STEVE INSKEEP, host:
When it comes to selling a movie, you could say that something like the new Indiana Jones film almost sells itself. You've got Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Who even needs advertising money for something like that? But if you're backing a Japanese film that is adapted from a comic book, or manga, you have to be a little bit more creative to get people to the cinema. Which is why a new film called "Death Note" is opening in 300 multiplexes across the country, but only for two days.
Beth Accomando of member station KPBS reviews the film and the unusual distribution deal.
BETH ACCOMANDO: "Death Note" knows how to hook an audience. The manga, the film, and the anime TV series all work off the same simple but intriguing premise. What if you found a notebook belonging to a god of death?
(Soundbite of movie, "Death Note")
Unidentified Man (Actor): (as Light Yagami): A human whose name is written in this notebook shall die. Come on.
(Soundbite of train horn)
ACCOMANDO: The teenaged Light Yagami can't resist the temptation of writing names in the notebook himself. He's convinced he can use it to rid the world of criminals, but then Yagami starts to use the notebook to kill the people chasing him. That's when the notebook's original owner - a spiky-haired, punky demon known as a Shinigami or death god - pays him a visit.
(Soundbite of movie, "Death Note")
(Soundbite of laughter)
ACCOMANDO: The death god taunts Yagami, but also ends up teaching him more about the death notebook. As Yagami grows drunk on power, a mysterious detective known only as L takes on the case.
The two young men engage in a battle of wits, with each insisting he's the only one fighting for justice.
Grady Hendrix programmed "Death Note" at last summer's New York Asian Film Festival. He says it's great to see kids with a hunger for movies they can't figure out in the first five minutes.
Mr. GRADY HENDRIX ("Death Note"): It's got a very pop sensibility, and at the same time it's doing the exact same thing that Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie were doing decades ago.
ACCOMANDO: Seiji Horibuchi is betting that "Death Note" will appeal to young American audiences. He founded Viz Pictures specifically to bring Japanese live-action films to U.S. theaters.
Mr. SEIJI HORIBUCHI (Viz Pictures): You know, we are being with niche film. And this is - even though this is a huge, huge success in Japan, but you know, most of the Japanese live-action contemporary films are not really available in this country. So this is unusual kind of way to promote films, I believe.
ACCOMANDO: Unusual because it's a foreign film opening in multiplexes and mall theaters and targeting a young mainstream crowd. Viz has been using its multiple Web sites and e-mail blasts to tap into that demographic.
Last summer, the New York Asian Film Festival had no trouble finding young crowds for its sold-out screenings of "Death Note." Programmer Grady Hendrix says that's proof of how pop culture today is getting to be the same everywhere.
Mr. HENDRIX: I have a very hard time figuring out what exactly is American and what exactly is Japanese anymore, because quite honestly I think a 13-year-old living in Manhattan and a 13-year-old living in Tokyo have a lot more in common than a 13-year-old in Manhattan and a 34-year-old in Manhattan. Manga's popular. Anime's popular. And you know, and now "Death Note" apparently.
ACCOMANDO: If "Death Note"'s a success, be ready for Viz Pictures to quickly release the sequel "Death Note 2" and the spinoff "L: Change the World."
For NPR News, I'm Beth Accomando.
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