Based on the popular Manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba, this Netflix Original Film adaptation of Death Note provides a lot of reasons for fans to be disappointed.
Primarily, the writers behind this latest adaptation of the story have used a broad brush when applying their artistic license. Equally many have criticised the film for its casting and westernisation.
Taking the story out of Japan, instead opting for Seattle as a base, a high school student is chosen by a Death God, Ryuk, (voiced by Willem Dafoe) to be the holder of the titular Death Note.
Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is the chosen one – the last name changed from Yagami for this adaptation. Light learns from a long list of rules that if he pictures a person and writes their name into the pages of the Death Note, that person will die in the way he specifies. As the holder of the book, he is also the only one that can see Ryuk.
Light is quick to share his new found power with Mia (Margaret Qualley), his high school sweetheart, together they conspire to rid the world of crime and undesirables. Using the moniker ‘Kira’, the killer soon becomes revered by many. But when a task force is formed – including Light’s own father – to track ‘Kira’ down, their gift for killing is turned against the FBI.
A precocious young investigator with unorthodox methods, known only as ‘L’ (Lakeith Stanfield), leads the hunt for the killer. Meanwhile Mia becomes obsessed with the Death Note and conspires to take control of the book.
Despite accusations of whitewashing lodged against the casting, the westernisation of the subject matter (this isn’t the first westernised adaptation of the story) and vastly different aspects to the plot from the Manga, there are elements that work really well.
Willem Dafoe as the voice of Ryuk is inspired. The actor is a natural for the role. Similarly, Lakeith Stanfield captures the essence of ‘L’, bringing the character’s eccentricities and mannerisms from the page to screen with aplomb. At it’s core, the premise is dark and fascinating with applaudable production values.
Scenes of the choreographed deaths are graphic at times – though not overtly so – and drawing similarities to Final Destination on occasion.
It’s worth recognising that the source material is flawed in many ways and shouldn’t be revered as sacred. It’s a good basic premise that begs expansion and new visions in other medium.
In the Manga Light and L are both portrayed as possessing exceptional intelligence and strategic capabilities that see the pair locked in a stalemate for an extended time throughout the series, Light comes across as smug and his always being one step ahead is tedious at times.
Condensing the story into a one hour, forty film and staying faithful to Tsugumi Ohba’s original telling was always a tall order. Sadly, this adaptation directed by Adam Wingard loses too much of what made the Manga endearing without adding much new to fill the void. Most of the stories charm revolves around Ryuk, his amusement, yet fondness for Light. How the pair interact in the open and Mia’s own death God that is completely missing from this version.
I still have a few volumes of the Death Note manga to read, I don’t feel that I’ve spoiled those by watching this adaptation. Though entertaining, this telling of the story loses a lot of what endears people to the story in the first place.
Death Note is streaming now on Netflix.
Watchable. Lacks the charm of its source material. – 2/5