I’m three years too late? Don’t care – I’m doing this anyway! I’ve been on a Death Note kick lately, so might as well cover this.
So, I just finished watching Netflix’s Death Note for the second time. Now that I have my notes in order, I can at least attempt to talk about this movie, hopefully with as little rage as possible.
Long story short, this film infuriated me. I’ll get to exactly why in a second.
It’s not just that this film has to whitewash the entire cast.
It’s not just that Light’s the outcast bullied kid with no friends.
No, no. It’s way more than that. This film basically takes the core concept of Death Note and spits all over it.
Before I get too caught up in my anger, let’s give a summary.
The film opens with Light Turner finding the Death Note during a rainstorm and meeting a girl named Mia Sutton, who convinces him to use the Note to purge the world of criminals and bad guys. This catches the attention of the enigmatic detective L., who swears to catch Light in the act. Can Light outsmart L. before it’s too late?
I basically just gave you the concept the film tries to present, but honestly, it’s more accurate to the manga.
Anyway, in this film, the Light versus L. arc feels like an afterthought because the film is more concerned with the Light and Mia relationship rather than the cat-and-mouse game between Light and L.
It starts out somewhat okay, but things really take a turn for the worse in the second half of the film because we lose any coherent structure that had been set up, leaving the film to fall flat on its face.
Light Turner (played by Nat Wolff)
God, I hate Light’s last name in this movie. I keep wondering if he has a long-lost brother named Timmy.
Anyway, Light’s character leaves a lot to be desired. I really don’t like that he’s nowhere near as smart as he was in the original source material. He makes constant mistakes when using the Death Note that just land him in more trouble.
He lacks the capacity to come up with the genius plans his manga counterpart can think of and it’s obvious he doesn’t have the wherewithal to possess the Death Note. I’ll get more into that when I discuss his girlfriend.
Besides that, I hate the way Nat Wolff decided to play Light. He’s not the cold, cunning genius he was in the manga, he’s a horny teenager trying to impress a girl.
It really infuriates me that the writers bent over backwards to make Light sympathetic when the entire point of his character in the original manga is that he’s not sympathetic – he’s an evil sociopath with a god complex, and they just gave that personality to the wrong person.
Mia Sutton (played by Margaret Qualley)
Misa Amane (Mia’s manga counterpart) deserved better! Way better!
I hinted this, but Mia basically gets Light’s character development. She’s an evil, edgy murderer. Even with that, though, they execute it wrong. There’s no rhyme or reason for her to be evil, she just is.
But why exactly? We’re never told of anything significant that made her the way she is. Light has more of a motivation for purging the world of evil than she does, but we’re supposed to just go along with the fact that she’s a psychopath without any buildup or reason.
There’s also no time to get to know her, so finding out her motivations for this is virtually impossible.
Besides that, she’s the one driving the plot with the Death Note, not Light. She’s the one so concerned with changing the world, but we don’t even see her talk about it all that much. She’s obsessed with the idea of being the permanent owner of the book and that’s about it.
Ryuk (voiced by Willem Dafoe)
Ryuk is the only character I can say was portrayed accurately. Willem Dafoe does a great job capturing Ryuk’s sinister nature and even his more comedic moments are played well.
The downside is that he’s not even in the film most of the time, so we see very little of him. I also take issue with how he coerced Light into using the Death Note for the first time. Ryuk was originally set up as an observer. Seeing him get involved in the ways that he did takes agency away from Light – again, Light’s agency when using the Death Note was the entire point of the manga!
L. (played by Lakeith Stanfield)
Okay, yeah, I have issues with this character, too. Surprise, surprise.
Before I dive into the problems, though, I want to say that Lakeith Stanfield is a fantastic actor. He really nailed the character he was told to play, and his talent really shines through.
It’s just a shame that the writing for his character is totally off. I’m not angry about the small details, but rather the bigger ones that basically paint this L. as an emotional wreck.
*Ahem.* Just as a reminder, the original L. almost never showed visible emotion. He was cold, calculating, and smart to match Light. The only time when he did show emotion was when he was confronted with the idea that Shinigamis exist. That’s it, really.
Why on Earth did they make this L. an emotional child that violates his own principles? Why?
It basically screws over one of the best characters in Death Note and makes him look pathetic. Also, I’m not kidding about violating his own principles. He tells Light at one point in the film that he doesn’t carry a gun because he finds them distracting, but at the end of the film, he actually uses a gun! Why?
If you’re not going to stick to the manga, please at least stick to your own film’s logic. This really makes one of the best characters from the manga look completely ridiculous and irrational.
As much as I don’t want to, I have to talk about this. Now, at this point, I’ve seen every major Japanese live action adaptation of this story, so I know that this story can be done in live action.
This film whitewashes the story. There, I said it. I’m not taking it back and I’m not apologizing.
If this had been almost any other story, race wouldn’t have been an issue. But the Shinigami is a Japanese concept, not American. The idea of the Death Note having the ability to kill people comes from the Japanese concept of spirits living in words of books, at least according to what I’ve read about it. It makes sense. Otherwise, the Death Note wouldn’t be able to kill people.
The majority of the cast in this film are white. Again, cast Japanese American actors if you want it to be set in America so badly. At least the Shingami would make a modicum of sense then and people wouldn’t be so angry.
Speaking of, I have a question. Why is Watari the only Japanese character in this version? In the manga, he wasn’t Japanese, he was English, and his real name wasn’t even Watari like it is in this film. Speaking of that, why is his name just Watari? Who on Earth only has one name?
I’ll probably never get answers to these questions.
The whitewashing in this film is easily one of the most infuriating parts about it because it’s a problem that doesn’t need to exist.
Death Note Usage
The only thing I can say that I like about the Death Note used in this film is that it at least looks decent as this old, leatherbound book. Otherwise…
This film really messed with the way the Death Note works. Ugh…
The biggest rule change I can remember is that the original 23 days the Death Note user has to control a victim is shortened to only two days.
They also dropped the default method of deaths being heart attacks. Not writing down a cause of death just results in a random cause of death.
So, I wonder: how were people able to tell Kira existed if the default method was dropped? There’s no way to know because there’s no consistent pattern.
Also, the note says each death must be physically possible, but the film violates that at the end when Light survives the Ferris wheel breaking down because he wrote down that he would survive. Again, I ask, why?
There’s also no eye trade in this film, and that was such a cool power in the manga. The ability to see a person’s name and lifespan just by looking at them?
The eye trade would have also solved the L. problem right away if Mia had gotten the eyes like Misa did in the manga. Hard pass!
Finally, the film added a rule that if you burn a page with someone’s name on it, their life will be saved. So, what happens when there’s more than one name on a page that gets burned?
Also, that rule is like the Death Eraser from chapter 0, which the author didn’t keep because it was a cheap plot device! Same thing with the burning the page rule. It’s cheap.
Okay. I think I’ve ranted long enough. Long story short, don’t go into this movie expecting the original Death Note.
This film effectively punches the original concept in the face and there’s no reason for it.
This is easily the worst live action adaptation I’ve seen of this story. No contest. It’s a shame, because Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s work deserves better.
I just hope that this film will get people to pick up the manga. That’s the only good thing I can see coming out of this.
1 out of 10 stars