While manga have been known to spawn anime, novels, live-action movies, videogames and ****, Death Note has taken knockoffs to a whole new level by triggering international crimes and controversy.
Death Note is a live-action sci-fi movie about a notebook that kills anyone whose name is written inside it. In the past year, the original manga upon which the movie is based -- which was previously adapted as an anime, a novel and a two-part TV series -- has been linked to bullying cases in China and Virginia, and an unsolved murder in Belgium in which the killer claimed to be a character from the franchise.
"It's not the kind of movie that parents would encourage their kids to watch," says Shusuke Kaneko, Death Note's director.
In addition to providing kids with endless entertainment, manga are often used in Japan as a light-hearted way to introduce serious topics like medical conditions, physics, sex education and civil law. But Death Note has turned Japan's most-popular print medium into an internationally controversial topic that has parents wondering whether they should prohibit their kids from reading manga entirely.
Death Note tells the story of Light Yagami, a 17-year-old son of a cop who gets good grades and comes from a well-respected family. Everything is fine until Light stumbles upon a notebook that belongs to a death god, and decides to use it to rid the world of evil by writing down the names of all suspected criminals. Light's stunning wit and twisted goodwill soon get out of hand, and he quickly transforms from unsung hero to untraceable villain.
The original manga was created in 2003 and adapted into a 37-episode anime that first aired in 2006. Kaneko directed the live-action adaptation, which hits select U.S. theaters Tuesday. It's a delightfully suspenseful 126 minutes for anyone who likes suspense, pretty Japanese boys or bad-ass female detectives. It's been nearly two years since the movie debuted in Japan, but this is the first time it's being shown in the United States outside the film festival circuit.
"The idea of spirits living in words is an ancient Japanese concept," says Kaneko, who was previously best known for directing the Gamera live-action movies. "In a way, it's a very Japanese story."
It wasn't until the anime was distributed outside Japan that the copycat crimes began. The first Death Note-related controversy took place in China in 2007: Students took death notes to school, prompting the government to ban products and conversations related to "scary magazines based on popular Japanese stories
A few months later, in a case that local police like to call "the manga murder," two human thighs and a matching torso were found on a Belgian hiking trail next to a handwritten note that read, "I am Kira" -- a phrase used in the original manga. Some suspect a serial killer was involved; others call the incident a grisly prank played by med students with access to spare body parts.
Then, students in South Carolina, Virginia and Alabama were suspended for carrying around death note replicas that listed their enemies.
Some parents and teachers are furious that such a morbid idea is being marketed to children, and some have called for Death Note, in its various incarnations, to be banned in the United States.
Kaneko, the movie's director, says he thinks it's ridiculous that there's a controversy about the franchise.
"If preventing them from seeing this movie is going to make kids better, then why not prevent them from watching all bad news?" says Kaneko.
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Death Note shows at