I know everyone is in shock about this but Netflix created a live-action film adaptation of beloved anime series and manga Death Note….and it was not well received.
It was weird, it was convoluted, and it completely fell apart at the seams.
I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as people think it is.
Okay! Okay! Calm down! I never said it was good. It was far from good. It was a colossal disaster as a film as well as an adaptation. Things were unnecessarily added, the crux of the story was taken away, and characters were butchered for the sake of “plot” *coughLcough*
But here’s the weird thing….
I actually think this film could have been salvageable if they had done but one thing:
Get as far away as the original source material as possible.
Yeah. Okay, so that seems like it defeats the purpose of making an adaptation doesn’t it? Well, here’s the thing.
Any attempt at making an anime into a live-action film is going to be dead on arrival as the expectations for anime and live-action film are completely different.
Anime works based on its own convoluted logic and the translation of that to screen is…not a smooth one. Most movie watchers go into film with a certain level of expectation. They want what they are seeing to make sense.
Anime has it’s own rules in that it has no rules. Very often times certain plot points, physics, and general progression do not make sense. Anime is like a fever dream and, generally, it tries to appeal more to a person’s emotions rather than their intellect. Or, at least that’s been my experience.
Going back to adapting Death Note, I noticed something rather peculiar about this film. That being the farther they got from the original source material, the better the movie became.
Not good. Just…better.
I’m not talking about Light being your stereotypical bullied kid or the weird stylistic feel this film has, or whatever the hell happened to L.
I mean when they focused more on the psychology of the person wielding the Death Note. As someone who really enjoyed Death Note when it first came out and spent hours in bookstores reading the manga, what held my interest wasn’t Light’s character, it was the game of cat-and-mouse between him and L.
I don’t dislike Light as a character there just…isn’t much to him outside of being Kira. He was never your average kid. He was a super genius that was bored with his life because he was so much better than everyone at everything.
I know I’ll aggravate a lot of people by saying this but…he was essentially an Evil Gary-Stu.
With the Light for Netflix’s Death Note, we were able to see how the Death Note could affect a normal, down-to-earth person. Rather than see him go from being a bored genius to Wrathful Death God in 2.4 seconds, we actually saw some character progression.
It isn’t until the final leg of the movie that he truly turns into the evil genius puppet master that we all know and love.
I have to say that when the focus was on the power struggle between Light and his girlfriend Mia (Misa in the manga/anime), it was actually pretty interesting.
Rather than being a total air-headed bimbo like she has been in other incarnations, Misa is the instigator. She’s the one that constantly manipulates Light and tries to make him go further and further. Considering how annoying I always found Misa, I thought this was a welcome change. They work off of each other rather than Mia just being a pawn in Light’s game.
That being said, they should have scrapped the idea of making this an adaptation of the original Death Note. What they should have done was create this in the world of Death Note following the fall of Kira. Don’t toy with the characters from the original anime. Just get a cast of all new characters. Hell, you changed them so their bordering on unrecognizable anyway. Might as well go that extra step.
We would be able to forgo the annoying white-washing aspect of this as well.
The concept of the Death Note is a fascinating one and it could work outside of Light’s story arc. Like I said, I personally find it far more interesting to see how a normal teenager, one whose sense of justice is underdeveloped due to his age, would react to being given ultimate power.
What are the ethical implications of killing criminals? How does having that level of power effect a normal individual?
Here’s how I would have written it if I had been given the script:
A normal, albeit troubled, teenage boy stumbles across a Death Note and discovers, through the power of experimentation, that he is able to control when and how people die. The rules are self-explanatory and written down in the book so he doesn’t need a Death God explaining to him how it goes.
The police are growing a bit suspicious about the deaths, but only one detective in particular seems to believe the deaths are actually linked.
In the meantime the MC’s confidence in himself begins to grown and he is able to win the heart of one of his classmates. Through their courtship, he learns that she has been the victim of a crime and he decides to give her the option of taking the perpetrator’s life.
She uses the Death Note and she is able to witness herself how the instrument of death works. They decide from that point forward that they will work together in order to make the world a better place. They begin slow, but inevitably events snowball. The pair become bolder in their actions and the police are made aware that something is amiss and are able to link it to a series of murders that took place in Japan years ago.
The game becomes all the more intricate and the couple find themselves doing things such as killing innocents and engaging in other illegal activities in order to continue on being gods of what they hope to be their brave new world.
That’s just one idea. There’s really a ton of things you could do with the concept of a Death Note.
So..no..this was not a good movie. Not by a long shot. Nevertheless, I didn’t hate it as much as I expected to.
It’s like Kenny Rogers said “the secret is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep.”
And, unfortunately, the team behind this flop didn’t seem to know either of these things.