The relationships between shinigami and humans are woven into a movie.
Death Note is a very popular anime that spawned three live-action movies: Death Note, Death Note: The Last Name, and a spin-off that focused on L, L Change the WorLd. These three movies earned around 11.2 billion yen in the Japanese box office.
Ten years after, both in reality and in the story, Death Note: Light up the NEW world continues the saga.
We interviewed the very talented director, Shinsuke Satou, who has turned other popular manga series into wonderful movies: GANTZ, Library Wars, and I am a Hero.
It’s been a while since the last in this successful series came out. What did you think when you got the offer for this movie?
I got the offer three or four years ago. The producer of the last Death Note was Takahiro Satou, who also produced GANTZ, which I directed. After finishing such a big job as GANTZ, I was thinking about making an original movie. He suggested that I make a another movie for Death Note to celebrate its coming 10th anniversary. I was surprised when I first heard his suggestion, but I accepted it because the next series of the last movie would be almost an original movie, and that was what I wanted. At the same time I felt a lot of pressure because Death Note is a masterpiece, but I felt more excited to think about what I would do.
Was it hard to make an original Death Note movie?
We created an original ending for the GANTZ sequel, ”GANTZ PERFECT ANSWER.” The manga was still on-going, so ending the movie there was the same as making an original ending, and the same goes for any movie. Even when I create a movie based on another work, I add some originality to it. However, this movie was the opposite case. We created the story ourselves, but it was not completely original; we referred to the last movie and the original work, and created a new movie. We got ideas from the author of the manga, Tsugumi Ohba as well, so it was not my “original.”
What was the part you were most particular about in this movie?
We valued the reality of the scenes of the shinigami realm and all imaginary things, especially shinigami, in this movie. We tried to make the shinigami so real, (even more so than the humans), that you can almost feel him breathing and makes you want to see him closer. We hope the audience will feel some indescribable feelings through the relationships between the realistic shinigami and humans. I think this is a new challenge for the Japanese movie industry. I don’t know if I have succeeded, but that idea has been in my mind since we started writing the scenario.
The notebook of Death Note stands out very much.
The notebook was the first creation we made while writing the scenario (laughs). We made it with a lot of detail. Before designing the notebook or the shinigami like Ryuk and Arma, we start making backstories; why it exists, what the notebook is made of (animal skin, papyrus, or human skin?). Backstories are a lot of fun. When there are closeups of the characters and sets, I hope the audience will notice the texture of the materials.
In this movie, Tsukuru Mishima, Ryuzaki, and Yuki Shien are all characters who inherit Kira and L’s will, and their personalities are so unique. How did you create those characters?
The designing of the characters didn’t finish until the very end. Kenichi Matsuyama acted L so brilliantly in the original movies that we had to think of someone fresh for Ryuzaki. We asked actor Sousuke Ikematsu to act out a variety of characters, and we gradually formed the characters. After all, Ryuzaki turned out to be great as shinigami. I really like the part where Ryuk complains, ‘Today’s shinigami realm is rotten’ in the original work. Shinigami are bored, and the human world seems interesting to them. Ryuzaki, Mishima, and Yuki all express themselves well, and you don’t know who is good or evil at all.
Do you mean each has different sense of justice?
Yes. In the last episode, two groups of good and evil battled, but in the latest movie three groups fight each other. Good and evil are very vague in the movie, and it feels modern. I fulfilled my goal to make it a modern Death Note.
You mentioned that good and evil are vague. Do you feel the world is becoming that way these days?
Yes. While I was writing the scenario, I came up with a lot of ideas. I think it is fun that ideas of the past are used now. I put in a lot of detail when I write a scenario, and when I review it, I find both my footprints and completely new ideas. It is very interesting to make a scenario. If I were living in a different age, this work would have been different. Original movies reflect a pile of little coincidences.
You use a lot of computer graphics in your works, especially in this movie. Shinigami are completely CG. What is ‘computer graphics’ to you?
We are using computer graphics more and more, but they are just one of many techniques. I always want to express the beauty of things. If shinigami really existed right there, I would have liked to have filmed them in person. I use computer graphics to cover the things I can’t create. I know computer graphics are good, but I always try to avoid using them. When we made the shinigami for this movie, we started out without using computer graphics. We considered making half of them by hand, or using real skin on them and such. Then, we decided to use computer graphics. Computer graphic technology is improving so much these days that it is a pleasure to look at. Computer graphics help us shape what we want to create.
It has been 10 years since the last Death Note movie came out. What kind of feelings did you have while making the movie?
I think people were surprised that shinigami were in a live action movie ten years ago, but they won’t be surprised by the same thing again. So I was thinking about how I could surprise them. I like the feeling of ‘what is happening next?’ when I turn pages of new books. I want the audience to feel the same way when they watch this movie.
When I was young, I watched a film named Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in which people and cartoon characters were in the same world. I was really surprised back then, but the same thing happens in this movie; you can see shinigami breathe, and they talk to humans in person. I hope the audience will imagine what kind of feelings the shinigami are having in each scene, and see shinigami as living, breathing creatures just like humans.
You want them to feel like shinigami really exist.
Although this movie is different because it is an original story, when you make an original work into a movie, you need to re-balance the work. An original work like a novel or manga is well balanced with many details. If I change it even a little bit, it loses its balance and looks completely different. We have to recreate it using the flow of time, scene changes, and so on. By changing in that way, it is reborn. Seeking the good points of movies and using them fully are very important in order to create a good movie from an original work so the fans of the original work will enjoy it.
There are long meeting scenes in the latest Death Note, and it might look like a still image to you, but there are a lot of motion in them; everything is moving: series of still images, movements of the camera and the actors, and their emotions. The meeting scenes are as lively and active as those of the cities, and thinking about how to film them amused me so much. I can’t insert movements in a scenario, so it is fun to put movements as I film a movie. I hope the audience will feel the liveliness of this movie.
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