Review of Death Note (Netflix)


Netflix, you have let me down! People have praised your superhero shows and I myself was impressed by your take on Castlevania. All that goodwill has however evaporated due to your treatment of Death Note. I no longer feel guilty about not subscribing to your service, after my free trial ran out. To be fair, Death Note is one of my favourite anime of all time. Regardless of how good this live action film would have turned out, it would have struggled to live up to the source material’s legacy. Perhaps the limited running time is partially to blame? I feel that a lengthy live action series, which follows the manga more closely, could be a hit with western audiences. That’s something we are unlikely to ever see though, after the negative reception this movie has rightfully received.


What would you do if a demon gifted you a notepad that can magically kill anyone whose name you scribble onto its pages? You could take over the world, refuse to write on it because murder is wrong or use the book to assassinate any traffic warden foolish enough to give you a ticket. After acquiring the titular tome, from a fruit eating death god named Ryuk, Light Turner opts to harness the Death Note’s power to rid Earth of evil. A bully, the mobster who killed Light’s mom and various criminals all receive punishment at the hands of Turner’s penmanship. Vigilante justice is frowned by society though, so the authorities soon get involved. A taskforce led by Light’s own father and a detective named L begins to investigate who is responsible for the recent underworld purge.

That premise alone is enough to carry an entire film, but the cat and mouse game between Light and the law gets even more convoluted when romance is thrown into the mix. Light elects to divulge knowledge of the Death Note to his girlfriend Mia Sutton, which aggravates matters further. Given the choice, Light would rather not get innocents involved in his mess. Mia on the other hand is more ruthless. If meddlesome cops try to interfere with their righteous crusade, against criminality, Mia is all for aiming the Death Note’s fatal sorcery at the police. Mia feels more like the anime version of Light than Turner does. Just like Light Yagami, she is corrupted by power and isn’t averse to manipulating friends as a means of achieving what she believes is the greater good.


My rating for Death Note 2017 is one star. I was going to give the movie a two, but the silly finale persuaded me to award it the lowest score possible. Some viewers may find Death Note entertaining, the idea of a killer book is cool after all, but having seen the story executed better in animated form I cannot be as generous. It was disappointing to see the Death Note turned into nothing more than a MacGuffin that turns people into brainwashed slaves that occasionally perish in gruesome ways. The film felt like a teenage horror flick from the nineties with its Final Destination style death sequences. Blood splatter cannot however disguise how boring the story was. I must confess that I nodded off a couple of times during the feature’s 100 minute running time.

I didn’t like how Light was portrayed. The studio didn’t seem to have confidence that western viewers would accept an evil protagonist, so they transferred most of Yagami’s traits to Mia. L wasn’t handled much better either. Rather than coming across as a savant he just seems to be a weirdo, who isn’t all that smart. Most of his deductions are just leaps of logic required to keep the plot going along. A cynic may remark that a black actor was cast as L to deflect the whitewash critics, who were already moaning about the setting’s transference from Japan to Seattle. The only thing that I enjoyed about the film was Ryuk. Willem Dafoe was the perfect choice for delivering Ryuk’s sinister quips and the visual effects team should be commended for their creepy creature design.

Ghost in the Shell detractors may want to revise their opinions, because Death Note is a far better example of an anime adaptation gone wrong. One concern I have is that Death Note’s conclusion leaves things wide open for a potential sequel. Hopefully the folks at Netflix will “kill” that idea in the bud, after the critical backlash the movie has received. Just to be safe I’ll jot down “Death Note 2” into my little black book.

45 thoughts on “Review of Death Note (Netflix)

    • Gulp. You sound way too keen on the prospect of owning a death bestowing book. Haha. To be honest I barely used Netflix during the trial. They had some decent anime, but other than that their selection was rather limited. I would search for movies and nothing I entered appeared in their catalog. In the end I only watched Castlevania and Back to the Future.

  1. As I’ve mentioned on multiple reviews of this I’ve read, I feel like this film should have just been a comedy. The director isn’t that experienced and he has done horror-comedy flicks in the past. There were just too many problems with this for me to enjoy it. I expected a less than stellar watch from the start, but was left extremely disappointed by this. Thanks for the review πŸ™‚

  2. Not being a fan of the Death Note series due to lack of interest (Haven’t bothered to sit down and watch it yet) I don’t know if I wouldn’t mind this terrible adaptation. However, I’m not interested in checking this movie out either so it’s just as well.

    • I would highly recommend the anime, although there is so much yuri content out there to keep you amused that I imagine it would be tough for you to make time for Death Note, especially if the premise doesn’t interest you.

  3. Not being a Netflix user, this remains on my not-likely-to-see list. Th reception certainly seems to have been mixed though, with a leaning towards the negative. To be honest, I enjoyed the manga and anime so much that i’m not sure that it’s a good idea for me to watch it anyway.

    • You could try signing up for the free trial, but it’s not worth the hassle for this film. The manga and anime are brilliant so there’s no need to waste time with this film. I had a feeling that the movie wouldn’t be my cup of tea, but forced myself to check it out so I would have something to blog about this weekend.

      • We’ve been considering the free trial, the problem is getting it at a time when we’ll be able to make the best use of it. No point getting it if we’re likely to only get to watch stuff on it a few times after all.

  4. Well, I might check this movie out tomorrow. I have seen very mixed reviews for this, but most of them were pretty negative. Still, I have gotten curious anyway, so I am going to watch it anyway (I can be stubborn like that lol πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚). But I already expect the worst. Have you have ever seen the Japanese live action adaptations? Those were pretty interesting and well worth checking out, if you haven’t seen them yet. In total there are four movies. Three Deathnote movies, and one spin-off focussing on L.

    • Hurrah! I found your long lost comment. Death Note 2017 isn’t great, but if you have an active Netflix subscription I suppose you have nothing to lose by checking it out. A person can’t officially bash a movie for being poor until they see it for themselves after all.

      A couple of my buddies have recommended the Japanese movies to me, but I have yet to check them out. Based on the trailers I can at least say that it looks more authentic than the Netflix counterpart. L actually looks like L for a start.

      • Lol, hurrah! Glad you found it. Well, except for the third installment of Deathnote which was released last year, I have seen the the other two films as well as the spinoff for L, and they were really a lot of fun. L especially was one of the highlights of those movies, and I think you will definitely enjoy these a lot more than this one.
        But yes, I always watch films seeing if I can eventually bash them myself (or in some rare cases like them when others don’t seem to like them πŸ˜‚). I’m curious to see which opinion I will have for this one. Will certainly let you know 😊

    • That doesn’t sound too professional. You would think that an actor who is paid for a role would do all the research possible to get into character. All that said Ryuk was the character that was most faithful to the source material, so I can’t bash Defoe’s performance.

      Based on an interview I read I believe Lakeith Stanfield, who played L, has at least read the manga. I didn’t like his portrayal of the character, but that may be due to him being restricted by a weak script or adhering to how he was directed.

  5. Did anyone expect this to be good? It sounds like the usual adaptation that dumbs down the source material until it bears almost no resemblance to it. I remember when the trailer was first released – there was just about no positive feedback. It looked awful. As it is, I have no desire to get back my Netflix subscription to see just how bad this was.

    I didn’t even bother to renew my subscription to see the newest season of House of Cards because the series is just too damn slow and unnecessarily dragged out. Between Death Note, that and all the god damn horrible Adam Sandler “comedies” Netflix is producing, I’m ashamed for these guys. They killed Blockbuster, but look at them now.

    Sorry for the rant.

    • I am surprised that Netflix has made a deal with Sandler, given how his movies tend to get panned. The company does however claim that Sandler flicks get a lot of views, so I guess they are just catering to their audience. Some people must find Sandler comedies funny or else he would stop getting hired.

      Although I am sad to see Blockbuster go, they have no one to blame but themselves. The founder of Netflix tried to make a deal with them and got laughed out of the building. It was a case of the big company refusing to adapt their business model. We have seen similar things in the past with TV stations and the music industry being slow to embrace online markets.

      • I can’t argue with the business sense of taking on Sandler if he’s bringing in the $$$. And I guess there are people who like his stuff.

        As for Blockbuster, it’s sort of a nostalgic thing for me – part of my childhood. It seems they didn’t plan too well for the future, though. They did try to put out a streaming service, but from what I remember it was ill-conceived and didn’t catch on.

  6. Out of curiosity, would you have preferred this Death Note was a completely different story rather than a remake? That Ryuk (or some other shinigami) once again dropped his notebook (but this time in America), and Ryuk wanted to see if there would be a different result with a loser than with a genius. Or would you have still found the story and the actors boring?

    • This movie took so many liberties with the source material that it did feel like a completely different tale. I do however like your idea of using a fresh cast of characters. Had it starred a different shinigami and the characters had different names the project would have had more creative freedom and would have been compared less to the anime/manga.

  7. I don’t have Netfilx so I won’t get to see this but the trailer was enough to put me off, proving once again that Hollywood and manga should very much remain in the “never the twain shall met” category! 😑

    • Hollywood script writers seem incapable of adapting thought provoking manga. Perhaps they should consider westernizing something like Freezing or Sekirei instead? Even if the story and acting end up being poor they’ll at least be enjoyable on a visual level πŸ˜‰

  8. I have an acquaintance in my retro trade group who adores the anime as well. He too had the Sterling Archer reaction of “What the shit Netflix?” Too bad it turned out terrible. And between the both of you there doesn’t seem to be any elements that make it at least Super Mario Bros. The movie bad. Where you can still find some interesting imagery, or unintentionally funny moments.

  9. RE: “What would you do if a demon gifted you a notepad that can magically kill anyone”

    Kids — NEVER, NEVER cooperate with evil, even if it seems like you get something-for-nothing out of it.

  10. I agree with you, on how they portrayed L. They seemed to be more focused on the fact, he doesn’t sleep and eats sweets. They basically say, he’s the product of mental torture. It’s kind of sad what they did with his character. 😦
    Ryuk was great but. His voice was soo creepy. It sent a little chill down my spine, whenever he spoke πŸ™‚

    • L is so popular with fans that many people reckon the anime dipped in quality when he vanished from the series. He deserved a better portrayal. All horror movie directors should hire Defoe to voice their monsters. He has a talent for delivering creepy lines.

    • I think studios dream that anime/video game movies will eventually follow the superhero model of sucking for many years before someone does them right. Even if the movie blows, if a franchise has a big enough following it will make some money because curious fans will check it out.

  11. But… they already did a live action Death Note! And it was all right. How could they do things so wrong this time!

    I kind of shudder at the thought of a non-villainous Light. The moral rabbit hole was the whole purpose of his character. He’s basically a new character without that. Which if you’re wanting to do that, just make something original in the Death Note universe rather than trying to retell the tale again. You’ll likely end up with a better film that way.

    • I haven’t watched the Japanese live action movies, but I assume they turned out better than this. What a shame because Netflix have been behind some decent adaptations. Perhaps they should have gone for a series rather than a movie.

  12. I really wanted to watch this when I first saw it on Netflix but looking at the overwhelmingly negative reviews, I’ve shelved this indefinitely. It doesn’t seem like anyone does live action anime adaptions well so it’s kind of admirable that they still manage to get churned out.

    • If your time is limited you can safely give this movie a miss. I only checked it out for blogging purposes and because I was curious if they negative feedback it had garnered was warranted.

  13. Yeah, I wanted to stay away from this live action version, and I’m not even a hardcore Death Note fan. I’ve yet to see an American live action remake of an anime that was good. Maybe the fans could be like Terry Mikami and try to delete this thing.

      • I agree with Akira. Your Name I’m a bit skeptical about, but at least I can see it working a little bit. There’s even Alita: Battle Angel which shocked me because barely anyone cared about that 90s anime (yes, I know the manga went way farther and it was a cult hit). I swear the mainstream movie industry is obsessed with remakes, and they just have to add anime to that list. Can’t they just leave these series alone?

  14. Hello The Otaku Judge,

    Netflix definitely let us down, even the trailer looked bad to me, and so I was not surprised when the movie turned out the way that it did; they should have just made an animated movie or something instead or left it alone.

    To me it was different enough to possibly not be considered Death Note, while watching it I stopped comparing it to the real Death Note and started treating it like something different which helped me to hate the movie less, and so I ended up giving it a 4 or 5 out of 10 in my post about the movie.

    Thank you for sharing your review,
    -John Jr

    • I think Netflix should have made a series rather than a movie. Had they just copied the anime episodes and done it in live action the show would have been a success. Trying to condense Death Note into a movie is a tall order and wasn’t helped by the changes they made.

      • Hello The Otaku Judge,

        I agree, and I think that even a miniseries that stuck to the anime would have been better.

        Thank you for responding,
        -John Jr

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