Released: 3 November 2006
Director: Shūsuke Kaneko
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $20 million (estimated)
Stars: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Kenichi Matsuyama, Erika Toda, Takeshi Kaga, Nana Katase, Shidou Nakamura, and Shinnosuke Ikehata
The battle of wits and wills between Light Yagami (Fujiwara) and the eccentric “L” (Matsuyama) is taken to the next level with Light joins a task force dedicated to stopping the murderous “Kira” but his delicate plot to advance his career as judge, jury, and execution with his mysterious Death Note is threatened when another killer notebook and Shinigami enter the playing field.
Between 1 December 2003 and 15 May 2006, author Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata’s Death Note (or “DEATH NOTE” as it is stylised) was published in the pages of Weekly Shōnen Jump. Originating as a broad concept that saw Ohba visualising the panels in his downtime and Obata incorporating pacing and action into them, Death Note was incredibly successful and widely praised for its art, complex characters, and elaborate twists and turns. This popularity soon translated into an equally well-regarded anime that originally aired between 3 October 2006 and 26 June 2007 and was accompanied by two feature-length specials retelling the story with new footage in late-2007 and 2008, respectively. Director Shūsuke Kaneko didn’t take this task of creating a live-action adaptation lightly; he gambled on filming not one, but two movies back-to-back just to do the source material justice, and insisted on using computer effects to bring the Shinigami to life, which this time included the less mischievous and more good-natured Rem (Ikehata). Like its predecessor, Death Note 2: The Last Name topped the Japanese box office and received a limited overseas release, but far exceeded the first film’s box office with its worldwide gross of over $54 million. Critically, the film also performed notably better; reviews praised it as being stronger, delving much deeper into the characters, and greatly expanding the tension and intrigue between the two main characters. A somewhat divisive L-centric spin-off followed the film’s success, which later received a more direct miniseries and follow-up film in 2016 that also garnered mixed reactions.
So, as mentioned in my review of the first film, I haven’t actually watched the original anime or read the Death Note manga, despite being tempted on many occasions to get into both. It’s definitely on my ever-expanding to-do list but, for now, I’m more than happy to call myself a fan of the franchise based on these two live-action adaptations. Again, I’m watching the original Japanese audio version with English subtitles, which isn’t my preferred way of watching Japanese media but it’s ever stunted my enjoyment of the film, and I distinctly remember first watching this sequel back-to-back with the first film years ago when they were included in a late-night double feature. And it’s a good job, too, for as good as Death Note was, it ends of a massive, tantalising cliff-hanger that cries out for further resolution, and much of that film was focused on establishing the rules of the killer notebook, the role of the Shinigami, and the degradation of Light Yagami’s morals. Beginning the last film as an intelligent, if overconfident, law student, Light quickly becomes intoxicated with the power of the Death Note; that many in the general public claim his actions as the murderous “Kira” as being the just work of God doesn’t help, and Light’s ego has become so immense that he’s willing to sacrifice friend, lover, and lawmen alike in order to keep himself from being exposed as the “God of the New World”.
Death Note 2: The Last Name opens with a quick recap of the previous film and with Light having successfully manipulated events so that his girlfriend, Shiori Akino (Yuu Kashii), was killed in order to gain sympathy from his father, Detective Superintendent Souichirou Yagami (Kaga), and the task force he’s assembled to track Kira down under the supervision of the eccentric, renowned detective, L/ Ryuzaki. Playing the part of a victim of Kira’s brutal wrath, Light joins the team with the express intention of tracking down the man responsible for the deaths of his girlfriend and countless criminals, with none suspecting that he is the true culprit behind the mysterious deaths except for L. L has correctly deduced every piece of the puzzle and has all the evidence he needs, in theory, to pin Kira’s actions onto Light except for concrete proof and an explanation as to how he’s able to kill with just a glance. Because of this, Light is able to give L the run-around and stay one step ahead of him while secretly manipulating events with his Death Note to both take suspicion away from him and to learn L’s true name. Light could learn this simply enough by trading half of his lifespan for the Shinigami eyes, which would let her see the true name and remaining years of anyone he looks at, but e’s determined to usher in his new age and to outwit L with his mind. When another Kira (quickly dubbed “Kira II”) starts issuing threats and killing not just criminals but anyone who even dares publicly speak out against Kira, Light sees an opportunity to realise his goals by manipulating the new Kira to his advantage. So complete is Light’s arrogance that he even goes as far as to manipulate the film’s new Shinigami, Rem (Ikehata), to write new rules into the Death Note to bamboozle the Kira task force, and to surrender both his Death Note (and his memories of his actions as Kira) and himself to a period of isolation all to win L’s trust in order to learn his name and cement himself as the God of the New World.
Young celebrity Misa Amane (Toda) is the new Kira in town thanks to acquiring her own Death Note. When she was just a schoolgirl, Misa came home to find her family slaughtered by a sadistic killer and became obsessed with Kira after her family’s killer fell victim to his judgement and she’s only too eager to continue his work, and publicly propose an alliance, as Kira II. While Light primarily targeted criminals, he was known for killing federal agents if they threatened to expose him, but Misa continues his work with a far more brutal flair, felling lawbreakers and lawgivers alike and even killing innocent people just because they speak out against Kira. Thanks to sacrificing half of her lifespan to acquire the Shinigami eyes, Misa is easily able to target and kill anyone and everyone who dares speak out against her hero; the eyes also allow her to deduce Kira’s true identity and seek Light out to forge an alliance, not just as co-Kira’s but also as lovers. Since Misa is absolutely besotted with him, Light is easily able to use her feelings and her naïvety with the Death Note to his advantage; Light agrees to the alliance simply to use Misa’s eyes to learn L’s true name but, sadly, Misa isn’t anywhere near as thorough as Light wen it comes to covering her tracks and ends up captured by L and his task force. With both of them having lost their memories as part of Light’s grand scheme, Misa’s Death Note falls to budding reporter and Kira supporter Kiyomi Takada (Katase); she’s also so pleased to have been chosen as Kira’s “partner” that she trades half her life for the eyes and kills indiscriminately to both continue his work and further her career, but is just as sloppy about covering her tracks and easily apprehended by the unmatched team of Light and L. This allows Light to regain his memories and, in a flash, sacrifice Kiyomi and pin all of Kira’s murders on her in a perfect loop; it also completes the puzzle for L and the task force as they touch the Death Note and become aware of the Shinigami, though this also raises the question of how they’re going to explain that literal Gods of Death and killer notebooks are behind the recent murder spree.
Speaking of which, Ryuk returns, still following Light around and offering commentary, taking amusement in his game of cat-and-mouse with L, and enjoying apples as and when. Thanks to Light having to constantly be on guard and hide his true intentions, Ryuk grows bored and frustrated, and basically disappears for a big chunk of the middle of the film after Light gives up the Death Note and his memories of it. There’s also a new Shinigami on the block, the androgynous Rem; this skeletal, far less mischievous Shinigami is Misa’s constant companion and is watching over her in place of her friend, the diminutive Shinigami Gelus, who had taken a shine to Misa and committed the cardinal sin of protecting her from an obsessive fan with his Death Note, thus dooming himself to oblivion. Unlike the cheeky and outspoken Ryuk, Rem is soft-spoken and fiercely loyal; she vows to punish anyone who threatens Misa and is even forced to turn herself to dust to save Misa’s life after Light manipulates events to put her in danger, which again adds credence to Light’s monstrous nature. The Shinigami are exposed to L and the task force, first through mentions dropped by Kira II, then by observing Kiyomi, and finally after touching the Death Note and conversing with Rem. Interestingly, while Light was stunned by Ryuk’s presence and Misa was awestruck by Rem’s, L initially reacts with a mixture of dear and incredulity. Once he accepts that the Shinigami are real, he’s satisfied that he’s finally wrapped up this strange case, which sees him reluctantly join forces with Light after his nagging suspicions cannot be proven and then subject both Light and Misa to near-torturous isolation in a bid to force a confession rom them. As ever, L’s deductive reasoning is almost supernatural; he’s able to correctly guess everything that’s happening, even without proof, as though he’s read ahead in the script, but even he can’t predict the lengths of Light’s depravity and it costs him dearly when his mentor and father-figure, Watari (Shunji Fujimura), falls victim to the Death Note after Misa is threatened.
Thanks to Light now being officially integrated onto the task force, there are far more face-to-face interactions between him and L this time around. The two play chess, literally and figuratively, against each other, with each throwing out accusations, explanations, and questions in a bid to outwit the other. Even if he couldn’t manipulate life and death with the Death Note, Light is extremely thorough at covering his tracks; he has not only won the support of his father and colleagues thanks to sacrificing Shiori but he has cold hard facts on his side since L cannot pin anything on him, nor explain how he could kill so many so easily as Kira. When Kira II surfaces, Light sees an opportunity to shunt suspicion from him completely and throws himself into the investigation after his sister and father almost fall victim to the new Kira’s wrath. Similarly, he orchestrates events to place Kiyomi into the firing line and, free from his memories of the Death Note, proves himself just as capable a detective as L by cobbling together graphs and data to pinpoint who these new Kiras are. When Light gives up his memories, we see him briefly return to his pre-Death Note character and get a sense of how deeply the book has corrupted his morals and intelligence; for a short time, we see how positive a force he could be, especially when he and L unite against the new Kiras, which only makes his devilish turn back to a callous puppet master all the more harrowing after he regains his memories and is revealed to have manipulate man and Death God alike to his own ends.
The nature of the Death Note and the Shinigami realm is delved into a little more here; as before, the book is filled with rules regarding its use, though Misa and Kiyomi don’t utilise its true potential in the same way that Light did and are content to simply jot down names and cause their victims to die from heart attacks. We get to briefly see the Shinigami world, a desolate realm where the Gods of Death watch humans and live off the years of those they write in their notebooks. The Shinigami cannot use their Death Notes to prolong lives, however, and doing so causes them to turn to sand, as it does to Gelus and, eventually, Rem. As in the first film, the world is dividing in their opinion of Kira. Well, not quite divided, as Kiyomi’s research shows; not only does a sizable percentage of the country support Kira, prominent members of the government have also taken to praising the murderous vigilante. Even Kira’s strongest supporters are shocked, however, when they witness his brand of justice first-hand and when Kira II effectively holds a news station hostage to both deliver a warning to any who would dare oppose Kira in any way and to broadcast a series of live executions. Thankfully, Misa is so besotted with Light that she not only agrees to follow his every order and to kill anyone he asks but she also gives her Death Note to him in order to win his trust. Realising that he can use her to learn L’s new, Light reluctantly agrees to enter a relationship and partnership with her, though he cares little for her or the fact that she’s sacrificed half her life for him (she’s so devoted to Light that she does this again after regaining her memories since she’s forgotten L’s true name and lost the Shinigami eyes when she gave up her Death Note). When Misa resumes her killing spree, she immediately makes herself a target once more and, when the shrewd L is able to figure out that Kira has added fake rules to the Death Note, Light is forced to take even more extreme measures in order to protect himself, remembering his true callous nature and even writing his own father’s name in the Death Note.
Light’s obsession and delusions come full circle by the finale. He fully believes he’s a God now, and it’s hard to deny it given how he’s able to puppet people around with the Death Note, but he ultimately falls victim to his own arrogance and having vastly underestimated L’s deductive abilities. L tricks Light with a fake Death Note, and even fakes his own death at Light’s hands in order to learn the horrifying truth behind his duel identity, all to bring Light into the…well, the light… and expose him. With Light having hidden a piece of the Death Note in his watch and jotting down names with his own blood as and when people threaten to expose him, the game of one-upmanship between him and L escalates to the point where L is forced to his own name in the Death Note in order to circumnavigate his murder at a Kira’s hands and confront Light alongside a shame-filled Souichirou. Held at gunpoint and with nowhere left to run and no excuses left, Light refuses to bow acknowledge L’s intellectual superiority and spits criticism of his father’s broken system and the failure of the law to match the impact he had as Kira. After all his machinations and desperate attempts to cover his tracks, Light’s true nature as a reprehensible, egotistical, power-mad killer rise to the surface during this dramatic finale, which sees his sneaky watch destroyed and leaves him with a bullet in his leg. Raving about his destiny to be the saviour of a new, crime-free world, Light is so convinced of his superiority and Godhood that he outright demands that Ryuk kill everyone present and bend to his will and, in doing so, seals his fate. While the Shinigami will die if they protect humans, they are able to take lives using the Death Note and, similar to how Ryuk despaired of Light’s lack of humanity and compassion at the end of the last film, the Shinigami is somewhat disgusted to see the once intelligent and adaptable Light reduced to begging for supernatural help and writes his name instead. As Light enters his death throes and spits declarations of his he’ll be remembered as a hero, Ryuk solemnly informs him that Death Note users are doomed to limbo rather than going to Heaven or Hell. Sadly, there’s no way to save L; having arranged for his peaceful death, L quietly passes away a few days later after expressing his gratitude and appreciation to Souichirou. Though Souichirou condemns his son’s actions, the official word is that he died by Kira’s hands and that Kira’s reign of terror is finally over, leaving Light’s family mourning their loss, Misa with no memory of her love or the Death Note, and the cackling Ryuk free to cause further havoc as he sees fit.
It’s honestly a little tough for me to pick with is the better film between Death Note and Death Note 2: The Last Name. The first is maybe a little more cerebral in its focus on showing how the Death Note twists Light into this cruel and arrogant murderer, while the sequel is full of twists and turns and an escalating cat-and-mouse between L and Light. Ultimately, I’d highly advise watching both back-to-back as they’re clearly intended to be two parts of a larger whole. While the first film includes more variety in the use of the Death Note, the second really shows just how adapt Light is with the notebook since his would-be successors are sloppy and unimaginative. Both Misa and Kiyomi use the Death Note indiscriminately, lacking even Light’s skewed moral code, and think only in the short-term, giving up half their lives simply because it’s easier to use the Shinigami eyes than to figure out other ways of targeting and killing their victims. I enjoyed the addition of Rem and the brief glimpse into the Shinigami realm and life; she and Ryuk remain a captivating and visual highlight and its fun seeing the differences between the two, with Rem being more stoic and sombre and Ryuk being this cackling maniac at times. The true draw of the film is the intense back and forth between Light and L; it’s maddening seeing that L has figured everything out except for the means and I enjoyed seeing the strange friendship between the two, which is made all the more awkward as L is so peculiar and never truly gives up his suspicions about Light. The two are constantly one-upping each other, with Light seeming to be one step ahead of everyone, but seeing L sacrifice his own life in order to expose Light and watching Light descending into raving vitriol was a truly cathartic moment. While Light may have had a point about the unjust legal system, his superiority complex and sheer lack of empathy ultimately made him no better than his successors and worse than a literal Death God. This results in him become a tragic anti-hero of sorts who fully deserves to be brought down, but there’s little celebration surrounding Light’s death and, indeed, the film ends with the suggestion that Kira’s death has cause crime to increase once more, leaving the moral ambiguity of his actions up for debate.
What did you think to Death Note 2: The Last Name? If you’re a fan of the anime or manga, how did it work as an adaptation for you? What did you think to the changes made to the source material? What did you think to the new Kiras and how they differed from Light? Were you a fan of the cat-and-mouse game between Light and L? What did you think to Rem and Ryuk and the way they were manipulated by Light? How would you use a Death Note? Whatever your thoughts on Death Note, feel free to share them in the comments or on my social media.
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