Death Note: An Unfaithful Adaptation

By: Justyn Gomez

Spoiler alert… Obviously.

Our lord and savior, Netflix, recently released an American film adaptation of the manga/anime masterpiece, ‘Death Note’. Spoiler alert: it’s messy.

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The story of Tsugumi Ohba’s Death Note revolves around the protagonist/anti-hero, Light Yagami, a genius high school student with a penchant for JUSTICE, (as is repeated many, many times over the course of the series.) Light finds himself in the possession of the eponymous notebook, which lets the user kill anyone via any physically possible way, or by writing their name in it. What follows are Walter White levels of ingenuity, deception and cunning to cement Light’s status as Kira (god of the new world order.) Netflix’s Death Note barely recognizes and works with that.

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My initial qualm with the film is: Why is Light Turner (Nat Wolff) so dumb? The source material’s brilliance stemmed from its brilliant central character, who is described as a genius by those around him, and is evident through his actions before hand; especially, after coming into possession of the Death Note. The manga/anime showcased Light’s genius-level tactics in numerous memorable scenes, such as:

1.) When he compromised and convinced FBI agent, ‘Raye Penber’ to write down the names of his comrades assisting in the Kira investigation on a sheet of paper ripped from the Death Note. Killing them all.

2.) Light giving up ownership of the Death Note, which temporarily erased all of his memory of it to convince L (the savant-like detective heading the Kira investigation) that he isn’t Kira. Light then comes back in contact with the Death Note after he’s been cleared. Light is now deeply trusted and becomes an integral member of the Kira investigation, which bestows all his lost memories of Kira and the Death Note the moment he touches it.

3.) The infamous “Potato Chip” scene, where Light places a tiny TV and slip of the Death Note inside a bag of potato chips that he cleverly uses to continue writing down the names of criminals, while under heavy investigation and surveillance.

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The film had only one variation of these three pivotal moments in the series, and they were brutish, implausible and generic at best. The worst part about it is that it didn’t even seem to be masterminded by Light himself, but by love-interest, Mia (Margaret Qualley). In fact, most of the film’s strategies and plots seem have been conceived by Mia. It’s almost as if the film split the character of Light Yagami into two horny teenagers who just love killing during make-out sessions. His master plan in the third act of the film was rudimentary at best and could’ve been conceived by literally anyone who had paid even a modicum of attention to what Mia had been saying earlier in the film (again, solidifying the fact that she’s the Light Yagami in this universe). Light is merely strung along and coerced into positions of weakness without realizing until it’s too late. Boo, Light Turner. Boo.

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Another objection to the film I had was that L (Keith Stanfield) became an unraveled mad man toward the end, counter to the original character’s calm and thoughtful approach to the world around him. The dichotomy of Kira v. L was only wrangled in by their mutual calm and collected demeanors, especially when the circumstances absolutely warranted otherwise; However, that isn’t to take away from the 2/3 of the film in which Stanfield systematically nailed the role. His physical mannerisms, ticks and cadence seemed to have been taken straight from Ohba’s brain.

The film wasn’t an atrocity, but it was a lazy attempt to redefine the beloved story. I’m okay with adaptations that take creative liberties to alter the story to better fit the film’s narrative, but I have my limits. Netflix’s Death Note took almost everything that made the property untouchable and dumbed it down to a mix between Final Destination and MTV’s Teen Wolf. The original had far more depth and ethical/philosophical dichotomies that made dissecting it as enjoyable as consuming it. It’s not hard to scratch the scab off the one or two layers that cake this lobotomized incarnation, but I would die of sheer boredom before I even wanted to start, for the film in general is uninspired and rushed. Even if it weren’t based on a piece of source material it is still not a good film. Clichés and pacing issues run rampant, and characters you don’t care about purvey.

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The film should not have been called THE Death Note, as it’s hardly recognizable. If you do decide to watch it you might have to go in with the mindset that it plays more like a “What if?” scenario, in which a completely different set of characters had come into contact with the notebook. This is the ‘Dragon Ball Evolution’ of the Death Note universe, except it’s a little bit better.

I want to end this article off on a high note, and the only possible way to, with this film, is with some of the ensemble cast. Shea Whigham as James Turner (Light’s father and police chief during the Kira investigation) and Willem Dafoe as Ryuk (The Death God that gave the Death Note to Light) knock it out of the park. They single handedly kept me from writing my own damn name in a Death Note to put myself out of my misery.

1 apple out of 5.