Death Note – Foreign Film Review

Made in: Japan

Language: Japanese

Synopsis: Based on the Japanese manga (comic book series) of the same title by Tsugumi Oba and Takeshi Obata, the plot involves a university student named Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara). Light hopes to become a police detective one day, and studies diligently to achieve his goal.

He hates crime and corruption, and while walking home one night, finds a supernatural notebook owned by Ryuk, the God of Death (voiced by Shido Nakamura). Light learns that the name of any human written in the notebook will die, and soon goes to work trying to rid the world of killers and thieves.

He takes on an alias known as Kira, and soon becomes a controversial underground celebrity. Light wields his power mercilessly, and discovers that the act of writing in the notebook also gives him the God-like ability to control an individual’s actions and alter the course of a person’s destiny.

With the companionship of Ryuk, Light uses his brilliant intellect to exact his personal form of justice while staying one step ahead of the law.

But the law is trying to track him down, and Light finds himself hunted by a mysterious detective known only as “L” (Kenichi Matsuyama). “L” is every bit as brilliant as Light, and the game of cat-and-mouse escalates as both are tested to the limits of their intellect.

The Good: Death Note is an ingeniously developed story with a very cool plot. The supernatural element is very complex, but is clearly explained and contained within the context of the story. Any possible plot holes are expertly plugged, which is impressive because this movie could have easily fallen apart.

The story twists are very well thought-out, and this is ultimately an unpredictable movie that will keep you engaged until the very end. Light is a fascinating protagonist, and his God-complex reveals a number of jaw-dropping philosophical/ethical points of discussion.

Although I’ve never read the original comic book series or watched the anime version, Death Note appears to be a highly successful adaptation. Much of the story/character nuances common in comic-book series are preserved, making it an experience that is as enjoyable as it is complicated.

The Bad: Some of the digital effects involving Ryuk are kind of hokey. And because of the ending, the full impact of this movie will only be completely enjoyed upon the first viewing.

Who would like this movie: I’d recommend Death Note mainly for the 18-35 demographic. It’s a very smart movie, and not necessarily just for fans of foreign films.

You’ll enjoy it if you’re a fan of comic books (especially Japanese manga), thrillers, and imaginative storylines. It’s a comic-book adaptation that visually opts for elegance and subtlety over colorful garishness.

(3 and 1/2 stars out of 4)

Director: Shusuke Kaneko

Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Shido Nakamura, Takeshi Kaga, Yu Kashii, Asaka Seto, Kenichi Matsuyama

Year: 2006

Review written by: Joe Yang

Joe Yang is a freelance film reviewer specializing in foreign films. You can find more reviews like these at his new website:

The site is often updated- please visit often!

Posted in Movies In Theaters | Leave a comment