The Problem with Death Note (2017)

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I want to preface this post by talking about the first time I heard that Adam Wingard was set to direct a Netflix adaptation of the Death Note series:

It was a hot, humid day in Downton Houston, I was waiting for my bus that was probably really late and scrolling through my phone to avoid speaking to anyone in the bus station. As soon as I read the article about the Wingard Death Note, I sent off a message to my friends about it. See, Death Note, along with other classics such as Naruto, One Piece, Inuyasha, Dragonball Z (the list can go on) are the kind of influential, groundbreaking, earth-shattering anime that almost everyone will recognize. And while my friends immediately responded with trepidation, I wanted to keep a more positive outlook towards it.

Wingard directed You’re Next (2011) which was a highly enjoyable and entertaining take on a horror flick. And from that, I can imagine he has the capability of making an equally enjoyable and entertaining adaptation.

It’s kind of exhausting how almost everything is being adapted into a Hollywood flick lately. And it’s almost as exhausting listening to others drone on about how everything is being adapted into a Hollywood flick lately. So, I guess, like everyone else attached to the content through sentimental value, I kept this hope in my heart that Wingard’s Death Note will not be a disappointment.

Unfortunately I was wrong. So wrong. It all came to me in slow motion, with this song playing in the background. Now, there are a lot of reasons why the film didn’t work. There some excellent videos on YouTube that explains this succinctly (some I found really interesting= Chris StuckmannThe Cosmonaut Variety Hour, this 2 hour rant from YMS)

Let’s break down the issues of this adaptation:

characterization

One of the most interesting aspects of the original anime is the character of Light Yagami (Light Turner in the adaptation), he’s this young, bright Japanese highschooler, who has an extreme (and arguably misguided) belief in ‘justice’ which can only truly be achieved beyond the realms of the law. And, upon obtaining this ‘Death Note’, in which he has the ability to kill a person with only their name and face, he is given an almost godlike ability to choose who deserves to live or die. And this character is so complex and disillusioned that we as an audience get to see the way his mind works, his actions have a purpose and it all makes sense (at least from his perspective).

The adaptation fails to give us at least an equally compelling character motivation from its protagonist. He takes the notebook and immediately tells a girl (Mia) because… he wants to impress her? It’s so shallow and lacked the complexity of the original character. I understand that some people who will watch this film might not have watched the anime, and will therefore just take it for what it is. But these people will also look at this vapid, unrealistic character and realize how depthless it makes the work.

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The tone of this film is kind of all over the place. I really like the lighting and colors throughout, it’s very visually engaging to look at and you can tell it’s crafted well (I’ll give credit to the cinematographer: David Tattersall). But if you view it as a whole piece, a lot of the choices clash and sequences feel out of place.

A few examples: the music, the montage sequences

Overall, this isn’t the worst film in the world. And, despite the shortcomings of the film, you can tell that Wingard at least cared to have an entertaining product. It just fell short. Maybe I’m totally wrong and I didn’t get the artistic direction, it just didn’t feel like it lived up to it’s original source. If you’re reading this and you still haven’t seen the original anime, I would highly recommend it (the series is available to stream on Netflix right now!).

 

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