Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review – Death Note: Light Up the New World is more chaotic thriller than supernatural game of chess

Manga adaptation that’s a sequel to Death Note and The Last Name has a three-way battle of wits at its core but spurns character exploration for the cheap thrills of a crime procedural

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 December, 2016, 10:42am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 October, 2017, 3:34pm

3/5 stars

The Death Note manga series – which has spawned three live-action films in Japan and is being adapted into an English-language film by Blair Witch director Adam Wingard for Netflix – is a curious work. Boasting a philosophical debate on crime and punishment at its core, its big-screen adaptations have shown a preference for the flair of the genre over the moral complications it inspires.

In the two-part 2006 films, Death Note and The Last Name, grim reapers have dropped into the world two “death notes”; each of their bearers only need to write a name on the pages to kill that person in his mind. As law student Light (Tatsuya Fujiwara) – a good boy turned bad – kept using his notebook to punish criminals, detective L (Kenichi Matsuyama) worked with the police to stop his killing spree.

Film review: live-action Bakuman takes affectionate look at Japan’s manga business

This sequel picks up 10 years after events in the earlier films, with a total of six death notes circulating in the human world and some users simply murdering the innocent for fun. The three-way battle of wits is recast to include police task force leader Mishima (Masahiro Higashide), L successor Ryuzaki (Sosuke Ikematsu), and cyberterrorist Shien (Masaki Suda), who looks to continue Light’s legacy.

A prologue featuring a Russian physician is riveting, though the film relies too heavily on the chaotic thrills of crime procedurals – fans of computer hacking and surprise slaying can rejoice – instead of exploringthe characters’ dubious moral fibre. As everyone races to secure the notes, director Shinsuke Sato ( I Am a Hero ) bombards his audience with twists and turns that do not often get explained.

A thrilling but sometimes illogical piece of pulp entertainment that is crafted with impressive style, it will disappoint viewers who expect, quite rightly, a word on power, vigilante justice, or good versus evil. Dangerously close to being a heist thriller, Light Up the New World is too busy chasing its supernatural McGuffins to ponder such luxuries as the subtlety of human emotions.

Death Note: Light Up the New World opens on December 15

Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook