I am hesitant to call this a review, mainly because I like to look at things objectively. For the first time in my career, I am having trouble doing so. When it comes to the masterpiece of Death Note, (not you, Adam Wingard), I have been passionate about the series for years. Therefore, in order for me to express my sheer disappointment of the Netflix version of Death Note, this will be an editorial. Completely biased. Completely unfiltered. Yes, I’m breaking the motto.
Death Note is a Japanese manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. It was popular enough to receive it’s own anime series that aired in 2006, and later go on to have multiple TV and Film adaptations, hence the reason for this article. The story follows Light Yagami, an intelligent student that finds a mysterious notebook called the Death Note, which allows for the user to kill any person they write in the notebook, as long as they know their face and name. Light would become known to the public as Kira, a killer with powers that took down criminals around the world. He faces a mastermind detective that goes by the name of L, and endures a game of cat and mouse between two genius minds. It is a psychological thriller that draws high emotional connections to the characters.
So why does the film fail at grasping this?
It’s not that the adaptation is even bad. It’s not that they tried to change the overall plot into something you anticipated would connect with the audience. It’s not about the ignorant white-washing controversy. The reason that Death Note (Netflix) fails so miserably, is the lack of overall emotion built between the characters and the audience. 100 minutes is not enough time to form that connection, or lay out the back story to set up that connection. Frankly, they weren’t paying attention to all of the failed attempts over the past decade.
This is the number one issue with adaptations that originate from video games, anime series or even books. There is so much happening at once that it is difficult to fully grasp the situation. Light (Nat Wolff) is supposed to be a very bright young mind, yet it hardly shows any evidence of that besides the original scene of him completing students homework. The premise of Death Note is not writing names in the book to kill them, it is the psychological game of cat and mouse between two of the greatest minds in the world. They failed to encompass that, as this version focused on the gory deaths of FBI agents, decapitations and other forms of death that Light restrained from using in the original anime.
The anime reflects Light as a popular student, which finds a nefarious side of him through his conquest of cleansing the world. He uses his popularity to get what he wants, convincing others to do his bidding, and even gaining a cult like following in the process. Wolff’s character made me feel like I was watching Prom night meets Final Destination. He is your typical whiny, arrogant teenager that has no emotional value as a protagonist. Mia (Margaret Qualley) ends up being the character most hell bent on changing the world, and we don’t even know anything about her. She smokes a cigarette once at the start of the film, so I suppose that means she has evil tendencies?
I’ve never understood why films try to sum up huge portions of the story in a matter of 5 minutes. For instance, when Light decides to make the figure head, Kira, it blows by the entire portion of the murders that lead up to the phenomena that established his personality and objective. By the time you threw some popcorn in the microwave and sat back down, the entire build up of the infamous Kira is over. Zero connection.
Where are the Shinigami eyes? A significant aspect of the entire series relies on Misa Aname being able to see the names of individuals she looks at. This was not even incorporated into the film. A pact that cuts their entire life span in half and grants these powers is a big deal. At least one would assume. Not to mention, the failure to add in one of the most polarizing scenes in the anime, known as the “chip scene”. It’s as if the team directing and producing the film failed to even watch the original anime. Zero connection.
L is a catastrophe of a representation of the intelligent, bold, deduction making detective fans of the series are familiar with. He draws his conclusion of who Kira is with little to no explanation. He takes risks, and not only showing his face on the TV screen, which is failed to be properly explained directly after. Luckily, they kept his slouched form and obsession with candy intact, so you will see some similarities; However, it does not do justice to what L is supposed to represent. Zero connection.
Every aspect of this film is rushed, which is not necessarily the fault of the director or the actors portraying their characters. You have a fan base that has been given hours to draw their conclusions and impressions. Where their fault lies, is failing to see the significant importance of drawing a meaningful connection between the audience and Light Yagami. The ending of this was set up so there could be an opportunity for a sequel, which I hope is never allowed to be completed. They gave us 100 minutes of emotionless, gory-action, and have alienated a major portion of the fan base they were trying to appeal to.
Welcome to Hollywood.