Monday, February 29, 2016

L: Change The WorLd

This is it. The last (So far) of the live-action Death Note movies, and man, oh man is this one hell of a damn good movie!
Ever since I finished the Death Note comics years and years ago, I thought it would be great to see a spin-off series revolving around L solving crimes before the Kira case began. That's part of the reason why I like the novel Death Note: Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases, because it's a sample of L's work before the Kira case began.
Spoilers for the movie inbound, if you're okay with that (I don't see why you would be, but if you are) keep reading. If not, get all three live-action Death Note films and watch them one right after another. It's well worth your time.
If you want to know at what point in the series timeline this movie is set, that's a complicated answer. You see, the movie starts off before L joins the Kira investigation, and then transitions to the climax of said investigation, before finally settling into a groove after the investigation wrapped up, but before the end of The Last Name.
As the title would suggest, this movie is very L-centric, following him through the last twenty days of his life before his death at the end of The Last Name. L even echoes the title of that movie, saying that his name shall be the last one written when writing it down.
Meanwhile, in Thailand a deadly viral-weapon has been unleashed on the village from Kickboxer (Seriously, it looks like it's right next to the ruins Kurt Sloane trained in.) and people are dying left and right. What appears to be the US Military show up (They're in Humvees, they're answering to what appears to be an American general and they're speaking English with American accents) take a bunch of blood samples, determine that the virus has gone beyond curability and decide to firebomb the village, but not before one of L's undercover operatives, F flees the scene with a boy who hasn't been affected by the virus. He manages to get far enough away to give the boy his pendant and a code to contact Watari with before being blown up by the helicopter. Apparently the virus is so potent they can't let anyone get away.
In Japan, a girl named Maki is seeing her father at the Japanese equivalent of the CDC for homework and an injection. The father, Dr. Kimihiko Nikaido is working with Dr. Kimiko Kujo on a sample of the virus taken from the village. He'd tested it a day ago, but it changed radically in the time since then. Apparently it had become immune to whatever he'd had in mind for a cure, or whatever inoculation there might have been since then.
We see Watari's death once again, and it's not any less sad than it was before. L wraps up the Kira case, informs the other operatives from Whammy's house of the situation, burns the Death Notes, and buries Watari. With twenty days left to live, L spends his time solving case after case after case, burning through hundreds of cases from dozens of countries in under a week. Eventually, he comes back to the release of the viral weapon. He knows F is dead, but he doesn't have much other information, at least until the boy from Thailand calls up the investigation headquarters with F's access code. L has him airlifted out of the country, and tested for the virus. When he comes back negative, L takes him under his wing to figure out what's happened. After bonding over their mutual love of food, the boy lets L look at the pendant F gave him. Inside, L finds a Micro-SD card inside, with video taken by F on it. This gives L a better look at what happened in Thailand, and about how the virus works. This also reveals who performed the attack, a terrorist organization called Blue Ship.
Meanwhile, Dr. Nikaido gives his daughter, Maki another injection, some new homework, a box with a syringe in it, and a pendant similar to the one F had. She leaves for home, but goes to see her father at work later that day. Unfortunately for her, Blue Ship is raiding the lab looking for a cure her dad made. During the raid, it's revealed that Dr. Kujo, Nikaido's lab-partner is the one in charge of Blue Ship, and the one who created the virus. Nikaido destroys the cure he'd been working on, as well as the enhanced virus, but he dies in the process, to keep them from using his daughter against him. Unfortunately for his daughter, she sees him dying of the virus while simultaneously burning to death in the lab. Fun childhood memories!
She dashes out of the lab and gets into a taxi, giving the driver a list of addresses off the memory card in the pendent her dad gave her. Eventually, she gets to L's headquarters from the Kira investigation, and gives him the SD-card inside the pendent.
Dr. Kujo and Blue Ship tear apart the lab looking for where Nikaido stashed the data on the vaccine, since a bio-weapon can't be used or sold without having an inoculation or cure handy, otherwise the administrator of the weapon would get infected and die.
Kujo, a former member of Whammy's House contacts L under the pretense of asking for help to cure the virus, but L notices her flunkies in the reflection of a mirror on her desk. Kujo remembers something she saw from Maki's homework, and realizes that the secret message inside it was "Watari." From that she deduces Maki must have taken up refuge with L, so she has her team raid the former headquarters of the Kira task-force.
Maki goes out to confront the people responsible for her fathers death, intending to infect them with the viral weapon, but apparently the shotgun-wielding idiot of the group seems to have forgotten that the virus is transmissable through blood and attempts to shoot her before L kicks his ass and flees the base with her and the boy. On the way out, they meet with an American FBI Agent named Hideaki Suruga sent to retrieve the Death Notes, who helps them flee in a crepe truck that doubles as L's mobile base.
As they're leaving, L wipes the local server in the old task-force headquarters so Blue Ship can't get into his files. On the way out, L ditches the crepe van so Blue Ship can chase after Suruga while he takes the kids in a different direction. He goes to meet with Dr. Koichi Matsudo, one of Nikaido's lab assistants, but Kujo gets to the media to tell them Maki has the virus, so they are forced to proceed via bicycle the rest of the way. At one point they stop by an open-air market to buy some supplies and then lay low in a maid cafe while L loads up on sugar and tinkers with the stuff he bought at the market. They then make their way to Matsudo's lab, and he begins to analyze the virus in an attempt to figure it out. L deduces that Maki must have some sort of immunity to the virus, either naturally or through her father's machinations. Since the virus needs glucose to replicate, it's feeding on Maki's blood-sugar. As far as they can tell, the virus isn't contagious as long as her immune-system can combat it, but the way the virus mutates could become active at any time, and Matsudo can't figure out how to deconstruct the virus. As they're doing this, the boy solves an equation from Maki's homework, coming to the numbers of thirteen and eleven. L extrapolates this to the letters MK, and he and Dr. Matsudo come to the conclusion that this refers to the MK protein, Midkine. Midkine promotes cell-growth and regeneration, as well as the development of new and reinforcement of existing blood vessels. The virus in question is a cross between Influenza and the Ebolavirus. For those unfamiliar with the Ebola virus disease, it's an infectious virus which causes the breakdown of blood-vessels and immune-cells. It also causes issues with clotting, the lymphatic system, and the immune system. Since Midkine helps propagate the growth of new cells, it can help with the symptoms of the virus, and stave off death. No, that's not just the movie science talking, I actually looked this stuff up. As far as I can tell, they're not just spinning science-fiction here. It actually seems like the Midkine protein might work as part of a vaccine in this situation. I've left some links for you guys at the bottom of the review so you can check things out for yourself.
The problem is that while Midkine might help, they don't have a way of synthesizing the protein at the moment. However, L figures out that boy has an elevated production of Midkine (Just gotta hope this doesn't lead to cancer. Elevated Midkine levels tend to be associated with cancerous cell-growth.) and that's why he survived the infection of his village. They confirm this with a blood-test, and this allows them to fast-track production of a vaccine.
Maki takes L and the boy onto the roof for a picnic, and there we have some very touching moments between the three characters.
After this symbolic goodbye, Maki calls Dr. Kujo in an attempt to infect her with the virus and kill her, but Kujo's knife-wielding psychopathic sidekick grabs her and they take her onto a plane so they can infect as many people as possible so they can reduce the population of the world and save the planet from mankinds overpopulation. Yes, Blue Ship is one of those groups. They'd get along fairly well with Victor Von Doom from Fant4stic.
L finds Maki's backpack after noticing she's missing, and considering that he knows Kujo doesn't have a vaccine, and considering Blue Ship's manifesto, he figures the plan must be to infect an international flight. From here, he finds out which plane has had to host an emergency patient, and determines what plane they're on from there. With a sack of vaccine syringes, L meets back up with Agent Suruga, and they manage to ground the plane. Unfortunately, Kujo has her team hijack the plane and attempt to fly off anyways, but L jumps aboard the plane with the vaccine. He manages to stall Kujo long enough for all of the hijackers to become incapacitated, and he decides to give her a second chance by giving her a dose of the vaccine. As passengers and hijackers alike are dying, L tells the crew to vaccinate everyone while he hits the air-breaks on the plane to keep it from crashing into the airport. Maki wants to kill Kujo, but L talks her out of it, and they part ways. Maki going to the hospital and L to Whammy's House with the boy, whom he calls Near.
I rushed the summary towards the end, but I did that because I didn't want to spend any more time crying than I had to, because the end of this movie was incredibly sad.
So, all in all this was a great movie. If you wanted to see more of Matsuyama Ken'ichi's amazing performance as L, this is the movie for you. If you wanted to see L working on other cases, interacting with other characters, and being generally bad-ass, then you definitely want to see this film. I would like to stress, however, that you absolutely need to watch the first two live-action Death Note films first.
I have to say, it's a rare case that I see a trilogy where each subsequent installment is legitimately better than the previous one. In this case, this film actually fixed most of the major issues I had with the first two films, primarily the incredibly sparse soundtrack. According to the credits, Kawai Kenji, the composer for the previous two movies returned to compose this soundtrack, and I have to say that he nailed this soundtrack. This movie has the kind of soundtrack the previous two films should have had. They knew when they needed music to enhance the scene and they knew when the soundtrack needed to be quiet. In that regard, they took a lesson from the animated series
Unfortunately, the ending theme-song is a licensed track from Lenny Kravitz, titled I'll Be Waiting. If only they'd used an original track, possibly a slow piano rendition of L's theme from the animated series, it would have been even better.
As a detective film, the intrigue is top notch. As a thriller, the suspense is brilliant. As a character piece about L, it's beautiful. Surprisingly, it works well as a horror film too, owing to the fact that the director is Nakata Hideo, best known as the director of The Ring series. I especially love the effects in this film. Barring an appearance by a badly CGI'd Ryuk, the effects are brilliant. As far as I can tell, Nakata primarily relied upon practical effects for those infected by the disease, and they look pretty convincing. When I found out that the third movie in the trilogy had been handed off to another director, I was fairly dubious, since that doesn't usually turn out all that well. After having seen this film, however, I can safely say that Nakata Hideo was a good choice. He wrings every bit of emotion out of every scene and then some, delivering a poignant, sad film that doubles as a pulse-pounding action-thriller. Kobayashi Hirotoshi wrote the screenplay, and he didn't miss a single beat in his writing. In conjunction with the awesome direction and amazing performances from the cast, it all comes together into one awesome, sad film.
Light Yagami is always going to be a hard act to follow, but Blue Ship delivers as an ensemble act. Hatsune Misawa (Played by Satō Megumi) could have carried an entire movie on her own, especially if she'd gotten her hands on a Death Note. She's so insane it's both entertaining to watch and fairly unsettling as well. Daisuke Matoba (Played by Takashima Masanobu) and Kimiko Kujo (Played by Kudoh
Youki) both handle the roles of charismatic leader, with Kujo actually seeming slightly more threatening than Matoba most of the time. Not that Matoba is a slacker, he actually stabbed his boss to death early on in the film. It's actually kind of hard to believe that there could be anyone, even a group of people who could seem like a threat when compared to Light Yagami, but Blue Ship somehow managed to pull it off. Had things gone a different way, they might have come up against Light at some point. They might have even proven to be formidable foes for a while.
Now we get to the minor criticisms I have and points i'd like to make. Take a look at the screenshot to the left, and look at Maki's hair. It's cut exactly like Mello's is in the animated series and comics. However, Mello isn't in this film. That's something I'd just like to throw out there.
Now we get to the one other issue (Aside from the licensed music) this film shares with the previous two. What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Near? For me, it's his shaggy white hair. Take a look at the poster above, at the little boy in the lower left of the image, right below Watari. That's Fukuda Narushi, and you'll notice that his hair isn't white, and it's cut straight around his head, like Gohan's haircut during the Frieza-saga of Dragon Ball Z. It's a small thing, but if they'd dyed his hair white at the very least it would have been a little better. They might have been trying to preserve a twist at the end, since they never said his name until the end, but come on. He's dressed like Near, he acts like Near, he's a genius like Near, and his favorite toy is the exact same kind of robot that Near always had with him in the comics. There's no way this kid was ever going to be anyone but Near, so they might as well have just gone straight for the white hair. It's not like Death Note had all that many odd hair-colors the way most anime does, so it was incredibly unusual for Near to have such white hair. It made him stand out the way Misa's bright yellow hair made her stand out, or how the color-shifting in the animated series helped differentiate the characters.
In the end though, this was a brilliant film. It was well-written, well-directed, well-acted, and incredibly well-made all around. It's also incredibly sad, so if you watch it you should get a handkerchief ready.
I'll give it a 9.9* rating. Now that I'm done with the live-action movies (At least until the sequel to this film comes out), I'm going to attempt to find the Death Note musical, and the novelization of this film before moving on to the live-action television series. Meanwhile, expect some gaming reviews in the interim. I'll see you then!

Cover image from Screenshots taken by me.
Citations for the science:
Smith, Tara (2005). Ebola (Deadly Diseases and Epidemics). Chelsea House Publications. ISBN 0-7910-8505-8.