Alan Smithee

Death Note Collection (Blu-ray) – Review

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Until this weekend, I was a complete virgin to the whole Death Note series, I had no clue what the hell a Death Note was, how it worked, and the entire series that came from the relatively short manga series. It turns out that I’ve really been missing out on some great stuff, I’m just years late to the party. Good thing we’re making good friends at Viz.

We received a review copy of this 3-disc Blu-ray in the office just this past Friday and I’ve already watched both full-length movies, AND the special features. I’m smitten with just how good Japan has become at making live action adaptations of anime over the last few years. Keep in mind that the last live-action anime I caught was Casshern.

The basic premise for Death Note is as follows, write the name of someone you want dead while picturing their face and they’ll be dead of a heart attack in 40 seconds, unless you want to make their death a little more interesting. College bound Light Yagami stumbles upon his own Death Note one evening and begins building what he believes will be his ‘utopia’. His swath of death that he brings to criminals worldwide (because they’re guilty and deserve to die!) gains the attention of the international community of police offices where they assign their highest profile detective “L” to the case of tracking down the mysterious ‘Kira’.

The movie is directed by Shuusuke Kaneko who is probably most well known by readers of this site as the guy responsible for most of the modern Gamera movies. Other names of note for you rabid fans of Japanese cinema are Tatsuya Fujiwara as Light Yagami, the finder and user of Death Note (aka Kira), and Kenichi Matsuyama as “L”, the brilliant yet quirky detective.

The movie features some great Japanese talent but if I had to pick someone who steals every scene he’s in, it’d have to go to Takeshi Kaga (aka Chairman Kaga from the O.G. Iron Chef series) as Light Yagama’s dad, Soichiro Yagama. He’s the head of the police force tasked to track down the mysterious killer that is somehow killing criminals in multiple places across the world without getting near them. In other words…his own son.

The first of the two movies, Death Note basically follows the premise of the first few volumes of manga (I couldn’t wait to find out the differences, so I picked a few up) with slight deviation in some of the characters. However from what I’ve been reading, the second movie differs drastically from the source material.

Some might see this as a negative, but I don’t. I personally enjoy it when they make adaptations of extremely long and detailed source material that isn’t exactly the same story, but close enough.

Both of these movies weigh in at least two-hours each (I believe Death Note II was almost three hours long). Considering how on-edge these movies make you feel when watching them, as there is a ton of suspense in this story, it feels like the near five hours I spent watching both back-to-back seem like at the most two hours. They’re that damned entertaining.

As for the special features, which I had to see at a different time because I didn’t realize that 5 hours had passed, are just adequate for this version, but seeing how it’s an omake, you can’t really complain. The two special features on the separate DVD are The Making of Death Note and The Making of Death Note II: The Last Name. Both of these features are your standard behind the scenes and weigh in at an hour each. Any rabid fan of these movies or the series, really should watch these to see how they made both films.

Where these movies shined for me was on the terrific 1080p transfer from the original film version. The colors in each scene are very vivid, the details you can see in each scene(thanks to the high-resolution) are crystal clear, and the CG looked great even though the shinigami characters did look a bit dated compared to 2011 standards. I can’t complain really, they were both gorgeous movies to watch.

The audio was another great point for this collection. The lossless audio made for extremely clear dialog, sound effects, and score. I love getting Blu-ray versions of movies just for the near-cinema experience that they provide in both sound and video.

I of course watched them in the native Japanese audio track, but I did go back and listen to some of the English dub and while I usually abhor ANY type of dub, Viz once again proves that they know what the hell they’re doing when it comes to dubbing their movies (keep in mind these guys did the best dub of all time with Ranma 1/2 back in the day).

I’m extremely grateful for Viz Pictures bringing this collection to the US in a single package. Getting two excellent quality movies for about $30? You’d be insane to NOT pick this up.

OVERALL: 95%

On a unrelated note, there is an American live-action movie that is going to be based on the manga, but in my opinion things are usually better when they’re made by the country it takes place in. I don’t think an American version of this movie will capture the unique thoughts and taboos that the Japanese people have toward death, murder, and the laws that govern them. Do yourself a favor and watch these first. You WON’T be sorry!

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