On March 22nd, Netflix debuted a trailer for their live-action film adaptation of Death Note. Death Note, a manga written by Tsugumi Ohba and drawn by Takeshi Obata, quickly became a worldwide phenomenon. It had previously been adapted into an anime, four live action Japanese movies, and a TV drama. The story focuses on Light Yagami, a genius high school student with underlying megalomania, after he discovers a strange notebook outside his school. He soon realizes that the notebook can kill people if he writes their name inside it, and he embarks on a crusade to cleanse the world of evil. The Netflix adaptation moves the story to America, and stars Nat Wolff as Light Turner.
Following the most recent wound of the Hollywood adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, seeing another beloved anime whitewashed again did not make many happy.
The story original was aimed at a teenage crowd, and while it brought up many moral questions, specifically who is allowed to determines who lives and who dies. While it may seem like a universal concept, it was based on a rigid standpoint in Japanese culture: those that disrupt society deserve to be shunned and removed from sight. Japan is a community-based society, as opposed to America’s wide-spread notions of individualism, so the idea does not translate.
Considering the current criticism of the American justice system, with many prisons housing those convicted for minor crimes, with large numbers of minorities, the shifted story becomes all the more concerning. The new movie may try to insist that Death Note is about the ability to kill without consequences and the corruption that comes with that power, in an American context, it becomes a story about further punishing those trapped in a flawed system. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that the adaptation would be a commentary on that shift.
While it is interesting to see Keith Stanfield cast as the world-renowned genius detective L, it seems like a small bone thrown at an already displeased crowd. L acts as Light’s arch-nemesis, but his fate varies depending on the adaptation. In the original manga and anime equivalent, L dies midway through the series, while in the live-action Japanese films and TV series, he manages to survive. Having L survive the fight against Kira would be quite satisfying, but fans are doubtful.
The film will debut on August 25th.