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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Death Note Collection [Blu-ray]

 

(Shusuke Kaneko, 2006)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Production:

Theatrical: Death Note Film Partners

Blu-ray: VIZ Pictures

 

Disc:

Region: 'A' (B+C untested)

Runtime: 4:26:14 (total 2 discs)

Disc Size: 36,890,199,340 & 38,824,217,100 bytes

Feature Size: 35,832,259,584 & 37,838,728,896 bytes

Video Bitrate: 31.58 & 29.70 Mbps

Chapters: 21

Case: Blu-ray Amaray case w/ flippage

Release date: August 24th, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080P / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio Japanese 1926 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1926 kbps / 16-bit
DTS-HD Master Audio English 2210 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2210 kbps / 16-bit

 

Subtitles:

English, English (signs only), none

 

Extras:

• Death Note: Behind the Scenes (49:59)

• Death Note II: Behind the Scenes (49:59)

• VIZ Pictures Presents (6:08)

 

Description: As titled, “The Death Note Collection” is misleading at best. To start with, two movies can hardly be construed to be a “collection.” More important, Death Note and Death Note II are not so much feature film and sequel, but parts 1 and 2 of a single film – a saga, if you will. They were released in Japan only a few months apart on June 17 and November 3, 2006. The ending of “The Last Name” wraps things up yet offers the possibility of a sequel. There is in fact one unofficial “spin-off” sequel (“L Change the World” written by Kiyomi Fuji & Hirotoshi Kobayashi and directed by Hideo Nakata) that has not generated much critical enthusiasm despite the presence of Ken’ichi Matsuyama reprising his role as “L.”

 

 

The Film: 7<8
“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Light Yagami is a good student and the son of a respected policeman, He wants to be like his father, but is distracted and disenchanted with a legal system that permits criminals to slip through its fingers. The creators of Death Note have just the ticket for one such as Light: they bypass the need for a Dexter Morgan altogether with the invention of two devices: a shinigami, or God of Death, and his notebook that allows a human to write the names of those he or she wants dead, and: Voila! Dead they shall be in just 40 seconds.

There are conditions and rules, but they are readily met: The first is that not only the name of the victim must be entered, but the writer must be able to visualize their face as well - a safeguard to prevent everyone with the same name to fall prey to the dictates of the writer. As for the name - it has to be the real name of the person visualized. That’s the idea anyhow.

So, just to clarify what is obvious to us but not to the investigators once criminals start dropping like proverbial flies: the writer writes the order, but the God of Death executes it. So, even if by some chance the police have in custody the very author of the executions, they would be baffled by how the killings actually occur since the suspect would not be seen to so much as lift a finger. But that’s only because they would not yet have grasped the idea of supernatural forces at work.

Death Note has several elements that distinguish it from the garden variety ghostly killer movies. For one, we never see that hand of a shinigami at work. People merely drop dead. For another, and this is crucial, the God of Death behaves as a disinterested party to the executive orders of its writers. He does not suggest, nor does he judge. He simply observes, making only sly comments about Light’s choices and where all this might lead him.

 


The shinigami, who is visible only to the present “owner” of the Death Book and turns up at will in all manner of places, makes one offer that the owner of the book, in this case, Light, finds tantalizing: He will grant the writer the ability to know the names of anyone in exchange for half of Light’s remaining life. Of course, Light doesn’t know how long he’s got to start with, but the chance of playing God with more expanded power is very seductive. This is especially the case when Light’s nemesis, the mysterious and awesomely talented detective “L,” is brought into the investigation to discover who is behind the sudden deaths of criminals - in and out of custody.

At first, young Yagami is satisfied with knocking off bad guys, but as the police begin to close in, he feels fully justified in taking them out as well. It’s one of those means justifies the ends dilemmas, except that the public is divided as to these means in the first place. Most people appreciate that crime is down, but some are adamant that this menace, whom they call “Kira” (the same name, I couldn’t help but notice, as the Lord drunk with self importance and power in the legend of the 47 Ronin, Chushingura), is just another criminal in his lack of respect for the rule of law, however flawed.

It is no wonder that the same culture that feels there is a serious moral question here also spawned the Battle Royale series (Tatsuya Fujiwara, once again), in which the authorities, frustrated by failed attempts to reign in unruly high school students, simply arranged for a bunch of them to kill one each other off.

Part II, I think, is the better film, partly because of its complexity. Those characters that survive by the end of Part I continue. In fact, the second movie picks up just a few frames before the first part ends. “L” has failed to identify Kira though he has strong suspicions that he is indeed Light. Light is still bent on destroying “L,” but the problem all along was that Light never could learn L’s true identity. Now that Light has been cleared of suspicion he insinuates his way onto the very team that is investigating Kira.

To make things even tougher for “L” and his team, there are now two Death Gods and two Death Notes along with their respective owners for which screenwriter Tetsuya Oishi develops an intricate mousetrap game of wits and death between the two “Kiras” and “L.”

My one complaint about Death Note as a whole is that there are too many heart attacks, the default cause of death if the owner/writer fails to specify. As long as the Death Note offers the owner creative possibilities of destruction, why not take advantage of them – for the cinematic possibilities as well as for narrative plausibility? I feel Light (you gotta love that name in this context!) would have enjoyed the privilege. Beyond that, Part II is drowned by a lengthy explanatory denouement that pontificates on the morality of power. It’s really too bad, Death Note had classic potential.

 


 

Image: 9/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The Japanese, more so than Chinese or Korean movie industry, has a penchant for desaturated color that can flatten contrast to a pale watercolor (cf: Maborosi, Tony Takitani or the Hidden Blade). I’ve never understood it, but I’m happy to report that Death Note employs more naturalistic contrast and color than such films. For some reason, or no reason, Part II has a higher black level: that is, black more nearly and more often approaches true black with more detail available in the dark parts of the frame. On the other hand, Rem, the second God of Death, is less vividly manifest. Otherwise, there are no transfer issues short of a whisper of edge enhancement on occasion.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 7/7
VIZ offers an English dub in DTS-HD MA that is far from revolting, but given how truly perfect the Japanese cast is, visually and vocally, you should not resort to it unless you must. That said, the English cast is much the same as for the anime series - a smart move. Dialogue and music is clear and well proportioned, with the two Gods of Death, Ryuk and Rem, given a ghostly reverberance in the surrounds, where effects are placed effectively.

 

Extras: 6
The bonus features are contained on a separate DVD and include behind the scenes production logs for both Death Note movies and a promo piece for VIZ Pictures that preview three of their coming releases (DMC: Detroit Metal City, 20th Century Boys Trilogy, and K-20 The Fiend with 20 Faces) The making-of production logs are exactly the same length (49:50) that take a day-by-day look at shooting, interspersed by comments of the featured cast in a quasi-hosting role. These are presented in decent quality 4:3 and letterboxed MPEG-2.

 

Bottom line: 8
I suspect that I will enjoy Death Note even more on second viewing – in fact, I am looking forward to it. I suppose that says something despite my criticisms and that, taken together, the saga is almost four and a half hours. I found the manifestation of the two Gods of Death to be beautiful in their way – my only reservation that they tended to hop slightly, the result of less than absolutely smooth wirework. The entire film is very well cast, with memorable characterizations everywhere, especially the first God of Death, who calls himself “Ryuk” who appears much as he does in the manga and is voiced by a self-amused Shido Nakamura, and Ken’ichi Matsuyama’s “L” a hunchback with an insatiable sweet tooth and an angelic face right out of anime. The screenplay is intricate and clever and asks pertinent, if na´ve, moral questions. Bonus features are worth watching, so that’s another two hours to while away your life, assuming, of course, that you haven’t traded half of it for anything you shouldn’t.

Leonard Norwitz
September 23rd, 2010

 

 

 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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