DEATH NOTE II: THE LAST NAME (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 21 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

(Japanese with English subtitles)

Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko

Written by: Tetsuya Oishi

(based on the manga DEATH NOTE by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata)

Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Kenichi Matsuyama, Erika Toda, Shidou Nakamura, Shinnosuke Ikehata, Shunji Fujimura & Takeshi Kaga

The first DEATH NOTE was guaranteed financial success from the get-go, so Warner Bros. Japan had already greenlit a sequel to be released mere months after that first chapter. DEATH NOTE II: THE LAST NAME serves as the second half of the story of Light, L, death gods, and a supernatural notebook. This sequel is loaded with smart twists and unexpected turns, though it falls a step beneath the first film due to some unbalanced pacing and (still) shoddy animation on the death gods. Still, THE LAST NAME concludes this compelling fantasy-mystery in a satisfying manner.

Picking up immediately after the events of the first film, Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara) has made his way into the top-secret team that’s investigating supernatural serial killer “Kira.” This seems to be a great decision on Light’s part because he can throw the team further off his trail. However, things get complicated when a second Death Note is dropped by a different death god and new supernatural serial killer appears. Light soon finds himself hooking up with pop-star-turned-“Kira 2” Misa (Erika Toda) and struggling to keep the ever-suspicious L (Kenichi Matsuyama) at bay. Also, Light’s growing darkness and twisted morals continue to lead him down a darker-than-expected path.

DEATH NOTE II: THE LAST NAME runs 20 minutes longer than its predecessor. The first DEATH NOTE had loads of material to pack into its two-hour running time. Light honed his deadly abilities, learned about the rules of the Death Note, and tried to evade capture through murderous schemes. This sequel has the second “Kira” and people manipulating each other. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a blast to watch as Light manipulates L, L manipulates Light, they both manipulate Misa, and even the death gods manipulate each other and are manipulated by humans. However, there’s a noticeably dull stretch of story during the film’s middle section. It’s not that this section is bad, it just isn’t quite as exciting as everything else around it.

One subplot (involving a vengeful news employee) also seems wildly out-of-place and you may question what it’s even doing within the confines of this second DEATH NOTE film (as it almost seems like material for DEATH NOTE 3). However, the script smartly ties this into the rest of the plot because new rules and revelations work their way into the material. Much like the first film, you’ll have to pay attention to details and keep your eyes on the screen. Pretty much everything has a purpose and it’s easy to get lost in the complicated web of death and deceit that comes to a climax in the whopping final third. The last act is loaded with huge shocks and corpses. At least two or three of them will likely take the viewer by surprise.

Tatsuya Fujiwara and Kenichi Matsuyama fit their roles perfectly. The film also revels in placing these two opposing geniuses in the same room and milking the tension for all it’s worth. You get the sense that they both want to kill each other at any given moment, but are stuck constantly searching for the perfect opportunity to do so. Takeshi Kaga is once again wasted as Light’s bland detective father, though the script does try to flesh out his character in cool ways. Sadly, these efforts are too little, too late. Shidou Nakamura still seems to be having a blast as the voice of Light’s death god friend Ryuk, even if this character’s animation still looks cheesy as hell.

This sequel’s newcomers are Misa and her death god guardian Rem. Erika Toda’s Misa was briefly glimpsed in the background of the first DEATH NOTE, but she makes her way into the main proceedings as a different kind of supernatural serial killer. At times, Toda’s Misa seems wildly unstable (killing innocent folks at the drop of a dime), other times she’s ditzy as she desperately attempts to woo Light, and she also maintains a shred of a moral compass. This might sound inconsistent, but Toda sells her unusual antagonist (towards both Light and L) as a complicated character. Shinnosuke Ikehata also lends his voice to the shoddily animated Rem, creating an antagonist (again, for both Light and L) who has different motives than Ryuk’s desire for amusement.

DEATH NOTE II: THE LAST NAME is a marginal step beneath the first DEATH NOTE. This sequel has loads of smart twists and turns, a constant battle of wits between two compelling main characters, and brings interesting new players/rules into the proceedings, but it also suffers from messy pacing and cheap-looking animation. If you liked DEATH NOTE, you’ll likely have a good time watching this sequel. DEATH NOTE II: THE LAST NAME serves as a nice closer to the series’ main plot, which has since milked itself for two more movies (a spin-off and a sequel) and a miniseries (none of which I plan on reviewing). If you want something weird, smart, and entertaining, I highly recommend checking out both DEATH NOTE films.

Grade: B+

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