The thing about sequels that pick up years after their iconic predecessor film or films is that they often come with the hefty burden of great expectations of the existing fan base and inevitable comparisons against the original. Whether be it sci-fi classics like the Star Wars trilogy, action blockbusters like Jurassic Park or even slasher horror flicks like Halloween or The Blair Witch Project, more often than not, these decade-or-so-later sequels never quite match up to the brilliance of their originating films. Such would unfortunately be the case for Death Note: Light Up The New World as well.
For those unacquainted with the film franchise, the first live-action film adaptation of the Japanese manga series, written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, was released in 2006. The titular Death Note is a supernatural notebook that allowed its owner to claim the life of anyone whose name is written within it while visualising the person’s face in his or her mind. Tatsuya Fujiwara starred in the film as Light Yagami, known also by ‘Kira’, which is derived from ‘killer’, who made use of the Death Note to execute evil-doers based on his personal judgement, as well as anyone else who got in his way. Pitted against him was L, an extremely quirky and socially awkward genius detective, played by Kenichi Matsuyama.
Completing the trio of core characters is Erika Toda’s character of Misa Amane, whose story arc began at the end of the first film and continued on into the second film, Death Note 2: The Last Name. Not only was Misa bestowed with a second Death Note, she also received the unique gift of Shinigami eyes, making her deadlier as it allowed her to identify and pen in the fatal notebook anyone she sees by their true names. Smitten with Light, Misa joined him as a vigilante too, aiding her beloved in his warped mission and to dispose of L, who stood in their way. Ultimately though, tragedy ensued as both Light and L lost their lives and Misa her memory by the end of the second film.
In this new 2016 film, the story picks up a decade after the aftermath of the previous two films. Here, four more Death Notes, in addition to the previous two picked up by Light and Misa, have found their way onto Earth, triggering off death by the masses in similar fashion to Light’s orchestrated ones 10 years ago. Taking over the reins from L and Light are their successors: L’s protégé, who had been cloned from his DNA, Ryuzaki (Ikematsu) and Kira-worshipping cyber-terrorist Yuki Shien (Suda). Also implicated in this new face-off are special task force agent Tsukuru Mishima (Higashide), who is bent on procuring and securing all six Death Notes, and the returning Misa.
Ryuk, the apple-loving Shinigami or ‘God of Death’, who was Light’s companion, also makes his return to the film franchise in this latest instalment, together with two brand new Shinigamis – Bepo and Arma. Capitalising on his popularity, the creepily cute and humorous animated character even stars in the recently-released promotional video that hilariously spoofs the PPAP Pen Pineapple Apple Pen music video, which netizens can check out on Youtube.
While it is evident that director Sato aspired to make this sequel bigger and more spectacular with more Death Notes, more Shinigamis, a higher body count, as well as more twists and turns to the plotline, the outcome is quite the contrary. In this instance, less would really have been more, especially since some of the plot twists are really pointless and only serve to confuse the audience unnecessarily and make the storyline less coherent. The addition of four more Death Notes also seems redundant since the new notebook bearers hardly have much screen time, much less make any impact on the main battle in the film.
While one main highlight of the original two films was the battle of wits between Light and L, their successors here feel like inferior knockoffs of the masters, never quite measuring up to their brilliance throughout the course of the film. Here, Ryuzaki comes off as trying too hard instead of being believably eccentric as L was, while Shien just pales when it comes to being the diabolical villain mastermind that Light was.
With the recently highly-acclaimed I Am A Hero coming from director Sato as well, it’s inevitable that comparisons be made. Both films may have been adapted from successful manga series, but it’s evident that working with a fresh premise allowed this film auteur to thrive, while the burden of having to match up or surpass the high expectations of a successful film franchise might have been his stumbling block.
Although fans of the earlier Death Note films would probably agree that this is not the best of the franchise’s films, thanks to Sato’s delivery, it is still a competent sequel that entertains with adrenaline-pumping action, impressive visual effects, addictive theme songs by J-diva Namie Amuro and gratifying nostalgia.
Summary: Although not quite measuring up to the brilliance of the original films, fans of the franchise may still enjoy a trip down memory lane with this sequel, particularly with the return of Erika Toda and digitally-engineered cameos by original male leads Fujiwara and Matsuyama.
RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars
– Jonathan Sung