Death Note / Death Note – the Last name
Light Yagami is just an ordinary – albeit precociously gifted – student until the day he stumbles across a book that allows him to kill people by writing their names in it. Such is the premise of Tsugumi Ohba’s Death Note, a devilishly enjoyable manga series whose transition to the silver screen always felt like it was just a matter of time. There’s a certain inevitability, too, about the ho-hum nature of the finished product. Gamera veteran Shusuke Kaneko delivers a pair of pics that have all the panache of a half-decent TV mini series: as functional as they are almost completely devoid of artistic merit. Most of the action is reserved for the second of the films – which also diverges more significantly from the original comic – but even then the set pieces land with a squelch. Perhaps the only genuine surprise is Kenichi Matsuyama: his turn as sweet-toothed investigator L is spot-on, a much-needed antidote to Tatsuya Fujiwara’s charmless Light and the poorly rendered lumps of CGI that follow him around.
Noriko’s Dinner Table
Sion Sono is a visionary auteur in desperate need of a good editor. Sure, everyone remembers the opening sequence of Suicide Club – in which 54 schoolgirls cheerfully throw themselves under the wheels of an oncoming train – but who could honestly claim to have enjoyed the jumbled, incoherent mess of a film that followed? Noriko’s Dinner Table is a sort of companion piece to that movie, book-ending its events without having all that much to do with them. This time, the action focuses on Noriko (Kazue Fukiishi) and Yuka (Yuriko Yoshitaka), two sisters who leave their small-town family and run away to Tokyo. There, they get involved with a "family rental" agency, where they’re paid money to pretend to be other people’s relatives – and can escape their previous identities in the process. It’s an intriguing concept, and there are certainly some fine moments over the course of this meandering, distended film. But at 2 1/2 hours long, it rather outstays its welcome – and did we really need five different narrative voiceovers?
Not much of a recommendation, perhaps, but this is definitely the most Japanese film I’ve seen in a while. Where else in the world are you likely to come across so heart-warming a eulogy to small-town life, family values and the comforting joys of really fat noodles? I struggle to think of a Western alternative: Bangers & Mash or Bagel: The Movie, perhaps? Yusuke Santamaria stars as Kosuke, a failed comedian who returns from New York to his hometown in Kagawa, the prefecture with the highest per capita number of udon shops in the country. His homecoming inadvertently kickstarts a boom in the regional dish’s fortunes – cue the TV crews, massive lines of customers and grim muttering about how to keep things real. This part is fun enough, but the second half of the movie – in which Kosuke wrestles with whether or not to take over the family eatery – is a real drag, substituting sentimentality for anything resembling character development. Still, the noodles looked tasty.