Coming into this live-action movie I knew a couple of things: I knew of the manga, had seen many/most of the episodes of the anime currently running on Cartoon Network and from the NPR story mentioned yesterday I knew there was a Part 2, so this wouldn't be the whole story.
Oh, and I'd seen the YouTube version of the trailer yesterday.
Have to say I was very pleased. Click on the link above to see the story description if you aren't familiar with Death Note. For me, the combination of casting, makeup and acting fit the characters as I knew them with near perfection IMHO. That doesn't always happen with movies of comic books. Also, the movie itself ran about two hours, with another half-hour of The Making Of... stuff, so there was enough time to develop the stories and characters for a Part 1. Shorter or The Whole Story -- would not have worked. This is a story with a very convoluted plot and not a lot of answers. The characters Light versus "L", who is evil? Who is right? Who is really justice? It's this complexity which has kept me intrigued for weeks with this anime. And with two hours they had time to set up things, linger on scenes, etc. Nice.
I haven't seen all the episodes of the anime, so I can't address differences between manga, anime and feature film. This was nice because there ended up story developments I didn't see coming and liked very much. Puts a different spin on Light yet again. And except for the physical presence of the shimigami death gods and the supernatural application of the Death Note paper itself, this is really a very complicated police procedural serial murder mystery, where part of the time we are rooting for the murderer to get away with it because he's killing only criminals. This is why it lends itself so well to live-action filming, which isn't going to be the case with most manga/anime.
Because this is a two-parter, the double side-of-the-head ponytailed Misa-Misa bubble-pop character was introduced sparingly in this part, though she did feature prominently on a decal-wrapped pink city bus -- and the audience, largely in the know, was highly amused. She'll slide right into more prominence in Part 2, as the question of "Who is Kira?" practically morphs into "Who isn't?". (grin)
The shimigami death god Ryuk had impressed me in the trailer, as he looked exactly right. But what wasn't fully apparent in the tiny YouTube low-res view was that he was a motion capture CGI creation. And that's fine, given his height and tiny waist. The garish stylized face was what we were looking for anyway, and though in digital projection on a big screen Ryuk was clearly CGI, it was not the jarringly bad insert one sees in some bad dinosaur and monster movies on Sci-Fi channel these days. He's supposed to be an apparition, after all.
One major annoyance -- though they've gotten pretty good at dubbing English over Japanese these days and they did seem to use the same English voice talent in the anime, they forgot completely about adding English subtitles for all the newspaper headlines shown. And the scene with the Japanese schoolgirls texting each other about the killer Kira -- was just dead air without the translations. Dumb.
Some in the audience had already seen this movie, as well as Part 2, but I'm in no rush. Okay, so I wanted to see Part 2 the moment the credits started. Had the same reaction with the ending to Parts I and II of LOTR, as well as The Empire Strikes Back. NPR mentioned that if this special engagement showing was sufficiently successful, they'd trot out Part 2 later in the year. I wonder what "sufficient" means?
Oh and I did figure out why these dates in May and those in June for the Bleach movie as the second part of this "double-experiment". Some people who see it tonight, Wednesday, will stay on for midnight shows for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Likewise, the second showing of Bleach will coincide with late night showings of The Incredible Hulk.
These marketing people -- always thinking. Not always thinking straight, mind you, but always thinking.