Allow me to begin by saying that I am an enormous fan of the original 2006 anime Death Note that was adapted from the 2003 manga by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. The series starred a main character named Light Yagami, a straight-A student who comes across the Death Note: a notebook that grants the holder the ability to kill someone by writing their name on the inside. What followed was a series of high-paced events that kept us fans entertained and begged the extremely debatable question, What would I do with a Death Note?
So, when a big-time film and television producer like Netflix revealed that they would be creating a live-action remake of the story, it was an exciting time… until the trailer released. Right when it did, the hype went way down as the remake fell victim to an illness that seemingly plagues many anime-to-live-action remakes: whitewashing. The issue with such a practice is obvious, especially when dealing with anime, but I held out hope. Was this adaptation so good that we could see past the whitewashing?
I’ll save you the suspense: No, no it certainly wasn’t.
I’m sorry, but I simply cannot see why this film needed to be set in America with predominantly white actors. Under other circumstances I might be more considerate, like if the acting was actually good and there was a good reason for the setting change. But no, instead we’re left with a heaping pile of garbage. I feel like a bunch of producers sat in a room and wondered how many clichés and stereotypes they could fit into one film.
First off, I need to talk about the painfully clear marketing strategy going on in this movie. With the unnecessary excess of blood, gore, action, chase scenes, use of curse words, and the sexualization of teenagers, I’d say this movie was attempting to attract an extremely general American audience. I don’t mean to target Americans, I just mean to say that the Death Note anime was a complicated battle of wits that brought to light the dangers of ego. Compared to this movie, it’s the far superior. The movie feels dumbed down and the important themes aren’t even there.
The characters featured in the movie are not at all like that of the anime, except maybe “L.” I think one would notice right off the bat that there’s a problem when you’re renaming main characters just to sound more American (i.e. Light Turner, Mia). Light, who is supposed to be our quick-thinking, extremely intelligent, and manipulative main character is just a foolish idiot here. Seriously, I can’t even phrase it any better. He hardly does anything to hide his identity or cover his tracks, and he literally shares the Death Note with Mia the first twenty minutes of the film! I feel like that basically sums up the idiocy of his character in this adaptation, so moving on, Misa (or should I say Mia) is surprisingly like Light from the anime. In the anime, Light manipulates Misa into doing his bidding for him since she is so hopelessly in love with him. In the movie, that dynamic is flipped, and I can’t say why they did that. It didn’t add anything to the story or the half-baked arcs of the characters, so why bother?
Keith Stanfield, who played “L” in the live-action, actually did a decent job at getting down “L’s” mannerisms and speech pattern. I was thoroughly impressed until about halfway through the movie when he starts to lose it. The reason is not for Stanfield’s acting, but rather the writing of his character. That kind of severe reaction simply doesn’t seem like something the original “L” would do, but then again, these characters are essentially their own at this point.
The plot is extremely and overly complicated, and not in the way that the anime was. In the anime, the viewer sees the reason for every decision being made, whereas in the movie, nothing is clear and the characters’ motives, especially Ryuk’s, were blurred. Willem Defoe as Ryuk was impressive on his own, but the story he’s given is not at all using the character to its advantage. Instead of the intimidating and observant death god, we’re left with a sneaky one that probably doesn’t even understand why he’s doing the things he’s doing himself. Overall, he just doesn’t help to tell the story being told like he does in the anime.
The only thing this movie has going for it is its set-designs and bright visuals. They’re very pleasing to the eye, but mixed with the try-hard soundtrack and boring story being told, it can’t save this film. The only reason I can suggest watching this movie is if you want a good laugh, because it certainly delivers on that part.