This new instalment fails to the deliver anything near the original – not for lack of trying, but for lack of time and character development…
Six Death Notes, three Shinigami, and a whole lot of loose ends— these are the building blocks of Death Note: Light Up the New World. The fourth film instalment in the Death Note franchise, Shinsuke Sato’s sequel to Shūsuke Kaneko’s 2006 duology comes off, at best, as well-meaning but confused. At worst, it comes off as a blatant cash grab squandering the talents of a more than decent cast by trying to fit the makings of a series into a 2-hour movie.
The Death Note franchise began with a manga series penned by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. Today, it includes anime, video games, light novels, live-action adaptations, and even a musical. Exceptional yet fallible main characters, a relatable secondary cast, and a plot driven by constant machination are responsible for much of this success. The execution of the basic premise and in-universe mythos, coupled with a multifaceted exploration of morality, lent the credence necessary to immerse ourselves in a world where gods of death use notebooks as their modus operandi and a teenage boy outsmarts global intelligence and law enforcement. Light Up the New World fails to the deliver anything near the above, not for a lack of trying, but for a lack of time, character development, and quality writing necessary to properly establish its world and deliver an enjoyable experience of the narrative.
Possibly the most disappointing thing about the movie, however, is its overreliance on the plot twists and tricks of the duology and manga, which —while acceptable if this were just another adaptation of the source material— falls flat given that this film is meant to be a sequel centred around the ‘successors’ to the original characters. The fact, moreover, that these twists are the best and most well-executed parts of the narrative highlights its other failures —most significantly its overabundance of characters and plotlines. The overall effect is one of confusion and a lack of cohesion, with most of the story and plot devices being red herrings or ultimately redundant.
What is good about this movie, however, is its cast and visuals. It’s clear to see how visual effects and animation technology have improved in the years since the release of the last movie. The sleek Shinigami of Light Up the New World looks much better in a live-action setting than their earlier counterparts, and the film itself is immensely satisfying to look at. The cast, with the time and script they were given, manage to deliver solid performances that only suffer in comparison to the prior films, this being a case of lacklustre characters wasting otherwise competent acting.
Erika Toda, with the benefit of prior character establishment, gives a particularly stellar performance as Misa Amane, while Tatsuya Fujiwara and Kenichi Matsuyama are as comfortable as ever in their now-minor roles as Light Yagami and L. Their inclusion puts the main cast at particular disadvantage however, as Shein and Ryuzaki pale both in comparison to and as successors to Light and L. This gives Masaki Suda and Sosuke Ikematsu very little opportunity to distinguish their characters with any memorability and is especially unfortunate considering how well the manga handles its ‘successor’ characters. A final twist on that note is the handling of Masahiro Higashide’s Tsukuru Mishima and the reveal of Ryo Nakagami, which —while clear set up for future instalments —establishes precious little of the character in this film.
By its end, the overwhelming impression left by Light Up the New World is one of confusion and uncertainty. That this stems not from the pseudo-complex plot but from a sense of the film’s identity crisis is the crux of its failings. This is a film whose universe and narrative needed and deserved a series, at the least, to do it justice, and did, in fact, spawn a miniseries to tie it to its predecessors. That it not only has trouble with its format but also its identity as a sequel just further compounds the sense that the production team itself was not cognizant of what they wanted to achieve. While not an unenjoyable film, Light Up the New World is ultimately not what one wants or expects when watching an instalment in the Death Note universe, and failing to meet either criterion is what keeps this from being a good film.