Japanese Drama Review: Death Note (2015)

Monday, July 26, 2021


  • Drama: Death Note
  • Country: Japan
  • Year: 2015
  • Episodes: 11 episodes, 45 minutes
  • Genre: Psychological, Thriller, Supernatural, Mystery
  • Starring: Masataka Kubota, Kento Yamazaki, Mio Yuki, Hinako Sano, Yutaka Matsushige, Reiko Fujiawara, Kazuaki Hankai
  • My Rating: ★★★★★ out of 5
  • You can find a list of my Japanese drama reviews on my Japanese Drama and Movie Reviews page.  

    I've read just enough of the Death Note manga to get the basic gist of the story, and I watched the original live-action films from 2006. So I know what the story is supposed to look like.

    This is not that.

    This means diehard fans might not be happy with the liberties taken, but I think the changes make the characters, particularly Light Yagami, more relatable. 

    Masataka Kubota as Light Yagami developing his righteous purpose in episode 2 of Death Note.

    When an insane increase in heart attacks among criminals begins happening for no apparent reason, law enforcement agencies around the world are concerned. The deaths are being attributed online to an entity called "Kira," which happens to be the Japanese Romanization of the word "killer." And so the hunt begins for this mass murderer who has an insane amount of support from the general public because the only people he kills are criminals.

    Specialized detective L (Kento Yamazaki) and his compatriot Watari (Kazuaki Hankai) begin nosing around and narrow the likely location of Kira down to one province in Japan. He partners with some of the local authorities, including a police detective named Soichiro Yagami (Yutaka Matsushige), and in so doing, he encounters Yagami-san's son, Light Yagami (Masataka Kubota), a humble college student with no real ambition and an over-abundance of convenient innocence. L's instincts kick up a notch and with no real proof, he immediately zeroes in on Light as his prime suspect. Which, naturally, is correct.

    Kento Yamazaki as L beginning to be seriously suspicious of Light Yagami in episode 2 of Death Note.

    But the question foremost in L's mind remains. Exactly how can you kill a criminal with a heart attack? Even the ones behind bars?

    The answer, of course, is simple. With a Death Note and a Shinigami (god of death).

    I appreciate battles of good against evil, particularly if sometimes the lines get hazy. There are times I want to agree with Light and times I dislike L's methods. Death Note shows that nobody is wholly evil or wholly good.

    Light and L meeting in person for the first time in episode 4 of Death Note.

    Kento Yamazaki and Masataka Kubota are a dynamite pairing as L and Light.

    I already knew Kubota-san would make an incredible Light from some of his previous work. He always performs with intensity (and just a touch of crazy) and my high expectations of him were completely justified in his role as Light. Yamazaki-san was new to me, although he's probably the most popular young male actor in Japan right now. I first watched Death Note last year, pre-Alice in Borderland hype. He exhibits calm stoicism and restless emotionalism at the same time, bringing a unique version of L to life. Together, Kubota-san and Yamazaki-san light up the screen in their race against time and their battling of each other with the entire world and its population as their chessboard and playing pieces.

    Hinako Sano as Amane Misa, the girl who partners with Light Yagami, from episode 5.

    The secondary performances are all topnotch. An actress named Mio Yuki plays Near, L's compatriot, and I believe that Near is actually supposed to be male in the manga and the anime, but I never got far enough to meet the character so I can't say for sure. She's excellent. Hinako Sano plays a very fluffy, foolish version of Amane Misa, the pop idol star who partners with Light and falls in love with him. She's pretty in a pouty sort of way, and she partners well with Kubota-san.

    Yutaka Matsushige as Light's father, Soichiro Yagami, in episode 6 of Death Note.

    The police force group is incredible, all of them, and I deeply respect Matsushige-san's performance as Light's father. He and Kubota-san really connected in their scenes together, bringing a necessary emotional intensity. And then there is Kazuaki Hankai as Watari, an assistant/guardian to L. Hankai-san feels like a grandfather figure, the only parental influence in L's life. There's a tenderness in the character's treatment of L. He kept up with Yamazaki-san's energy levels and was always a smidge sarcastic when responding to L's "willful" requests.

    Kento Yamazaki as L with his faithful assistant Watari (Kazuaki Hankai) ironing white shirts in the background.

    Here's where fans of the manga/anime/original movies may not like the changes whereas I do.

    L is very different. He is still obsessive-compulsive, but it manifests itself differently. L subsists solely on nutritional drinks, tea, and what appears to be shortbread but is likely also a nutritional supplement. He doesn't eat anything else, and the nutritional drink is always the same one, hundreds of them. He dresses solely in white, changes his shirt religiously if it gets smudged or splattered, and all his decor is white. It makes for a very striking character design, and I like it better than the L who eats nothing but candy and ice cream. No offense to the original mangaka.

    Masataka Kubota as Light Yagami in episode 1, being confronted by Ryuk on a rooftop.

    Light Yagami is also uniquely different. I never liked Light in the manga or in the original movies. He was never relatable to me on any level because he always felt cold, teetering on the brink of ruthlessness anyway. But this Light starts out as a kind, somewhat weak, sort of character. He's gentle and compassionate and not very driven to make anything of himself. The Death Note brings him purpose and that's when his transformation begins. It allows me to grow to like the Light Yagami that he was and grieve for that loss as he transforms into a ruthless killer. There needed to be a solid distinction between the original Light and the changed Light and this drama provides that.

    Light's mother in the drama died when he was a child and his father wasn't there when she passed so there is a rift between Light and his dad. In the manga, she's still alive. I also think that Light had a girlfriend, if I'm remembering right, in the manga and the original movies, and she ends up dying because of Light, which is another reason why I could not bring myself to like him.

    Ryuk in episode 1, doing the confronting of Light Yagami on the rooftop.

    So yes, there are several changes to the story, probably many more than I'm fully aware of, but because I was never invested in the original story needing to be laid out in stone and depicted word for word, I see the changes as positive ones.

    What can I say other than the screenplay authors Yoshihiro Izumi and Tetsuya Oishi did a stupendous job. The story never flags, it just keeps moving right along. Every episode has a solid foundation on which to build until the final outcome of the story. Now, as to how much they changed, as I said, I don't fully know. I have no idea if the climax is the same. It may not be. But I feel that the message of Death Note remains the same, regardless of the little things that might get moved around.

    Light Yagami falling deeper under the spell of the Death Note in episode 3.

    This is a violent show and a lot of characters end up dead, either from heart attacks, shootings, or accidents. The deaths are not particularly gruesome (nobody is dismembered, etc.). The two leads have very little respect for human life, even L, which might surprise viewers, but he and Light are similar in that they will do anything and sacrifice anyone to achieve their end result. A father threatens to shoot his son as a means of stopping him. Inhumane methods of restraint are used on Amane Misa and Light Yagami at one point. There are terrifying supernatural beings known as Shinigami (or gods of death) that play with human lives. There's a stalker after Amane Misa at one point (a common theme in Japanese entertainment). Misa and Light share a kiss a couple of times. A character clearly has dissociative identity disorder and manages the second identity through the use of a puppet (very disturbing). Minor swearing.

    Mio Yuki as Near, compatriot to L, and his backup, a moment from episode 9.

    Death Note is in my top 10 dramas list and for good reason. It's a chilling supernatural thriller that reminds us that no one person has the right to be judge, jury, and executioner. I love the visible contrast between Light (who dresses in black and whose Shinigami dresses all in black) and L (who dresses all in white).

    I didn't really get into it earlier, but we do meet gods of death, called Shinigami. These are the ones who drop the Death Notes and once you touch a Death Note, you can see the Shinigami it belongs to. Every person whose name is written in the Death Note adds years to the Shinigami's life. It's a creepy and disturbing mythology and the Shinigami are frightening. Light's Shinigami is named Ryuk and just like Light as the story progresses, Ryuk is dark and ruthless.

    Near and Watari at the end of episode 11, the final episode of Death Note.

    Death Note is full of glorious moral complexities. Light wants to cleanse the world of criminals BUT, he also does not hesitate to kill anyone who gets in his way, even if getting in his way is their only crime. He is playing God with human lives and he has no right to do so. L is equally guilty of the same thing. He puts people in peril as a test to "Kira" and if those people die, oh well. He's very cold with very little capacity to feel human emotion, although there is a wistfulness to L that gives the impression that he wishes he could understand relationships. Overall, the characters are chillingly similar and the entire world is caught between them.

    Enjoy this neat music video from Youtuber Closed. [Forever].

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    Japanese Drama Review: Strawberry Night Saga (2019)

    Saturday, July 24, 2021

  • Drama: Strawberry Night Saga 
  • Country: Japan
  • Year: 2019
  • Episodes: 11 episodes, 1st ep 90 minutes, rest 45 minutes
  • Genre: Mystery Drama, Detective, Investigation
  • Starring: Fumi Nikaido, Kazuya Kamenashi, Yosuke Eguchi, Koji Yamamoto (the yakuza)
  • My Rating: ★★★ out of 5
  • You can find a list of my Japanese drama reviews on my Japanese Drama and Movie Reviews page. 

    Let me start by saying that I've never watched any of the other dramas or movies from this franchise. I do know that Strawberry Night Saga from 2019 is a remake, and yes, I watched it because my favorite fella Kazuya Kamenashi stars in it. If you can call his appearance a starring role. But I digress.

    Himekawa and 3 members of her team, including Kikuta played by Kazuya Kamenashi.

    The story follows assistant inspector Reiko Himekawa (Fumi Nikaido) with the Tenth Homicide Section in Tokyo. She's only 27 so to be leading her own team is a huge stretch in the primarily male-dominated world of the Japanese police force. Himekawa is called Hime (as in princess) both fondly and not so fondly by the men around her, but at least she has a loyal team of subordinates, including Kazuo Kikuta (Kazuya Kamenashi), a newer member of the team who's not entirely sure about working for her because he's heard of her reputation. And she does have one for being reckless, but also for having solid instincts that don't always rely on proof or evidence to be right.

    Her nemesis, if we can call him that, is Kensaku Katsumata (Yosuke Eguchi) who feels crooked since he seems to be on the take, but can actually be a pretty good cop when he tries hard enough. He does have some unfortunate bullying tendencies that usually crop up when he's dealing with Himekawa.

    Himekawa and Katsumata butting heads during an investigation in episode 2.

    The first episode is 90 minutes long and deals with an underground murder-for-entertainment-purposes ring called Strawberry Night. People are filmed being brutally murdered, and it is up to Himekawa's team to track down the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

    Strawberry Night Saga is a pretty intense drama, and it focuses heavily on a vengeful mindset. 

    Himekawa was sexually assaulted when she was a teenager and that reality has haunted her into her adulthood. She possesses a unique ability to both understand the criminal mind and to hate it. To be honest, I don't much like her. She's a rogue agent in many ways, intuitive, but distrustful. She acts outside the allowed rules to achieve an end, sort of like Katsumata, and I personally believe rules are there for a reason.

    Kamenashi as Kikuta during an investigation in episode 3.

    This brings me to Kikuta. He is a loyal, upstanding, solid police sergeant. You can absolutely 100% trust him to have your back and to do the right thing according to the rules. He also happens to be played by Kazuya Kamenashi, one of my favorite Japanese actors. So naturally, I'm going to love him. But I think I would have loved the character even if he'd been played by someone else because Kikuta is the type of character that I love, regardless of the actor. It just was nice that Kamenashi played him. BUT, the problem remains of casting an idol actor and giving him almost NOTHING TO DO. Other than stand around looking silently competent. And he was a little active in the last episode which was nice to see. Otherwise, he was the type to observe conversations and not participate in them. Kamenashi did a wonderful job in the role, but I like hearing him speak. He's gorgeous, yes, but dialogue is also a good thing.

    Kamenashi was so much better in Red Eyes with such a broader role. I haven't officially reviewed Red Eyes yet, but I did write THIS BLOG POST with some gushing enthusiasm when the series was first airing.

    Do not expect a hopeful message in Strawberry Night Saga. My one and only thought while observing Himekawa is that she needs therapy . . . DESPERATELY. 

    Fumi Nikaido as Himekawa putting the pieces together regarding her yakuza love interest in episode 8.

    The woman is an undisputed mess, unable to maintain healthy relationships (she falls for a yakuza which is just insane), and her entire life is her job. She's, frankly, depressing, and I wouldn't wish her life choices on anyone. There are people and resources in place to help those who have been sexually assaulted cope and heal as best as they possibly can and hopefully become fulfilled and happy members of society down the road. Ten years after her assault, Himekawa might be fulfilled in her job, but happy she is not.

    The drama ends acceptably, but it's not a "woohoo, everything's coming up roses" type of ending. And it did get somewhat ridiculous at times, especially with the whole yakuza love affair thing. She's a cop in love with a mobster. Please . . . just . . . no.

    As for content, you're looking at something like Criminal Minds, with a TV14 level of violence and gore. It can get intense. There is some minor language, but nothing too severe.

    Kikuta and Himekawa in episode 8.

    My review might sound critical, but really, as crime dramas go, Strawberry Night Saga isn't bad. It would have been much better without the yakuza thing. And possibly if Kikuta's character had more dialogue, like more than 10 lines an episode during the first half of the drama. He's there and clearly observing, just not speaking. I didn't love it, but it was worth watching since I enjoy the genre. And Kamenashi. If he weren't playing Kikuta, I'm not 100% sure that I would have finished the drama.

    I'm now sensing a trend with the dramas I review. A very large portion star Kame!

    If you don't believe me, here are my official reviews written as of July 2021 for other dramas starring him:

    This list will continue to grow. Consider yourself forewarned!

    Where can I watch Strawberry Night Saga?

    First, I'm giving full credit to the fansubber, Mia-Maw Fansubs, who did a good job. If you know all about joining soft-sub files with videos then go for it and download from her site.

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    Wondering Wednesdays: The Olympics

    Wednesday, July 21, 2021


    Welcome to Wondering Wednesdays, a weekly post to learn more about me and other bloggers. If you are a blogger, please join in every week. To learn more, click on the link below:

    Wondering Wednesdays with A Baker's Perspective

    Today’s Question: Do you enjoy watching the Olympics? What is your favorite sport at the games?

    I would have to say yes except that my household doesn't have cable or local channels as such anymore, just streaming services. So I'll need to remember to actually get onto the Olympics YouTube channel and catch highlights of this year's Olympics. Even more so because it's in Japan!

    For the summer Olympics, I love gymnastics, swimming, and track and field.

    For the winter Olympics, speed skating and figure skating. I am soooooo jazzed about Yuzuru Hanyu! And almost 20 years ago, I remember cheering my heart out for Alexei Yagudin in 2002!! He's still my figure skating champion!!

    Yuzuru Hanyu

    Alexei Yagudin

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    Classics Club Read: And Then There Were None (1939) by Agatha Christie

    Read for two challenges, my participation in The Classics Club and my own Agatha Christie Project that is a bit of a slow starter, but I'm determined to focus on more in 2022.

    As almost everyone knows, this book has had multiple titles since it was penned in 1939. I am going with the least offensive title And Then There Were None, which actually makes the most sense and is the most foreboding of the various options.

    I love Agatha Christie.

    She was a clever woman who created four of the most iconic crime fighters/spies/detectives in the history of literature. I am, of course, speaking of Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple, and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.

    But Agatha Christie did write novels separate from her most popular characters, and that's where And Then There Were None falls.

    The basic gist is something akin to Clue, wherein ten people are invited under various pretexts to an island off the coast of Devon, known as Indian Island. Once there, these people quickly find that they are not on a jolly holiday, but rather, are being held accountable for murders committed by each of them at varying stages in their lives and for any number of reasons, including jealousy, carelessness, or pure neglect.

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    And the Classics Club Spin Winner is . . .

    Monday, July 19, 2021

    I am not very excited about reading Tender is the Night since I think it will be depressing, BUT at least I'll get it read and out of the way. Fitzgerald is usually hit or miss with me, but I've never read this book which is why it ended up on my list. At least it's not very long so that's a plus, and I was able to pick such a glamorous book cover for this blog post. I have no idea what book cover I'll get when I order a copy from the library.

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    Japan Movie Review: From Me to You "Kimi ni Todoke" (2010)

    Sunday, July 18, 2021

    A year ago today, beloved Japanese actor Haruma Miura committed suicide. He was barely 30-years-old.

    My friend, Kari, and I were about 75% finished watching his film From Me to You. We watched a little bit every time she was able to come and visit me and we were almost done. Then July 18th happened and I just couldn't finish it with her. She completely understood, but looking back, I wish we had watched that last 20 minutes together. A part of me will always regret that.

    Today, after an entire year of not watching any of Haruma Miura's entertainment because the thought of it was just too much for my heart to handle, I rewatched From Me to You.

    Those familiar with the story also know it as Kimi ni Todoke, based on an insanely popular and very, very long manga of the same name. I've read possibly 10 volumes of the manga, although that was years and years ago. From the very first moment I watched this film in the late spring of 2020 (only a few months before his death), I fell in love with the story, the acting, the cinematography, everything. I'm hugely in love with sakura さくら (cherry blossoms) and they feature heavily in the movie, so that was undoubtedly one reason for my love.
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    My list for Classics Club Spin #27

    Friday, July 16, 2021

    I missed the 26th spin, but the 27th spin for The Classics Club is here, so I might as well!

    A number between 1 and 20 will be announced on July 18th, and I have until August 22nd to read the book that corresponds with that number. These books are all from my FULL LIST for The Classics Club, books that I plan to read over the next couple of years.

    You can always visit the MAIN PAGE of The Classics Club blog to see what it's all about.

    #theclassicclub #ccspin

    1. Jane Austen - Mansfield Park
    2. John Bunyan - The Pilgrim's Progress
    3. Agatha Christie - And Then There Were None
    4. Daphne Du Maurier - Rebecca
    5. Charles Dickens - Nicholas Nickleby
    6. F. Scott Fitzgerald - Tender is the Night (THE LUCKY WINNER OF THE SPIN!)
    7. C. S. Forester - The African Queen
    8. Winston Graham - Ross Poldark
    9. Shirley Jackson - The Haunting of Hill House
    10. C. S. Lewis - Till We Have Faces
    11. A. A. Milne -The Red House Mystery
    12. L. M. Montgomery - Anne of Green Gables
    13. George Orwell - 1984
    14. J. D. Salinger - The Catcher in the Rye
    15. Robert Louis Stevenson - Treasure Island
    16. Flora Thompson - Lark Rise
    17. Mark Twain - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
    18. H. G. Wells - The Time Machine
    19. Nathanael West - Miss Lonelyhearts
    20. P. G. Wodehouse - Service with a Smile

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    Happy birthday to a dear friend!

    Monday, July 12, 2021

    Even though she'll only see this on FB, it's important for me to remember and share this on my blog too.

    My dear friend, Kari, is absolutely one of the best things that has happened to me in the last couple of years. She is a wonderful woman of God with a sincere love for her family and her friends. She's fun, she's quirky, and she has me in constant awe of her ability to love unconditionally. She is an example of Jesus in my life.

    And she loves Johnny Depp which is why she got this gif for her birthday FB post!

    Remember to remind your friends that you love them! Grow friendships where you both can be your crazy, unique, wonderful selves!

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