death note "the last name"

I'm not a huge manga/anime fan, but I really enjoy the Death Note series. The story grapples with interpretations of morality as the powers of death gods are given to characters who are disgusted with a decaying society rife with insufficient justice. The story is paced with an incredible sense of suspense while focusing on the cat & mouse mental battle between L and Light.

Viz Pictures brought the second installment - "Death Note 2: The Last Name" to U.S. theaters for a special two night only engagement. I watched the first installment on DVD - so I was particularly interested in seeing how the movie plays to an American audience. Upon entering the theater, I thought I stepped into a high school auditorium. These kids were likely drawn in from the Death Note anime run on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Many of them sported "L" and Shinigami shirts informing each other that there were more available at "Hot Topic". I chuckled, feeling old as dirt - but thankfully their enthusiasm was more good natured than obnoxious.

There were a few asians who strolled in looking exactly like "L" and "Light" with their teased mop hair. Maybe they thought it was a casting audition for the next movie. Peeped some typical white guy/asian girlfriend couples. Then, the older otakus started filtering in. I hate to perpetuate stereotypes, but most of these guys fit the bill: bifocaled, overweight, couple pony-tails, anime-themed wardrobe, and the fresh-from-my-moms-basement swagger. But all jokes aside, they are genial and incredibly knowledgeable about any aspect of Japanese culture that gets represented in anime or manga. Its always great to see people open to other cultures and if anime is the motivating factor - so be it. Nonetheless it still amazes me when I hear them reciting Japanese names or explaining mythology behind each story.

As the movie began, a big applause surged around me. The casting (even the non-blonde Misa Misa) successfully captured the essence of each character. I especially enjoyed the reverent Iron Chef's Chairman Kaga as Light's dad and the accurate shinigami renderings. "L" seemed to be the most popular - with his anime mannerisms and suger addiction drawing the most favorable reactions.

Even though the original manga prioritized driving morality themes over deep character development (as evidenced by the cold emotional state of lead character Light), each character has managed to develop a following. In the director commentary, Shusuke Kaneko mentions that when he talked to his family about "L" in the movie making process, his young son immediately hopped into his chair with both feet perched on the cushion - just like his favorite character "L". This amazed him and likely motivated a more consciously character driven movie. As a result, the vibe feels more campier than the darker anime series and some depth is lost in condensing the original story.

Still, Death Note: The Last Name manages to carry the original themes and was entertaining throughout. The story is altered a bit in an attempt to strengthen emotional ties between characters and the audience. The director explains his efforts to inject more humanity by bringing his personal experiences and perspective to the adaptation. You can see this as the movie invests more emotional time in the father-son relationship.

Most interestingly, the director talks about the issue of expressing Japanese culture while pursuing universal themes. As a younger director, he pursued communicating themes that translated around the world across all boundaries and cultures. But now, while still recognizing the potential of international markets, he also cherishes the uniqueness of Japanese culture. In admitting that he doesn't fully understand the complexities of his own culture, he is curious to see how exporting a movie like Death Note will translate around the world. Judging by the audience reaction in the theater, not much was lost in translation. But, I was sitting with established fans. With Warner Brothers picking it up and swirling rumors of an American remake - it will be interesting to see how much Death Note will be Americanized, bastardized and received.

To top off the evening, we shared a laugh when spotting a parked car next to ours with the license plate "INUYASHA". Then amazingly we saw a whole white American family noisily expressing their enjoyment of Death Note before piling into that car. Wow, a whole otaku family in jersey!


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