."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: "Death Note: The Last Name" came out hot on the heels of the first film (about four months later), and fulfills the promises made at "Death Note"'s finale. It's got a more complex story than its predecessor, not always to its benefit, but it's far from being one of those sequels that undoes much of the goodwill of the first. (If you haven't seen the first movie, don't read any farther: There will be spoilers.)

At the end of Death Note, Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara) used the Death Note to kill his girlfriend and one of his most dogged pursuers - thus ensuring that the investigators would heed his request to join the team hunting for "Kira", hopefully allowing Light to learn the name and face of L, which he needs in order to kill him with the notebook. He's in, but L (Ken'ichi Matsuyama) still won't reveal his true name; he still thinks Light looks pretty suspicious. The other big event from the end of the first movie had model/actress/idol singer (and huge Kira supporter) Misa Amane (Erika Toda) receiving her own Death Note, this one coming from a different Death God, and she's determined to help Kira in his work. Also coming into play is Tota Matsuda (Sota Aoyama), a TV news reporter with her eye on the anchor desk.

With two Death Notes and Death Gods in play, there are a lot more permutations to be considered, and as a result The Last Name becomes much more strategic than tactical, so to speak. There's not nearly as much back-and-forth between Light and L here; it's clear early on that Light has formulated a master plan and we spend much of the movie watching it play out rather than seeing them counter each other's moves in real time. The revelation from the first movie that L is in fact quite similar to Light - a young, immature, and egotistical genius - becomes a little less exciting when the pair are in the same room.

It is fun to watch Light's plan play out, though, in part because said plan involves Erika Toda's "Misamisa". She had a hilarious introduction in the first movie, hosting a cooking show that focuses on sweets and making one's romantic rivals fat. Here, she's instantly infatuated with Light as soon as she learns that he's Kira. There's something darkly funny about most aspects of her, from her gothic-lolita clothing and home decoration to the whine in her voice when she's asking after Light in captivity. She's this totally emotional follower in a story filled with intellectual planners, who makes great comic relief even though she's just as amoral a killer as Light is. There's something sickly funny about the way she thinks she's been kidnapped by a stalker after the team captures her.

She also brings along a new Death God, and Rem quickly shows us that these giant CGI creations have individual personalities. Shinnosuke Ikehata's vocal performance is quite serious in contrast to Shido Nakamura's riffing as Ryuk. The CGI model is a smidge less cartoony, and colored white as opposed to black to highlight that this creature has a sort of nobility to him (Light also ends up in white as opposed to the black he'd been wearing for the past movie and a half, symbolizing something similar). Ryuk and Rem are some of the most impressive all-CGI characters put on film anywhere in the world, comparing quite favorably to what the United States and New Zealand have accomplished.

Ken'ichi Matsuyama is also a pleasure to watch as L. His decidedly un-nutritious dietary habits lead to a funny scene between L and Misa early on, although by the end of this movie the gag about how he's constantly eating sweets may make audiences want to, well, gag. To a small extent, the weird tics and poor grooming that made him interesting in the first movie get a little tired in this one, where he's on screen for close to the full running time and frequently paired with the much more normal-acting Light. It works in part because while the first movie played upon the idea that L and Light are similar in a lot of ways, Matsuyama and the filmmakers quietly build a certain amount of humility into L that wasn't easily seen before, and it becomes the crucial difference between the two characters - L is willing to admit that he can be wrong or imperfect, while Light has such a powerful ego that he's willing to formulate a plan that involves erasing his own memory, so sure is he that he's thought of everything.

He's right, of course, but the way the plan works makes The Last Name a somewhat less visceral thrill ride than Death Note - a lot more rules for how the Death Note works are revealed here, and the more that appear, the more arbitrary they seem. It means the movie is just throwing a lot of facts at us rather than interesting questions, which makes it a bit colder than the first. Director Shusuke Kaneko and writer Tetsuya Oishi fill the gap with a bit more in the way of dark comedy, which is fun, and handled deftly enough that the audience still takes the film seriously. The finale is just as tense and exciting as any sequence from the first film, too, and leads to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

And a thoroughly satisfying conclusion is what we're looking for from "The Last Name". Endings are harder to write than beginnings - you've got to satisfy the audience's imagination rather than inspire it - so even if "The Last Name" isn't quite as good as "Death Note", it gets the job done, and the two make for a quite enjoyable pair.

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originally posted: 07/16/07 00:22:14
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2007 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2007 series, click here.

User Comments

5/06/19 PUMP UP THE JAM In addition to the unsatisfactory ending, I think the sequel is still worth a look. 4 stars
1/28/08 Josey i LOVE when L falls off his chair, so funny,you have to watch it, but the Anime is beter 4 stars
11/14/07 Max A powerful climax to a great saga 5 stars
8/06/07 Pearce Brilliantly fun - but it can't stand alone, so watch both. 5 stars
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