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.