Friday, July 13, 2007

The Color Line + Death Note @ NY Asian Film Festival

I actually did catch the opening of curator Odili Donald Odita's The Color Line exhibit at the Jack Shainman Gallery--well, the very tail end of that line--last Saturday, and got a chance to say hello to artist Carl Pope, one of the participants, who was chilling outside. My walkthrough was really a race-through, so I need to go back and look at the work at length, and write a mini-review. Here are a few photos from the exhibit (my photo of Carl's posters did not come out well, unfortunately):

Nick Cave's Soundsuit (2007)

Part of Stephen Hobbs & Marcus Neustetter/The Trinity Session's multimedia piece

Christian Bastiaan's "Körper zur Beobachterstation" (2004), mixed media on Hahnemuhle paper

Some of the attendees outside after the exhibit closed


Afterwards, I actually did race in a taxi up to the beautiful interior of the Japan Society, where the second half of the New York Asian Film Festival's movies were playing. I met up with my friend David to see, and after being told there were no more tickets we were still able to get in to catch Shusuke Kaneko's 2006 film version of the (apparently extremely) popular manga metaphysical thriller Death Note. (The sequel, Death Note: The Last Name, also from 2006, played the next day, but neither David nor I caught it.)

I wasn't sure what to expect, but Kaneko's film was thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining, and posed serious questions about ethics, power, and evil so effortlessly that one could easily have missed them. The plot in short involves a sharp young law student, Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara, below at right), who finds a magical notebook in the street. What he soon realizes is that if he writes a person's name in it and visualizes her or his face while doing so, that person will die within a short period of time. Swept up by utopian dreams of peace, he decides to write the name of criminals in the book, and swiftly begins to eliminate not only Japan's most notorious outlaws, but also newsworthy criminals around the globe. Death NoteLight is the son of the local police chief, Souichiro Yagami (Takeshi Kaga), who, like his colleagues, becomes alarmed that someone is secretly and efficiently enacting vigilante justice, and enlists the power of the reclusive and hilarious superdetective L (Kenichi Matsuyama), a junkfood afficionado whose brilliance only barely outstrips his strangeness. The challenge thus begins: will the detectives, including Souichiro, catch Light, who takes matters of life and death in his hands, and stop him? Will Light outsmart them, especially L? And isn't it disturbing that Light's vigilante justice, under the pseudonym Kira, makes him a hero among the nation's youth? The narrative becomes increasingly complex and thrilling, in part because of the presence of the CGI-created "God of Death," Ryuuk, who lost the notebook and is now powerless to halt Light's perverse form of justice. Only someone who touches the Death Notebook can see the apple-devouring Ryuuk, and this fact plays a part in the first of a series of elaborate and devious schemes Light launches, schemes so devious that even the God of Death himself becomes disheartened. For in keying Light into some of the "rules" of the Death Notebook, Ryuuk realizes he has fostered the creation of an anti-god--an anti-god of amorality. To say any more would be to reveal too much, but it should suffice to say that by the end of this film, the plot was pointing to the sequel.

I was totally unfamiliar with Tsugumi Obâ's and Takeshi Obata's popular mangas from which this story was drawn, but it was clear during the question and answer session with director Kaneko (at center in the photo at left) that followed the screening that many in the audience were. In fact, Kaneko, who had made his reputation by updating the stockGamera series of fantasy films during the 1990s, repeatedly stressed how faithfully he tried to adhere to the original stories and how upset fans were that he changed even just a few details for the purposes of creating a successful film. In one case, in the manga a detective who dies originally had a French-sounding last name, but Kaneko didn't think it would work for the purposes of the movie, so he gave the Japanese character a Japanese last name, and some fans were outraged. Of the handfull of questions that audience members asked, several specifically addressed the director's approach to elements in the original manga. Despite his changes, the films still drew huge crowds and were among the most popular films in Japan last year. I recommend the first and can't wait to see the second; given their popularity, I hope both will be out on DVD or on TV (Sundance channel?) soon.

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