Death Note -- Interview with Shusuke Kaneko



The lights dim and the end credits role for Death Note (Desu nôto). You begin to exit the theatre. Suddenly as you leave the audience breaks out into a giant unified line dance while singing, “What a feeling, bein’s believin’, I can’t have it all, now I’m dancin’ for my lifeeeee!”

Such a scenario as the above isn’t entire implausible with the first Death Note film. It packs such a cinematic rush that it wouldn’t be highly unlikely to see audiences leaving screenings that are: breaking out into dances, triple flips, dancing like Jimmy from Disco Dancer, giving each other a high five and looking like they have all just downed 800 cans of Red Bull with bouncing off the walls energy they exude.

As far as excellent cat and mouse thrillers go, Death Note rates up there with the best I’ve seen in recent memory (alongside Infernal Affairs II). What a rush! Director Shusuke Kaneko turns in not only a broadly appealing mainstream sure fire hit, but also a film that both manga and non-manga fans can equally enjoy. It’s easy to see how both films were huge box office hits in Japan and have been huge hits at recent film festivals (judging from the thunderous applause they got at the recent BIFFF and Udine 9).

At the recent 25th Brussels International Film Festival I had the chance to sit down and talk with director Shusuke Kaneko about both Death Note films.


If a death note were written for Godzilla what would happen?

Shusuke Kaneko: Godzilla would die of a heart attack! (laughs) Godzilla doesn’t really have a name so maybe it won’t work.

In Japan we believe that words carry a soul. So if you write down the words, the soul is connected to those words.

Can you talk about the casting of the film. It’s like an all star cast. Of note to me is Yu Kashii as Shiori Kashino who I thought was great in Linda Linda Linda and as the lead you have Tatsuya Fujiwara from Battle Royale.

Shusuke Kaneko: You’ve seen Linda Linda Linda?

Definitely! I just saw it in Dallas, Texas courtesy of AFI Dallas and The Asian Film Festival of Dallas.

Shusuke Kaneko: Fujiwara was actually suggested to me by the producer. But for Matsuyama who plays L we did audtions. So I first met him before deciding to cast him. Kashii was also suggested by a producer.


Did you know you would be making both films initially?

Shusuke Kaneko: We knew from the start because the original story in the manga was so long and complex, that it would be impossible to fit it all into just one film. We decided from the start that there had to be two films but this is of course very risky because if the first film isn’t a hit, then there isn’t much point in releasing the second one.

So you shot the films back to back?

Shusuke Kaneko: There were two months in between. So we spent two months shooting the first part, then waited for two months and then spent another two months making the second part.

With this ambitious of a project I can definitely assume the two months in between weren’t spent resting!

Shusuke Kaneko: We worked for the script mostly in those two months in-between.

In many ways you have your hands tied because you can’t deviate from the rules set by the manga writer. He didn’t allow you to change any of the Death Note rules. At the same time you have very much a cat and mouse film where you have to keep the stakes and tension high to keep the audiences on their toes to the end, which must have been a real challenge to do.

Shusuke Kaneko: Yeah, that was definitely a big challenge and a difficult part in keeping the tension really high throughout the two films. Especially like you already mentioned, we couldn’t change to rules in the original manga story. The manga artists were very specific we could not change the rules.


Talk about the moral themes that run through the films.

Shusuke Kaneko: I think a big reference for me in making the Death Note films, was Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” I think that theme of judging over other people and being judged. I wanted to use that as a theme.

That was a brief cameo by you in the first film?

Shusuke Kaneko: The cameo couldn’t be helped (laughs).

In terms of extras, what can we expect for the DVD releases?

Shusuke Kaneko: There are not too many deleted scenes but the making of is already on sale in Japan. I haven’t seen all of it but apparently what they did is make it very difficult to see the DVD. They have some secret code you have to crack before you can see it. I myself had to find someone who could explain to me how to watch it (laughs).


Now that Warner Bros. has picked it up do you know when they plan to release it in the US?

Shusuke Kaneko: The release in the US hasn’t been decided yet. They are still doubting whether it would work having a subtitled film released and would it be better to just remake both entire films.

Oh no! Well hopefully that doesn’t happen! Will the success of both films in Japan now help you to pursue any dream projects?

Shusuke Kaneko: Well not really unfortunately. On the contrary, maybe it’s become more difficult because now I’m getting so many offers for other projects. It’s really hard to figure out which one I’d like to do. The success of the Death Note films hasn’t made it any easier.

Last question, what are your thoughts on the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film?

Shusuke Kaneko: There are so many of my own films that I would love for another audience outside of Japan to see. Opportunities like this to bring films to film festivals in Europe. I think there should be much more opportunities like this (BIFFF), so that films can get a much wider audience outside of Japan.

It really was a treat getting to interview Shusuke Kaneko. He is one class act and one of the biggest fans of Kaiju and sci-fi films that I've ever met. Upcoming he is returning to TV work before making a live action samurai film this summer. In-between all of that he will be making appearances at both NYAFF and Fantasia in July for both Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name.


* Shusuke Kaneko will attend all screenings.

Death Note

Friday, July 6th @ Japan Society
8:30 pm

Sunday, July 8th @ Japan Society
3:30 pm

Death Note: The Last Name

Saturday, July 7th @ Japan Society
5:45 pm

Sunday, July 8th @ Japan Society
6:00 pm

* Shusuke Kaneko will attend all screenings.

Death Note

Saturday, July 14th @ Hall Theatre
1:00 pm

Sunday, July 15th @ Hall Theatre
1:50 pm

Death Note: The Last Name

Saturday, July 14th @ Hall Theatre
3:35 pm

Sunday, July 15th @ Hall Theatre
4:20 pm


'Death Note : The Last Name' English Subtitled HK DVD Released March 13th 2007.
Death Note: The Last Name Trailer
Death Note: The Last Name Teaser

Death Note Review
English-subtitled trailer for Shûsuke Kaneko's DEATH NOTE (DESU NÔTO)
ED trailer for Shûsuke Kaneko's DEATH NOTE (DESU NÔTO)
Death Note Trailer
A New Teaser For Shûsuke Kaneko's DEATH NOTE (DESU NÔTO)!
Shûsuke Kaneko's DEATH NOTE (DESU NÔTO)
Death Note Teaser Online
First Images From Death Note
Death Note Movie Site Online

Gamera Director Shusuke Kaneko Making Live Action Manga Adaptation "Death Note" With Battle Royale's Tatsuya Fujiwara

ps -- So which character do you plan on being for Halloween this year? Light or L?

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