Death Note: Acclaimed Anime Gets No-Good Netflix Adaptation
Lakeith StanfieldMargaret Qualley...
Action & AdventureDrama...
Anime is a unique medium, rich in both content and imagination, making it one of the most colourful and interesting vehicles today. So much so, that, over the years, it has come to influence Hollywood in a very real way, with one of the most successful examples being The Matrix, which took a large part of its thematic and visual influence from Ghost in the Shell.
But full blown Hollywood adaptations have never translated well, with the most recent example being the aforementioned Scarlett Johansson-starring Ghost in the Shell, which bombed with fans and critics. Netflix is no stranger to adapting material with the likes of 13 Reasons Why, The Defenders and Castlevania under its belt this year, but their latest, the anime Death Note, has proved to be their most difficult yet.
Only loosely based on the anime of the same name, the film follows the character of Light Turner; a high school student who comes into possession of the Death Note; a notebook that gives its owner the power to kill any person by simply writing that person’s name in it while thinking of their face.
The adaptation has made several changes from the original material, introducing different rules to the Death note, as well as changes to the main characters, turning the investigation-driven,psychological crime thriller into an angst teen drama with horror and romance elements.
One of the saving graces of the movie, however, is Willem Dafoe as the voice of Ryuk; a god of death and the original owner of the Death Note, who shows Light how to use it and overseas that whose ever name is written dies. As a dark and mysterious being that is intrigued by humans and their capacity to hurt each other, Dafoe steals every scene he’s in and his character is the most faithful to the source material – which can’t be said for the rest of the characters.
Played by Nat Wolff, Light Turner is more of an angst-ridden outcast who ‘doesn’t fit in’ – the complete opposite of the popular genius and slightly insane mastermind that is his anime counterpart, Light Yagami. The motivations of the lead character goes from saving the world and ridding it from crime, to impressing a girl, which takes much of a depth that makes the original so popular.
He’s not the only character that suffers in the adaptation; the character of ‘L’, played in the movie by Lakeith Stanfield, has been almost completely changed, too. In the movie, he’s an arrogant and unhinged FBI agent – a far cry from the calm, collected and calculating detective who’s considered the best in business.
Impressive set pieces and CGI make Death Note a nice movie to look at, but with so many drastic changes, it’s a shell of the critically-acclaimed anime. The biggest problem is that the film tries to fit 37 episodes into two hours and it feels rushed and, at times, incoherent, while also necessitating the many changes.
Netflix has unfortunately fell into many of the same potholes that others have fell into before; they will argue that the changes are necessary in order to make it more accessible for a Western audience, but only taking the base element as a gimmick and the frame of the anime, they’ve lost the foundations on which it stands.