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Movie Review: Death Note (Netflix)

Updated on August 27, 2017
Joseph Lawrence profile image

Joseph Lawrence (25) grew up in the New York area and is a recent college grad in Film Studies. He is a huge film buff and loves horror!

Death Note (Netflix) poster (made by me).
Death Note (Netflix) poster (made by me).

Anime watchers have one fear and being one myself, I can tell you exactly what that is. Having our beloved anime franchises taken and turned into something that we don't recognize anymore. And unless people speak out against Hollywood this will continue to happen. Quite frankly, Netflix's Death Note does not do the anime justice. Although, it is a failed adaptation, by itself it is an "okay" film. There are moments of comedy, stylish deaths, good music, and love scenes that the typical viewer would enjoy.

Light Turner (Natt Wolf)
Light Turner (Natt Wolf)

Death Note was originally a manga and anime series created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. The original plot has a Japanese high-school student obtain a notebook of death while on his way home. By writing the person's name and way of death, he can control who lives or dies. By obtaining the Death Note, he is also followed by a Shinigami (Death God) who goes by the name Ryuk. For the rest of the story, Light unleashes his own sense of justice upon the world while Ryuk watches for his own entertainment.

Lakeith Stanfield as L.
Lakeith Stanfield as L.

For the earlier part of the story (for which this movie takes place) there are two major key players: Light Turner and L. In the original, Light is a savant, genius, and virtuous individual. Light Turner (Natt Wolf) is not. L is a cool, calm, and collected individual who's a genius in his own right and has great detective skills. Netflix's L (Lakeith Stanfield) isn't. Do you see where I'm getting at? The character's abilities are watered down for the sake of realism. And the changes the film makes to these characters are to the point where they no longer their character counterparts.

The film is a radical departure from the story of transcendence. Instead, it more resembles a teenage love story. Original character Mia Sutton (Margaret Qualley) is Light's love interest throughout. Anyone who is familiar with Misa-chan from the anime and manga will get the similarity. Anyway, unlike Light's unreciprocated love and blatant exploitative nature to Misa in the initial series, Turner is very much in love. And the film uses their love story as an anchor point for most of Light's actions later on in the film. Which is not Death Note at all.

The one true adaptation that fits is Ryuk. William Dafoe does a superb job of voice acting and the I'm sure people can easily see this Ryuk fit inside the Death Note universe with no problem. He looks a little weird, granted. But, he is more ruthless and callous than his other counterparts. He is clearly not on anyone's side but his own.

Light Turner (Natt Wolf) reading the Death Note.
Light Turner (Natt Wolf) reading the Death Note.

However, if stood on its own merits without comparison, it's a pretty fun film. The crime aspects merged with the supernatural makes it extremely intriguing. The soundtrack is good and the deaths are stylish and gory. The director (Adam Wingard) manages to deliver a "cool and hip" story while trying to sprinkle elements of horror in. But, due to time constraints, there are plot holes and inconsistencies. Things were obviously cut and/or rushed. To say, that this film would have benefited from being a television series would be an understatement.

Ryuk, the Shinigami (William Dafoe)
Ryuk, the Shinigami (William Dafoe)

Reception

Reception of the film is definitely mixed with the majority condemning it and the minority praising it for being new and realistic. A quick glance at the series' Reddit page pretty much confirms this. And if I were to put my personal feelings aside, I can see it. This rendition of Death Note story is pretty much as realistic as it can get. Not every person who would have the opportunity to find the Death Note would be overly smart or morally sound. Not everybody can embody the charisma and pure skill of Yagami Light. I'm not saying those people don't exist. But, there's a huge difference between anime and real life.

L (Lakeith Stanfield) and Light Turner (Natt Wolf) meet.
L (Lakeith Stanfield) and Light Turner (Natt Wolf) meet.

Verdict

While it is true that this film may have been blown off ever since it's announcement, Death Note also had some things going for it. Instead of accurately adapting the story ( like the other Japanese Death Note movies) it instead re-imagines it completely. And while characters from the actual series such as L, Watari, Light are severely mishandled, for the casual viewer this movie makes the series easy to understand. But, by drastically changing the rules of the Death Note and mishandling the characters, ended any hope of the film becoming an adaptation worth talking about.

Death Note (U.S.) is currently streaming on Netflix.

© 2017 Joseph Lawrence

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