Dir: Hideo Nakata. Japan . 2008. 130 mins.

A strong whiff of the well-milked cash cow hangs around this pedestrian follow-up to the hugely popular Death Note films - live-action versions of Takeshi Obata's bestselling manga. Though Goths the world over will rejoice at the top billing given here to cool, stooped, sweet-guzzling, kohl-rimmed detective L, played by teen idol Mayuko Fukuda - who was the highlight of Death Note and its sequel Death Note: The Last Word - the belated third film has little of the quirkily apocalyptic post-punk atmosphere that made its 2006 predecessors so darkly intriguing.

That hasn't stopped the film from being a solid success on home turf, where it took $29 million following its early February release - slightly more than the original Death Note but less than Death Note: The Last Word, which reaped over $41 million. In the rest of Asia, however, it has so far underperformed compared to its predecessors. Both of the 2006 Death Note movies have long been available on import DVD, and collect-the-set Asian movie fans will no doubt consume L: Change the World in the same format. And with the first two films finally getting a limited theatrical release in the US and the UK, a small-scale cinema run for the inferior L is not entirely out of the question.

Films one and two stuck fairly closely to Obata's manga, and derived much of their kooky charm from the cheek-to-cheek relationship. They found perfect casting matches for androgynous killer Light Yagami - aka Kira - who deals out vigilante justice by inscribing the names of wrongdoers in a 'Death Note' book that has the power to kill - and for his nemesis, unlikely teen detective L. But with Light/Kira killed off at the end of Death Note: The Last Word, scripter Hirotoshi Kobayashi has been forced to invent an original story for the threequel.

'Original', though, is not really the right word. The story revolves around a group of crazed bacteriological terrorists (there's even a Sarin-like scare in a tube station) who want to trim a few excess zeros off global population figures, and L's attempt to foil them before his time is up - because, compelled by some obscure logic that probably merits a second viewing, he has inscribed his own name in the Death Note book.

Taking over from director Shusuke Kaneko, Ringu frontman Nakata here seems little more than a gun for hire, and the baddies are the sort of cliches even a wilderness-years Bond scriptwriter would have bridled at.

Still, as a time-lock, save-the-world drama L: Change the World is reasonably effective, although giving the hugely popular L character a couple of vulnerable kids to look after reduces his impact, turning an edgy hipster into a cuddly mascot. Mayuko Fukuda is still good in the role, but it's obvious now that his stooped walk, his weird one-finger typing style and his drawling talk are playing to the teen gallery. Much of the edgy grip of the first two films (the superior Death Note in particular) came from the sense that teen rebels Light and L were two sides of the same coin, but here, for all his tics, L is boringly and unambiguously on the side of law and order.

Production companies

L Film Partners

Nippon Television Network Corporation

International sales

Nippon Television Network Corporation

+ 81 3 6215 2974


Masa Tanaka

Iijika Nobuhiro

Takahiro Kobayashi


Hirotoshi Kobayashi


Tokusho Kikumura

Production design

Kyoko Yauchi


Nobuyuki Takahashi


Kenji Kawai

Main cast

Mayuko Fukuda

Kenichi Matsuyama

Shunji Fujimura

Sei Hiraizumi

Yuta Kanai

Bokuzo Masana