Monday, June 30, 2008

Review: "L. Save The World"

I am not the world's biggest Anime fan, nor am I the biggest Manga fan. It's not that I hate either medium, I just never really got "it" until a few years ago. Even then, I really only got into it because of the Live Action films they spawned (the exception to that rule would be the Beck Anime). I suppose you could say my appreciation for all things Anime and Manga were due to me being "Backwards Compatible". Battle Royale, Shimotsuma Monogatari (Kamikaze Girls), Cutie Honey and even Cromartie High School were all seen by me as a live action movie before I experienced the Anime or Manga (and in the case of Battle Royale, a translation of the original source novel).The same thing happened to me with Death Note. A good friend of mine clued me in on the Death Note Anime which, of course, began as a Manga, but I ended up seeing the first two films (Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name) prior to either. Of course, my friend was correct and I ended up wholly embracing the Death Note stories.

One of the most appealing things about the whole Death Note experience is it's wonderful cast of characters. From the Kira's Light and Misa to the Sinigami's Rem and Ryuk, the characterizations in Death Note are a big reason behind it's success in Japan and abroad. Of course, the most popular character in the Death Note universe is, arguably, the master detective known as L. Although L sacrifices himself at the end of the second Death Note film, the character's popularity is so great that he warranted his own spin off film.

Directed by Hideo Nakata, L. Save The World, is a fine solid action film that touches on both Death Note mythology (although the actual Death Note is merely a cursory part of the story) and (most surprisingly) Hideo's own screen adaptation of RING. L. Save The World starts around the same time Death Note: The Last Name is wrapping up. All of the characters from the first two films are given brief face time to tie the film into the last one and elicit a smile or two from Death Note fans. You see, in the previous film, L had written his own name in the Death Note in order to flush out the mysterious Kira. The mission was accomplished, but it left L with only 23 days to live. This film deals with L's final days and the one last mystery he has to solve before his self imposed death.

The last mystery involves an Ebola virus spliced and mutated to an influenza virus that Eco terrorists are planning to use to thin out the human race and set the Earth's ecology back on track. As the film opens, the virus has already ravaged a small village in Thailand. There in Thailand, another super detective, F, discovers both the diabolical plan and a little boy who seems impervious to the virus. The boy winds up in the custody of L, as does the daughter of a scientist who sacrifices himself to stop the spread of said virus. From there it's L and the children on a race against time to find an antidote to the virus and to stop the Eco terrorists from going through with their plan.

As Director Hideo demonstrated brilliantly in RING, he is a master of the "Race Against Time" plot line. L's race against time to solve the one final mystery directly parallels Asakawa and Ryuji's race to save their son from certain death in 7 days. The big difference here, and one that works in favor of L. Save The world, is L knows his time is limited and nothing can be done about it. The protagonists in RING are living on a hope that they'll all get a reprieve if they solve the mystery. L knows there's no hope left in his surviving past what was written in the Death Note. He's solving the mystery and saving the world just because that's what he does. Another, albeit tenuous, RING connection is this film is to the other Death Note movies what Spiral and Loop are to the RING novel. It's an extension of the storyline, but it doesn't actually continue the storyline. I personally like that approach very much. Having yet another Shinigami show up with a black book wouldn't have cut it for me. I also surprised myself by liking the direct line made between Terrorists and Serial Killers. Usually observations like that in Cinema can come off as extremely preachy. Here, however, the approach was very much of a, "Here it is, absorb it or reject it" type of commentary. The film is full of nice, non condescending touches like that.

Ken'ichi Matsuyama (L) is the undisputed selling point of this movie. His portrayl of L is the film's complete raison d'ĂȘtre and, thankfully, he doesn't disappoint here. All of the mannerisms and quirks that endeared audiences to the Live Action edition of L are all in place. His scenes with the children are nothing short of precious and worth the price of admission alone. His realisation that he's not a very good babysitter since, genius notwithstanding, he's not much more than a child himself is priceless. There are also some expansions of the L character, including a scene where, emotionally exhausted after finishing up all of his open cases on record, we actually see him asleep. He also does the action scenes very well, introducing a physicality to the character while never breaking the L character.

Some may roll their eyes at the overblown action finale (including an intentional (?) homage to Airplane!), but I dug it. It's one of those films where, either you go for the entire ride, or you walk away. The film never gets too, too serious and the sense of fun is always there. On the downside, the intellectual cat and mouse games that dominated the first two Death Note movies are all but gone here. It's a different kind of movie, though. I'd surely love to see more L films; earlier cases and mysteries he may have solved prior to the Death Note case.

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