Part 1 of my Death Note (2015) analysis and review may be found over here. Now here's more about split personalities in the show, before I SERIOUSLY go off on one about torture.
Death Note (2015): Personality Shifts and Kira
Episode 6 in the Death Note television drama bore witness to both Kiras (Light and Misa) losing their memories concerning their murderous notebook usage. Less a split personality than a shifting of their own.
This deliberate amnesia wiped away all considerations of guilt and presumably layers of other emotion too. The TV adaptation of Death Note has flirted with a Tolkeinesque element of dread upon their artefact. Like wearing Bilbo's ring, writing in a shinigami's Death Note induces feelings of angst, pain and paranoia.
The accumulated effect of which must weigh heavily upon a psyche. Serial users experience the anguish verily ladled upon their minds and emotions, twisting their personalities beneath it as a coping mechanism.
Add too the stressful reality in which both have been living - Death Notes aside - with Misa's parental past rearing its ugly head, and L pursuing Light with a doggedness skittering into criminal obsession.
All this is what gets lifted from them, along with their memories, shinigami eyes and ability to see Death Gods loitering in their cells. Though they do then have to contend with being incarcerated and tortured without any context to explain their victimization.
Misa-Misa and the Light Lost to Kira
For Light, the change in personality is much more dramatic.
It's testimony to the talent of actor Masataka Kubota that we can view, as a physical shifting, the stripping of Kira from Light. More impressive still, when you realise that most of it occurred with the camera in extreme close up, showing just his facial expressions and drooping/lifting head.
Then again, dehumanizing or treating the killer within as a separate entity is what allows terrible things to be enacted upon a person without much protest from onlookers.
A much more subtle series of split personalities were on show in TV live-action Death Note episode 6 - the horrifically realistic vision of ordinarily upstanding people turning a blind eye to torture.
Fear, peer pressure, anxiety about appearing stupid or an unwillingness to stick one's head over the parapet regularly combine to create a kind of mass personality splintering. Individuals, communities or whole populations can be persuaded to set aside otherwise extant morality and common sense, as long as the victim and/or their circumstances can be presented as an exception to the norm.
Hence Holocausts occur; or other genocides, wars, lynching, the vilification of individuals and groups, and any other occasion when the loudest voice is saying words like 'subhuman' and suggesting a relaxing of rights, laws and rules as the only way forward.
In the torturing of Misa and Light, Death Note describes this phenomenon with aplomb. It's one of the aspects which first drew me to the story.
Did Somebody Call Amnesty International?
Fair warning: I'm an Amnesty International Urgent Cases activist (hence the Amnesty banner on my Death Note fan-fiction website). I was also an organizer for Holocaust Memorial Day events for years, after gaining my Honours Degree as a Historian specializing in the Porajmos.
Let's just say that I know a thing or two about how human rights and torture work in real situations. It colours somewhat my perception of these scenes in Death Note.
Realism in Death Note's Torture Scenes
Nor did it seem particularly gratuitous to me. Though I did note that it was only the female Kira (Misa) who ended up scantily clad and arrayed in tight bodily restraints. Male Kira Light Yagami was allowed to keep most of his clothes on, while held in 'only' handcuffs.
Not that such physical restrictions, worn day in day out for over two weeks, would be particularly pleasant to endure.
The prolonged use of restraints causes extreme discomfort, pain, and in some cases lasting damage... Furthermore, because prisoners in Japan are kept in restraints for prolonged periods of time, they are forced to eat and use the toilet while restrained. These functions cannot be done in a dignified fashion in the restraints. This amounts to degrading treatment, also prohibited under Article 7 of the ICCPR.
... his hands were bound with leather handcuffs... He sat all day long in the cross-legged position. The "protection cell" had no windows, and it had fluorescent lights... He ate his food in what he described as "dog" fashion, lying on the floor and picking it up off the plate with his mouth... The former prisoner reported that he suffers from back pain to this day, the fact he attributes to the month spent in restraints.
The quotations above described real life complaints from prisoners tortured in Japanese detention facilities. Yet they could equally have pertained to scenes in episode six of Death Note's television adaptation.
Nor were these the only bits which echoed the true life experiences of Japan's tortured detainees.
... prison officials have been known to use physical and psychological intimidation to enforce discipline or elicit confessions. The government sometimes restricts human rights groups’ access to prisons...
The National Police Agency is under civilian control and is highly disciplined, though reports of human rights abuses committed by police persist. While arbitrary arrest and imprisonment are not practiced, there is potential for abuse due to a law that allows the police to detain suspects for up to 23 days without charge in order to extract confessions.
- Japan - Freedom in the World, Freedom House Report 2009
Daiyo Kangoku in Death Note: Japanese Police Extracting Confessions by Torture
But we have to wonder to what extent Ohba and/or Obata were making a point in the way that their story aped the truth of what is permissible for Japan's police-force. After all, the television version of Death Note merely followed the canon telling of torture by Japanese law enforcement officers.
And that canon story - or something similar - could be occurring in a Japanese interrogation cell right now.
The daiyo kangoku system, which allows police to detain suspects for up to 23 days prior to charge, continued to facilitate torture and other ill-treatment to extract confessions during interrogation. Despite recommendations from international bodies, no steps were taken to abolish or reform the system in line with international standards.
- Amnesty International Annual Report 2014/15 - Japan
- in solitary confinement;
- handcuffed or subjected to other body restraints;
- without access to legal counsel (attorney/lawyer);
- without access to family, friends, witnesses etc;
- ignorant of information/evidence/developments regarding their case;
- under constant surveillance;
- forced to go to the toilet restrained, watched and unable to wipe/clean themselves;
- eating their meals from bowls on the floor;
- deprived of sleep;
- verbally and physically intimidated;
- in receipt of death threats;
- told constantly to confess;
- for days/weeks on end;
If the presence of a defense counsel were to be required for an interrogation, it would be difficult to perform the interrogation promptly and sufficiently within the limit ed period of custody.
- Government of Japan, official response to issues raised by the UN Committee Against Torture p9, July 2011
Like why police officers are pressured to gain a signature upon a prisoner's statement, even if the result is forced confessions - fabricated or otherwise - signed simply to make the torturous interrogation stop.
The Importance of Confession in Japan
When arrested, aged just 20, (Sakurai) was treated like a guilty criminal, he says. "They interrogated me day and night, telling me to confess. After five days, I had no mental strength left so I gave up and confessed."
"It may be difficult for people to understand, but being denounced repeatedly - it is harder than you think."
- Shoji Sakurai, acquitted after serving 29 years in prison for a murder to which he confessed but didn't commit
That historical abuse of police power in wartime saw the agency stripped of the right to legally investigate or interrogate, using methods taken for granted globally by other police forces. For a start, Japanese officers may not listen in on private 'phone calls or stake out properties undercover.
(This may be why it's American FBI agents who L drafted in to follow Light and other Kira suspects. Soichiro and his squad aren't permitted to do the same.)
By limiting police intrusiveness, even in the pursuit of evidence, Japan's post-war civilian population unwittingly paved the way for an undue emphasis placed upon confessions. A statement of guilt is often all that investigators may legally present to a judge.
The importance of confession being that the vast majority of Japanese convictions rests upon one.
In fact, for the two and a half centuries of Japan's Tokugawa era (1600-1868), a confession had to be extracted before any alleged criminal could be found guilty. It was seen as the most reliable evidence around, a notion still firmly imprinted upon the general Japanese mindset.
Practically enshrined in the national psyche is the vilification of personal shame above all else; whilst truth, respect for authority figures and diffidence to one's family - particularly parents and other elders - are elevated as fundamental to the Japanese character.
Confessing to crimes avoids the shame inherent of denying them, only to be found out later. Historically, people really did spill their every misdemeanour for the asking, though we only have the testimony of those doing the asking - and punishing - here.
Which is why Death Note sees L, in constant repetition, challenging Light to confess that he is Kira.
Truth will out and, if not, then its not just the individual shamed. Everyone will be blaming the parents, who couldn't possibly have raised their child with correct and proper values.
A facet which has been blamed for the phenomenon of false confessions willingly produced by those unable to prove their innocence.
Parental Shame and Japan's Judicial Torture
Human rights campaigners have pointed to consideration of parents as a key component in the extraction of false confessions.
It's something which police interrogators can use against those being reticent in signing a document bound to be central in their own conviction.
Individuals are prompted to think about their families, and the deep shame felt by Mum and Dad, as their off-spring repeatedly denies culpability in criminal behaviour. How the family name is being brought further into disrepute the longer this drags on.
It is too much to bear when I think about what went through his mind [when he confessed] - how he was longing for evidence of his innocence but he had to give up.
The prevailing ethos is that its better to tell prisoners nothing, lest the 'lesser' proof of innocence be superseded by better evidence. Like a confession.
We see this too in episode six of Death Note's TV drama. Wherein Light crawls on his cell floor begging to know if Kira has killed again during his own incarceration. L's intractability in refusing to impart such knowledge moves Aizawa to compassion.
The police officer's whisper that 'it's alright' is instantly deemed detrimental to L's tactics. The overt torture of Light - isolated; bound; scrutinized 24/7; his sense of time forcibly confused; kept ignorant of news in his case, and without counsel but for that telling him that he's guilty, confess and be done - was over at that moment.
It's no accident that what followed involved Light's father and the belief that he would confess to Soichiro alone, if imminent death - murder to assuage parental shame - threatened that truth would be taken to the grave.
Indeed, how the rest of his team could continue to comply with L's edicts.
Complicity in the Torture of Death Note's Kira
The entire squad conveying tacit approval, even when the majority couldn't watch the torture in action. All but Aizawa left Light alone with L, no longer witnesses to his plight.
That's how most remain complicit in on-going human rights abuses in reality around the world - by their silence, looking the other way, keeping themselves ignorant and generally acting in denial of their own ability to intervene. Aped powerlessness and not getting involved are the most subtle forms of approval.
Also the most prevalent way in which people demonstrate complicity in torture.
After all, you know that torture exists in the world. What have you done about it? Today? Yesterday? At any time in your life? If something, then thank you so much. If nothing, then what excuses do you give yourself?
Those are likely to be akin to the kind of excuses within the minds of the Japanese police officers watching Misa, then Light, tortured in Death Note. Though they scream, shout, stamp around and shake their heads going, 'No, this is wrong' (then finally half of them walk out), they don't actually DO anything about it.
Any one of those present could have physically over-powered L. Instead they attempted to reason with him, then backed down at the first counterpoint raised by the Wammy detective. Like he had the right to do what he did, even as a foreigner torturing Japanese citizens upon Japanese ground.
But people can be talked into complying with anything, if no-one else joins in the stand, and a clever speaker reassures them that everything is alright.
Terry Pratchett observed, in one of his DiscWorld books, that the fundamental question plaguing humanity most of the time is, 'Am I going to get in trouble for this?'
Rather tongue in cheek, but it lies at the heart of why so many - knowing torture to be wrong - fail to act when faced with even the threat of danger to their own self. Or the notion that someone somewhere will tell them off for acting rationally and morally.
Mogi demands L stop torturing Misa. L responds, "Would you prefer to conduct the interrogation yourself, in the same room?" And Mogi's reservations are instantly silenced.
L's threat doesn't even make sense. Why should him desisting his torture equate a police officer thrown alone into a room with the scary Kira suspect?
But it sounded like danger, delivered in a reasonable tone which implied that was the only way it could be. Thus fear did the rest.
Did L Have the Right to Torture Light and Misa?
Not under international law - Light and Misa were born with certain rights, immutable and without exception. That includes the right not to be tortured.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 5:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Why Can't Death Note Kira Suspects Be Judged Under the Law?
He disdains all suggestion that Misa is bereft of her human rights, seeming almost bored as he irritably explains the situation to those witnessing it.
Do you agree with his standpoint? Actually it doesn't matter whether you do or don't, nor if the the Kira Countermeasures squad are persuaded to this point of view as they seem.
(Though they, at least, were in an immediate position to assess the situation and intervene. You'd have to discover it was a thing, then start bombarding influential people with letters, including Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, Minister for Justice Yoko Kamikawa, National Police Agency Commissioner-General Tsuyoshi Yoneda and - fictional - Chief Superintendent Goda, plus your ambassador to Japan and the Japanese ambassador to your country. Those are the ones with the clout to save Misa, and the regard for public and/or international opinion, which means they can be pressured into doing so.)
Regardless of L's persuasive qualities, your opinion, the Kira team's cowardice or the (usually secret) commands coming down the hierarchy from the highest levels, a fundamental fact remains the same:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Unfortunately, there were no police officers around courageous enough to enforce it. A state which undoubtedly has its echoes in real life Japanese interrogation cells.
I hope it was informative, and/or entertaining, at least.