Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring Tatsuya Fujiwara, Taekshi Kaga, Shido Nakamura, Erika Toda
Directed by Shusuke Kaneko
Distributed by VIZ Pictures
The chess pieces collide – literally – in Death Note II: The Last Name, the second half of Shusuke Kaneko’s epic manga-based pot boiler. The first Death Note (review) was an enthralling and highly creative horror-fantasy (which means a lame Hollywood remake isn’t too far behind), and there will be little argument that this chapter is even more thrilling. In fact, The Last Name is superior in every way to its predecessor, rewarding patient fans with a taut and nail-biting conclusion.
Having infiltrated L’s secret government task force, Light/Kira makes it his mission to uncover the true name of his nemesis so he can use the Death Note to finally be rid of him. But everyone’s favorite oddball sugar-junkie isn’t so convinced of Light’s innocence and continues his usual brand of trickery.
In their continued efforts to fuck with humanity, more Death Gods enter the fray along with a second Death Note that falls into the hands of teen pop idol Misa (Toda), a rabid Kira fan. Proclaiming herself “Kira II”, Misa uses the book to go on a killing spree and eventually joins forces with a reluctant Light. What follows is a heated battle of wits between both sides as Light and L go toe-to-toe. It’s a cage match of the minds, and this is where the gloves come off.
All the surviving characters are back and at the top of their game, especially Light, who is more sinister than ever. While the addition of a bubblegum pop star as his partner-in-crime seems a tad ridiculous, Toda’s tortured portrayal of Misa quickly puts away all doubts, taking what could have been an obnoxious character and giving her a side that is both devious and sympathetic. Of course, in the end the spotlight still belongs to L, one of the coolest eccentrics under the sun, and the fact that he has more screen time makes The Last Name that much more entertaining.
All the elaborate twists, quirks, and intrigue you’ve come to expect are back in spades, and thankfully, the pacing problems that plagued the first film are completely eliminated. The Last Name is not only riveting edge-of-your-seat entertainment, it’s also a deliciously satirical and occasionally moving affair. Some of the best moments here aren’t the surprises, but the quiet introspective moments between characters.
In terms of special features we don’t get a lot, but what’s there will suffice. Mainly there’s the over twenty-minute making-of/interview with director Shusuke Kaneko, who really knew what he wanted for this film. Insightful and engaging, this is a must-watch for fans of the movies and the manga. From there we get a few trailers and a look at what VIZ Media has coming up. That’s about it.
Without giving anything away, the climax of Death Note II: The Last Name is more than satisfying and sends this grandiose story out on an intimate and emotional beat. It all adds up to one of the best examples of Asian horror in years. Together, the two Death Note films showcase an eclectic mix of thought and imagination that furthers the genre beyond formula and cheap thrills.
Oh, and Hollywood? Hands off!
4 ½ out of 5
2 ½ out of 5
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