Death Note for true believers
Popular Japanese film in U.S. theater
Published: Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Updated: Sunday, February 15, 2009 16:02
Anime fans filled the Pleasure Island AMC Theater with hardly a seat to spare at a special showing of the first Death Note live-action film.
Lights dimmed and cheers rang as the preview for the next feature coming to theaters, Bleach the Movie: Memories of Nobody began. Those shouts were drowned by a louder swell as the opening credits came on the screen, echoed with key characters introduced throughout the film. Spirits were high as audiences enjoyed the rare chance to see a feature anime film on the big screen.
Valencia student Tommy Lin was there with his girlfriend, UCF sophomore Stephanie Josephs. Both Lin and Josephs are fans of Death Note, though Lin admitted his girlfriend was responsible for introducing him to it.
"I was really excited," Lin said, "because I saw the cartoon, and I was really wondering how they were going to do the transition from cartoon to real life, and the actual characters, how to develop them."
Josephs has a collection of more than 400 anime DVDs. While she was eager to purchase the Death Note feature, she was reluctant to invest in something she might not like.
"This was a great chance for me to preview it," Josephs said.
A few die-hard fans even showed up in costume for the showing. Brothers Travis Mitchell and Justin Mitchell and their friend Patrice Muscello attended the event dressed as characters L, Light Yagami and Misa Misa. Justin even sported the signature apple that Light feeds his personal Shinigami (Japanese death god), Ryuk.
The trio had viewed the movie before in subtitles, as well as the dubbed anime on Cartoon Network. Justin was a fan of the film and had high hopes for the dubbed production. He wasn't disappointed.
"Both are fantastic," he said.
The film ended with a special feature about the making of the movies, with commentary by director Shusuke Kaneko. He discussed how they went about compressing a 37 episode anime into two films, as well as casting, production, and the English language dubbing. Kaneko is well known for other Japanese features, including the Godzilla Heisei Gamera Trilogy films.
The film aired at 7:30 p.m., May 20 and 21, and broadcasted to select theaters using a special satellite system maintained by National CineMedia. The event was put on by NCM's alternative digital programming division, Fathom, working with VIZ Pictures, affiliate of VIZ Media and licenser of the Death Note series, one of the largest anime distributors in the U.S.
Fathom Vice President Dan Diamond was optimistic about the future of their work in anime productions. According to Diamond, the company began working with VIZ Pictures two years ago, releasing the first Naruto anime film Naruto the Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow in select theaters.
"We began a process with VIZ a couple years ago," Diamond said in a phone interview. "[We] launched our first program with VIZ, it was extremely successful and we look forward to working together with VIZ to bring many more titles all across the U.S. in the future."
With its huge success in American television, Diamond believed Death Note was a clear choice for feature selection.
"Death Note was clearly one that breaks new ground as far as anime has been presented," Diamond said. "It's a first for bringing this type of anime programming into theaters, where it's more of a live action performance. I think that was one of the key drivers of bringing Death Note in, again, it was something unique and different."
While VIZ Pictures was unavailable for comment, Diamond did say there were several other features in the planning stages, as well as productions with other anime licensers.
The Death Note feature was a big step for anime production in the states. With licensing fees estimated at thousands of dollars per episode, according to the AnimeNation.net blog titled Ask John, feature anime series are often slow in coming over to the states.
Many fans rely on "fansubs," or fan-subtitled copies circulated for free, to view anime productions. Fansubs have been around for years, and they even maintain an unofficial code that once an anime is licensed in the states, the fansub should stop circulation.
Slow production rates can also be attributed to the low sales figures, according to the Ask John blog. With DVD price tags ranging from $25 for a single disc to $50 and more for a short series, it's no surprise that fans are reluctant to open their wallets. Collector Josephs noticed an increase in cost over her years of DVD buying.
"I've noticed that the prices of the DVDs have gone up," Josephs said. "A 13-episode box set should not cost 50 bucks. So there's a couple of them that are coming out that I won't be getting because of that price."