Adam Wingard, the director of Netflix's Death Note has finally decided to directly address the white washing controversy that has hounded the upcoming live-action film adaptation of the anime franchise.
Speaking to Vulture at the New York premiere of Death Note last Thursday night, Wingard said that he was surprised by the reaction but admits that it is a topic that people should be talking about.
“It’s one of those things where it’s a good conversation to be having, and it wasn’t one we were really expecting,It wasn’t until the Ghost in the Shell cracked it open (that) it became a conversation. But by then, we had already cast all of that stuff," he said.
Wingard also explained that his film adaptation was about telling a new story and having a character that is significantly different from the original. "It’s not just taking a character and trying to say a white kid is a Japanese kid. It is a whole new thing,” he pointed out
“The approach, in some ways, was letting go of the original source material,” he said. It is "about creating a new experience out of it. This stuff has already been made into movies in Japan. The anime itself is an adaptation, and a lot of those things are on the nose, so this was a chance to reexplore the material in a new light.”
Roy Lee who is Asian-American and is a producer of Death Note, dismissed the idea of white washing and said that they just chose to cast the best actors they could find regardless of ethnicity. “We didn’t look at race as a factor. We just did the version that was set in the U.S. There are remakes of U.S. movies like Sideways in Japan, but there was never a thought for them to bring in American actors to play the (characters) in the Japanese remake.”
Fellow producer and Heroes star, Masi Oka a full blooded Japanese, who was born in Tokyo and later migrated to the United States, pointed out that in the Netflix version, the characters were not written to be ethnically Japanese or Asian. “The whole idea of whitewashing is putting white people in roles that were meant to be a different race. But this wasn’t specifically a racially bound story, because it was set in America,” he said.
Of course it understandable that when a foreign franchise is transferred to an American setting, there would be changes so that it could adhere to its environment. This has been done before, an example of which is My Sassy Girl, a Korean romantic comedy.
But then the core of that story is universal. The Death Note franchise is heavily steeped on Japanese folklore. The catalyst of the story in fact is a Shinigami, a Japanese Death god that drops the Death Note book to main character Light Yagami which has now been turned into Light Turner in the Netflix version.
The empty book gives the bearer to kill anyone whose name is written on it, provided they have seen the face of this person. Which is also a Japanese cultural norm. Previously the director of the Japanese-live action adaption of Death Note, Shusuke Kaneko said, "The idea of spirits living in words is an ancient Japanese concept,In a way, it's a very Japanese story."
Fans have also pointed out in social media that Japanese-Americans do exist in the United States, and could have taken over the main role.
live action Death Note does actually look ok ,but like c'mon not even any japanese-american actors ... its Light Yagami not White Yagami— ry (@ryynah) August 2, 2017
Death note being an American adaption and only having a white cast pisses me off these niggas act like there aren't Japanese-American people— Baejin (@woozipac) July 13, 2017
"we wanted to switch death note over to an american setting :)" okay?? japanese-american actors exist????— knife dad (@glittrghost) July 1, 2017
So what do you think? Is this another example of White washing or does Adam Wingard have a point?
Netflix's Death Note will debut in the streaming site on August 25th, and it stars Natt Wolff as Light Turner, Lakeith Stanfield as L, and Willem Dafoe as Ryuk the Shinigami.