Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The behind-the-scenes story of the "Death Note" series

In conjunction with the launch of "Death Note Light up the NEW world" in late October 2016, My Navi ran a series on their website where they interviewed NTV producer Sato Takahiro who had been involved in the first two "Death Note" movies 10 years ago, the spin-off movie featuring L in 2008 and the drama series in 2015. As the interview took about 5 hours and was about 40,000 words long, My Navi released it in 20 installments.
I won't be translating word for word but will attempt to reorganise the key topics into point form so that it's easier to read. If you are a fan of "Death Note", be it the original movies in 2006, the current version in 2016 or the drama series, you should definitely check this out!

How NTV got the rights to make the real-life adaptations
- The manga of "DEATH NOTE" began its run in "Shuukan Shounen Jump" in 2003. Right from the start, the production team already took an interest in the story right from the start but waited till the second volume of the manga was released i.e. when L appeared before indicating their interest to the authors and publisher Shueisha.

- The intention from the authors and Shueisha was that they didn't want to make an anime version but was keen to do a real-life adaptation so they wanted to look for a partner which could do both with the real-life adaptation being made first. This coincided with NTV's movie department's plans so negotiations began from there.

- However, what is relatively unknown to the public was that the plan was to do a drama series before a movie and then followed by the anime series. One of the key issues then was how to fit in the entire story in two hours which they felt that was impossible. Another issue at hand was trying to boost the awareness of the story and characters through a drama series so that it could boost the movie's box office takings. At that time, NTV already had experience going down this path of from drama to movie through "Ienakiko" and "Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo".

- The plan did not take off due to the controversial theme of killing people by writing their names in the Death Note which was seen as not suitable to be watched by the general audience of terrestrial TV networks. In fact, among the TV stations which had indicated interest in making the real-life adaptations, NTV was the only one which had the idea of doing a drama along with the movie.

- Despite earning the rights to make the real-life adaptation in 2004, it was unexpected that the opposition to making the drama series came from within the TV station. At that time, the producers admitted that they probably underestimated the environmental factors in their proposal which were not an issue by the time they made the drama in 2015 since there were no complaints received at all from viewers. This difference was attributed to the fact that the movies in 2006 had built up a huge following and awareness so viewers were not as resistant to the theme now.

- Due to this problem, the producers went to Shueisha to explain the situation which was of course not met with a favourable response. As such, they then suggested a two-part movie which would be released consecutively. It was a first then for Japanese movies because sequels were usually decided if the first movie did well but they were taking the risk by promising to do both parts regardless of how well Part 1 performed.

- As the manga was due to be wrapped up in May 2006, Shueisha requested for the first movie to be screened right after that. As such, Part 1 was to be shown in June 2006 while Part 2 was to follow in November the same year. This however meant that they only had one year to produce the movies. At that time, Japanese movies were not doing as well as now so it was difficult to find the screening slots which were usually given to Hollywood movies released by major film companies. It was lucky that they managed to get Warner Brothers to give them the slots and that was only finalised in the autumn of 2005.

The background story behind the lead characters' casting choices
- After the screening slots were confirmed, Fujiwara Tatsuya was the first to be confirmed in the cast. At that time, he was the undisputed choice to play Yagami Light. Although there were other actors who could fit Yagami's image, the production crew felt that only Fujiwara could portray the insanity trait of the character as Light got self-absorbed in his own sense of justice. As such, it was decided at a very early stage that Fujiwara would be picked to participate in the movies.

- Fujiwara was seen as a genius-type actor who didn't look like he was putting in much effort and could literally turn on a switch and be the character effortlessly. In private, he was totally different from his character though. If compared to his co-stars, Matsuyama Kenichi was the type to "live" as his character throughout the whole filming period while Toda Erika was closer to Fujiwara's style.
However, it wasn't true that Fujiwara didn't need to work hard. He was very serious about how to act and thought about many things which would have an impact in how he portrayed his character. In addition, as he had many scenes with the Death God Ryuk who was actually added in later by CG, Fujiwara literally had to act with his imagination and do the same scenes over and over again with surprising precision. This probably had to do with the fact that Fujiwara was an experienced stage actor who could do the same actions repeatedly for each performance.

- Fujiwara was the person who initiated guerilla-style thank-you appearances at Shinjuku Joy Cinema which made it become famous. As at 2006, Shinjuku Joy was one of the bigger cinemas in Tokyo with a capacity of 200 to 300 per hall (it was closed in 2009) while the Shinjuku Picadilly nor TOHO Cinemas Shinjuku were not built yet. On the first day of Part 1's release, Fujiwara and Matsuyama had gone to Cine Chitta in Kawasaki to greet the audience and were supposed to wrap up their day after a live appearance on the NTV programme "Sports Urugurusu". However, Fujiwara suddenly suggested going to another place to meet the audience but Shinjuku Joy was the only cinema which agreed to this request at late notice. In the end, they appeared suddenly at a late-night screening that night which gave the audience a pleasant surprise and did a number of such unannounced appearances there after that which led to the cinema being a hot spot for fans wanting to try their luck to meet the actors.
Usually, during such surprise appearances, the host will tell the audience not to take pictures but Fujiwara would always encourage the fans to take as many photos as they wanted as a form of fan service to them.

- Although Matsuyama Kenichi was one of the actors considered for the role of L, his works up to then such as "Winning Pass" (2004) and "Otokotachi no Yamato" (2005) projected him as a wholesome and goody-two-shoes guy which was far from the image of L. Besides, he was relatively unknown then so he wasn't considered too favourably at first.
However, the production staff were finding difficulties casting an actor for L. Matsuyama was destined to end up with the role after all. Initially, actors with a certain level of awareness to the public were approached for the role but many of them were understandably concerned about having to play such an unique character. In addition, their pre-existing images would stand in the way of the audience's perception of L. It was then decided that getting a fresh face like Matsuyama where the audience would likely not have a preset impression of would be best for L. When they first met Matsuyama for a meeting, they thought that he actually looked quite similar to L because of his pale complexion then, long arms and legs as well as bad posture.

- However, Matsuyama didn't start off the filming smoothly because of scheduling conflicts with Fujiwara who was acting in a stage play then. As such, the filming for Fujiwara was done first sequentially until February 2006 when Matsuyama joined him for the filming of Part 1's climax scene in Kitakyushu. It was rather unfavourable for Matsuyama to act in such a climax scene on his first day of filming but the results turned out to be better than expected. Matsuyama later admitted then he was so overpowered by Fujiwara's performance and vowed to do better in the second movie as L and Light should be on par so as to make the movies more interesting.

- It wasn't that difficult to make Matsuyama look like L since he had a fair complexion in the first place. As for showing L's love for sweet food, the initial plan was to have only sugar cubes and doughnuts in the hotel room where L was staying at. However, Matsuyama suggested that they should include more varieties since Watari was bound to do more than that for L. In the end, Matsuyama was the one who selected the sweet snacks featured in the movie which would fill at least two tables every time and made the entire filming set smell of nice pastries and cakes all day long.

- As for the hyottoko (distorted male mask) which L wore in the movies, that was actually a choice by Matsuyama. The prop designer had suggested a mask with a weird face while the director then wanted a cool-looking mask but in the end, Matsuyama had the last word and insisted on using the hyottoko mask.

The production process of the 2006 movies
- Yotsuba Group, Near and Melo were excluded from the 2006 movies on purpose because the story was designed to focus on Light and L. The production staff apparently got approval to do so from Shueisha and the manga's authors.

- The ending of Part 2 was not decided in advance as the production of the movies was under a very tight schedule but the direction of letting L prevail at the end was sort of agreed on then.

- In the manga, Light was portrayed as a bored genius who happened to get hold of the Death Note but in the short span of 2 hours, the director decided to tweak the setting slightly by showing Light as someone who was very angry over criminals who could not be punished by the law. In this way, this would have helped the audience understand quickly what motivated Light to behave the way he did.

- The scenes involving Raye Penber at the subway were supposed to be on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo as portrayed in the manga but they could not get permission to do so. Instead, they resorted to doing the filming at Fukuoka's subway within a very tight timeframe and budget. The last scene in Part 1 at the art museum was also shot in Fukuoka at the Kitakyushu Art Museum.

- The author of the manga Oba Tsugumi came up with L's real name which didn't appear in the manga.

The Death Gods
- In order to draw a line between the movies and anime series, it was decided from the start that Ryuk's voice actor would not be a professional voice actor but rather than an actor instead. Nakamura Shido was quick to agree to the offer and he did such a good job that he was approached to reprise his role in the anime series.

- As for Rem, many people actually misunderstood that she was male. As such, to project the gender-free image of Rem, Ikehata Shinnosuke was seen as the perfect choice for this character.

- In Part 1, as they were in a hurry to do the filming, there was a 2.5m tall figurine of Ryuk made for the purpose of the CG filming. However, they could not pay that much attention to the facial details due to the tight timeframe and the figurine was simply too heavy and troublesome to move around. By the time they got to Part 2, the staff actually modified Ryuk's figurine to make it easier to move around while Rem's figurine only had the upper body. The figurine turned out to be useful during the promotional run and was even used in the 2015 musical version. Perhaps due to overuse, the figurine is already torn and tattered by now.

How the spin-off movie came about
- Even before Part 1 was shown and Part 2 was filmed, the producer already had plans to create a spin-off movie for L since there were many things about him which were not described in the movies. At that time, they had not sought permission from the authors nor publisher yet.

- During a promotional appearance at Sapporo, Hokkaido where the producer went with Matsuyama and Fujimura Shunji, Fujimura received a more enthusiastic response from the audience as compared to Matsuyama. At that time, the producer reassured Matsuyama that L would definitely be a hit once the movies were released.

- The spin-off movie tried to show a more "human" side of L which was not depicted in the manga such as letting him ride a bicycle that was never featured in the original manga.

The movies' theme songs by Red Hot Chili Peppers
- At that time when the movies were made, most adaptations of JUMP's works were in anime form. Although Death Note was quite well-known among manga fans, there was a need to spread awareness across generations so it was decided to use Western music as the theme song. Warner Music suggested Red Hot Chili Peppers which was quite different with Death Note's image and it was decided that the gap would make the collaboration more interesting and sensational.
However, the staff had to fly to Los Angeles in February 2006 before filming began in Part 1 as the record company did not allow them to hear the song beforehand. It was there where they got to meet the band's members and hear the song "Dani California" for the first time.

- The song "Dani California" was then selected to be the theme song of Part 1 and to be released as a single while Part 2's theme song "Snow" was to be included in Red Hot Chili Peppers album which coincided with the release of Part 2.

- Although the staff were very excited about the tie-up with the band, the actors such as Fujiwara had no idea why it was such a big deal since they did not know about the band. Only Kashii Yui who appeared in Part 1 was very excited about it because she knew about the band.

The movies' becoming box office hits
- Part 1 achieved box office takings of JPY 2.85bn while Part 2 almost doubled it to reach JPY 5.2bn.

- The staff and movie company didn't expect the movies to do so well especially for Part 2 because most sequels were expected to do worse than the first part. As such, in a bid to boost the box office results for Part 2, an unprecedented decision was made to show Part 1 on TV before Part 2 was shown in cinemas. This went against the norm in the industry because there is a window control period for movies to be released on video or DVD at least six months after they were shown in cinemas and shown on TV only one year after the release. At that time, Part 1 was only shown in June and Part 2's release date was in October thus the gap was less than six months.

- Part 1 was shown on 27 October and the staff and cast went to Hong Kong for a promotional campaign on the following day where they were met with such a fervent reception as compared to when they were in Japan. Fujiwara went back to Japan in the morning of 29 October for his stage play while the producer and Matsuyama went back in the afternoon. After they reached Narita and made their way to Shinagawa via the Narita Express and took the Yamanote Line, they were puzzled why so many people came to ask Matsuyama to take photographs with them because the public hardly noticed him in the past. They then realised that this sudden boost in awareness was due to the TV broadcast of Part 1.

- The spin-off movie also achieved box office takings of JPY 3.1bn despite speculation within the film industry that it would not do well. It also made Matsuyama become an idol overnight where he was followed around everywhere he went.

How the 2015 drama and 2016 movie came about
- The idea to do the drama from NTV was to resurrect the failed plan 10 years ago and they wanted to do the story right from the start with a new Light and L. However, the movie's crew wanted to do a story 10 years after the original movies and that they wanted to keep Light and L as Fujiwara and Matsuyama. As such, it was decided that the drama and movie would run parallel to each other instead of being linked. The broadcast of the drama was deliberately brought forward to 2015 which was one year before the release of the movie so that viewers would not be confused by the differing stories.

- The manga's author Oba Tsugumi insisted that Light and L could not be left out in the story so wanted the movie to be about the fight to be their successors instead. The idea to have six notebooks came from volume 13 of the manga and the reason why the notebooks were dropped into the human world was conceived by Oba.

- Tokyo is known as one of the most difficult places to do filming in the world because the police would not give permission easily. As such, to film the massacre scene set in Shibuya, the crew had to go to Kobe instead to shoot the scene which then led to most of the movie being shot around the area. One interesting happening then was when they did the night filming at the traffic junction and there were rumours of people mistaking Higashide Masahiro for Matsuyama and senior high school girls being so excited about seeing Suda Masaki so the news of their filming spread like wildfire on Twitter. As for Ikematsu Sousuke, he was wearing a mask so nobody knew about his identity.

- Higashide was picked as the lead after the director Sato Shinsuke saw his first stage play and made the decision on the spot. It was also coincidental that Sato was the producer of Higashide's debut movie "Kirishima, Bukatsu yamerutte yo".

- As for Ikematsu, he was highly regarded for his performance in stage plays and highly recommended by people such as Hashimoto Ai who worked with him before and claimed that he is such a sexy actor who you can't find elsewhere.

- As for Suda, he was actually very sought-after to the extent that his schedule had been fully booked for two years in advance so they gave up on him at first. However, Suda's agency contacted the producers later for a movie role because something happened so there was an available slot in his schedule.

- Matsuzaka was offered the role of Death God Bepo as he had worked with the director before in movies such as "Toshokan Sensou THE LAST MISSION". It took only 40 minutes for the negotiation before he accepted the offer.

- During a drinking session with Fujiwara somewhere in 2014, he heard about the plan to make the new Death Note movie and indicated that he wanted to act in it. However, the producer reminded him that Light was already dead in the original movies but Fujiwara joked that the director will probably be able to do something about it to get him back into the story.
Despite so, when the offer to appear in the new movie actually came, Fujiwara was worried that he was already 34 and might not fit into the story after a gap of 10 years. He was actually worried for nothing because there was no need to amend his looks in the scenes which he appeared in.

- Matsuyama was approached to appear as L in the movie but expressed concern that he didn't look like L at that time since he had put on a lot of weight for the filming of "Satoshi no Seishun". As such, it was decided that he would not appear visually but the old image of L would be used instead. Matsuyama said that he could manage being L in terms of speech although he couldn't replicate the latter's appearance.

Sources: My Navi News 1 / My Navi News 2 / My Navi News 3 / My Navi News 4 / My Navi News 5 / My Navi News 6 / My Navi News 7 / My Navi News 8 / My Navi News 9 / My Navi News 10 / My Navi News 11 / My Navi News 12 / My Navi News 13 / My Navi News 14 / My Navi News 15 / My Navi News 16 / My Navi News 17 / My Navi News 18 / My Navi News 19 / My Navi News 20


Seeing in My Side said...

Thank you sooo much! I'm a big fan of Death Note. Well i haven't watched the latest movie anyway.
I'm quite curious a story behind Erika Toda. Eventhough she's appears in both version they didn't mention it there.

junny said...

Thank you so much for translating! I liked the first two Death Note films and thought Fujiwara and Matsuyama did well. I didn't know Fujiwara has stage experience, kudos to him! Didn't really like the spin-off film and didn't bother with the 2015 drama, but may watch the 2016 film.

Chiaki said...

Hi Seeing in My Side, they did mention a little bit about Toda Erika but this post was getting really long so I had to cut it out.

Basically, the producer said that they were impressed with Toda after seeing her in the drama "Nobuta wo Produce" and decided to give her the role after meeting her during an audition. As for her appearance in the 2016 movie, they deemed that it was necessary since she was one of the survivors during the 2006 movies.

Hi junny, Fujiwara has a lot of stage experience so the producer was praising him for being so good at acting and never having to bring his script to the filming set as he seemed so well-prepared all the time.

I watched the spin-off movie then for the sake of Matsuyama Kenichi even though the story was far from desirable. As for the 2015 drama, although I hated seeing Yamazaki Kento as L, Kubota Masataka's performance will make the time spent on watching it worthwhile. As for the 2016 film, if you are prepared to ignore the loopholes in the story, it's still watchable.

TrunthSpeaker said...

It was wonderful to know behind the scene dynamics for Death Note. Most of the time this information is hardly shared especially in J-Ent.

I had posted a comment yesterday. Dont know why I am not able to see it now.

Chiaki said...

Hi TruthSpeaker, you posted the same comment to another post earlier so that's why it is not showing up here. ^__^

TruthSpeaker said...

Maybe I mistakenly posted there. I was supposed to post here. Thanks for checking.

londonshowers said...

thanks for this, very informative.

I recently just finished watching the 2015 series and it was pretty good.