A new adaptation of Tsugumi Ohba‘s Death Note is now available on Netflix. It’s a relatively short version of the much longer manga which attempts to summarize the story into an hour and forty minute live-action film.
If you’re not familiar with the story, the idea is that a Death God (or Shinigami in Japanese) grants a Death Note to a high school student who then uses it to exact his own brand of justice by killing criminals. The note is a book that kills anyone whose name is written in it.
The theme that follows discusses the nature of good and evil, as it pits Light (the boy with the note) against L, a young detective tasked with catching him (pictured above).
The film is getting a lot of flack, and much of it is inspired by the disdain people have for replacing the main character with a white guy. Frankly, it doesn’t bother me at all. Go ahead, call me a racist. The fact of the matter is that this version is a new version, set in America, for American audiences and most high school males in America are white.
The director also chose to recast L as a black teen, and in this he couldn’t have made a better choice. Lakeith Stanfield (of recent Get Out fame, he was the guy in the opening scene who gets captured, and later screams the films title at the protagonist) as L does an amazing job, capturing the quirkiness of L and adding his own twist as the plot of the film changes to demonstrate what happens when L loses his cool.
Both boys do an excellent job capturing the essence of their characters, and while this version is obviously a retelling with much changed from the original, both characters still retain much of their original personalities. That said, there are clear differences. In the original, both L and Light were way more complex, intelligent, and calculating. As someone who’s watched the original cartoon and Japanese live-action adaptations, it’s obvious that this is a completely new version and the characters are different. Light was a bit darker and much more cunning, in this version a lot of those darker aspects are embodied by his girlfriend, Mia.
I’m okay with that. Naturally you can’t take the complexities and complete personalities from characters who have multiple mangas or 30+ episodes and port them over to a ~1.5 hour film. You can’t keep everything, and a lot must be left on the cutting room floor, that’s the nature of adapting a work across mediums. This is also a retelling in which much of the story is completely different. So please, spare me your cries of “OMFG THEY CHANGED X,Y,Z ::RAGE::”
We also have to acknowledge that there’s a huge chunk of hella sensitive social-justice types who were going to pan the film just because there’s a white guy in Light’s shoes. Guess what kids – that’s racist. I also find it incredibly hypocritical that when you recast a minority as another minority that’s fine, but when you recast one as a white guy the temper tantrum potential on Twitter goes sky high.
“White people are the oppressors! Victimization! Colonialism!”
No, actually psychopaths are the oppressors and they exist across all races. Go read a book. They also use moronic, uniformed and incredibly emotional kids like yourselves in order to co-opt large social movements and turn them into vehicles of more oppression. Prime examples are the Nazi takeover of Germany and the Soviet revolution in Russia, but I digress.
The film itself is well-paced, with excellent performances. The script does have one major plot hole – Ryuk’s name appears in the note in a warning scrawled by a previous keeper. That should have killed Ryuk. Later, Light and Ryuk have a disagreement and Light threatens to scrawl his name in the book, Ryuk tells us that no one has ever gotten more than two letters… obviously a contradiction. Not sure why they didn’t fix that.
Other than that, the rest of the film flows pretty well. The plot is solid and moves along without lagging. The cinematography is excellent with lots of amazing shots. The use of water and rain really plays into the mood of the film and elaborates on the characters feelings. The music is really trippy and gives the film an 80s vibe which has been common since Stranger Things did it. The ending is rather nebulous, which lets us imagine what happens for ourselves and also leaves the possibility for a sequel, which I doubt we’ll see given the current climate.
The major thing viewers seem incapable of doing is seeing this as a stand-alone version of the story. It’s different. It’s compressed, simplified, and it was naturally not going to be the same as the manga, the cartoon, or the Japanese live-action series. If you want a version more true to the original, watch those. This version gives us a glimpse of an Americanized retelling and also cuts down on the amount of time you need to dedicate toward watching it.
I had fun watching it, others will too.