L Change the World

The premise will be familiar – a terrorist group is going to unleash a deadly virus on the world, and our hero has just 23 days to stop them. But our hero is L, the world’s greatest detective, who uncovered the true identity of Kira in the Death Note movies, and he is far from your typical action hero.

This Japanese movie is the third in the Death Note series. The star of the first two movies, the incredible actor Tatsuya Fujiwara, only appears briefly in the beginning, so he is not there to overshadow the often overlooked performance of Ken’ichi Matsuyama as L. Fujiwara tends to overshadow everyone, so it’s no great disgrace. But at last we can see Matsuyama’s masterful grasp of the character of L.

Death Note has morphed from a manga to an anime to a live action movie. Purists will insist that you shouldn’t go beyond the manga. But if you want to see what a very accomplished young actor can make of such an impossible role as L, you really should see L Change the World.

Death Note is anti-hero territory. Light Yagami, the young law student who turns into the relentless killer writing his victim’s names in the death notebook, is handsome but far from lovable. He’s truly evil. His nemesis L, the great detective out to unmask him, is just plain weird. He never goes outside if he can avoid it, always wears the same clothes, eats nothing but candies, and is, to say the least, socially inept. But he is frighteningly intelligent.

In spite of that, these movies, and these characters, have a loyal following. While fans still dispute the choice of Fujiwara as Light Yagami (some people are never satisfied) hardly anyone disputes the casting of Matsuyama. He absolutely nails L, using body language in a way rarely seen on the screen. His closeness to the drawings in the manga and anime are uncanny, almost eerie, as if the drawings came to life before your eyes.

But while the manga and anime tended to keep L remote and almost inhuman, this movie offers a deeper look into his soul. With only 23 days to live, L solves all the cases on hand, and goes after the virus spreading bad guys. The only trouble is, he now has a little boy and a young girl in his care, and if you know L, then you know this isn’t going to be easy.

Matsuyama is a joy as he depicts L’s slow thawing toward his young charges – the expressions he wears as he witnesses actual emotion, and feels a loving touch, are priceless. In the end, they are also deeply moving. This is performance at its purest and most engaging. We just don’t want to let L go.

The kids, played by Narushi Fukuda and Mayuko Fukuda, are gorgeous, and interact very naturally with young Matsuyama. I was also pleased to see one of my favorite Japanese actresses, Youki Kudoh, in the role of Dr Kujo. She is always a real pleasure to watch.

Directed by Hideo Nakata (Ring), this movie shows us a much more physical and involved L, who gets off his chair and goes outside, and even manages to throw in some real action hero stuff. All I’m wishing now is that this isn’t the last time we see Matsuyama as L – after all there is still a lot of material in the mangas to draw on!


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