(Spoilers ahead? Considering how popular this anime is, I don’t even know if I’m spoiling. :P)
It can be said that anime is starting to become a little more mainstream. Anime streaming sites have grown, anime movies are coming into theaters in the West, and even Western adaptations of anime. With the recent Ghost in the Shell movie, not too long after the announcement of a live-action Death Note movie was announced. Terrified fans jumped from one movie to the next to express their opinions. While the Ghost in the Shell movie turned out to be trash or ok depending on who you asked, anime fans reached a consensus for Netflix’s Death Note movie.
It was bad.
Netflix has had a great track record in their originals department such as their live-action shows House of Cards, Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black. On the animated side they’ve seen success with Voltron: Legendary Defender and their recent hit on a classic video game series, Castlevania. So it’s just interesting and hilarious that Netflix had the gall to allow an atrocious piece of work into their service.
I don’t think I need to write out what Death Note is about since most people have seen the anime or read the manga. It’s incredibly popular, which is why most people were anticipating the movie. Most people thought Death Note was incredibly easy to adapt into a film, but considering America’s track record when creating live-action movies of anime…people were terrified. And rightly so. Because somehow, the movie’s director Adam Wingard managed to take everything that was amazing about Death Note, and completely bastardize it.
In this iteration of Death Note, it takes place here in the United States in Seattle, Washington. The story follows Light Turner as he discovers the Death Note as it falls from the sky and lands directly next to him. After testing the powers, being pushed by the shinigami Ryuk, Light teams up with Mia Sutton to eradicate the scum of the world while also keeping this side of him away from his father and master detective, L. You read that right, his name is Light TURNER and Misa Amane has now turned into Mia Sutton, a cheerleader at their high school. On the surface, other than the name changes it sort of sounds similar to the anime, right? Well, that’s the only thing that’s similar to it because the entirety of the one hour and forty minutes are a shit show. The movie deviates from the source material so much that it makes you wonder if the people behind the movie really did watch or read Death Note. The plot and characters are so off, as a fan it makes you feel hurt and insulted.
We slowly pan to Seattle and the school where our main characters go to. We see students, cheerleaders, and then Light sitting alone on a table outside. He does other people’s homework, either because he’s bullied into doing it or he’s making a quick buck, when suddenly a black notebook falls from the sky. As he picks it up, rain starts to pour and all the students run inside the school but Light is interrpted as a few guys are bullying a student. Mia steps in and swears at them and as one of the bullies try to hurt her, Light steps in but then gets his ass beat. A teacher discovers him and the homework he was doing on the ground, as he was then sent to detention for cheating. As his teacher leaves him in detention, he reaches for the Death Note in his backpack and starts reading the rules when all of a sudden the lights in the room go out and things move around on their own. Scared, he inspects this only to then meet with Ryuk. What follows is a hilariously bad scene of Light screaming that has caused memes on the internet already, where Ryuk then tells Light how to use the note and points at the same bully who’s bullying a girl outside. Writing the bully’s name in the note and the cause of death, in 40 seconds it happens and Light’s life is changed forever. I don’t want to explain the rest of the movie, but not long after Mia joins Light to rid the world of evil, with Kira becoming a criminal and the police after his tail. Things are already so wrong in the first 10 minutes and they just continue to grow worse.
- GAME OF WITS IS NONEXISTANT
The biggest problem of the movie was trying to fit almost the entire series into a movie that was barely an hour and a half, which meant that the pacing was extremely fast. And the problem with that was the lack of the cat and mouse game between Light and L. The game of wits was not there and actual investigations were hardly shown. L’s deductions of Kira being in Seattle and Light being Kira had little to no explanation that viewers have no choice but to roll with it. That said, it just left things extremely confusing. Because it was a movie we weren’t given enough time to really get into each character’s psyche, how they were going to plan things out, L’s deductions, the actual investigations, all the close calls Light had in the anime. We only had one scene where Light and L confronted each other, and it was pretty underwhelming.
What we got instead was this extremely dumbed down version of the psychological/cop drama, which then turned into more of a teenage romance movie. The essence that made Death Note so popular isn’t there, and instead relies on other mediums such as…
- THE UNNECESSARILY EXCESSIVE GORE
The thing about Death Note is that while it’s malicious and violent, it never goes over the top with the deaths. Kira’s trademark death are the heart attacks. And while there are more violent deaths such as suicide and getting run over by cars, the anime doesn’t gore it up and slap it in your face. It’s subtle, but frightening. The movie however takes the gore and raises it to another level to give us Final Destination type deaths with blood and body parts and mush flying everywhere. Heart attacks for some reason aren’t a thing and instead we get decapitation, electrocution, mass suicide, etc. It’s completely over the top and actually really distracting and distasteful to say the least. To me, the gorey deaths were there for shock factor and to pique interest, since there was little to no build up to the deaths. A heart attack would probably be boring. Also, I guess us Americans like these stupid deaths. And yes some of them were stupid. No, you don’t explode when you’re electocuted, that’s not how it works! So to the people who are squeamish to this type of stuff, you won’t enjoy this movie as the first death occurs in the first 10 minutes.
- THE ROMANCE
Death Note was never a romance, so the fact that Light and Mia became a couple was bad. It’s even worse when the romance is focused on so much for the whole duration of the movie. What’s laughable is that Light and Mia’s relationship is god awful, with one of the worst and empty “I love you” scenes I’ve ever had the misfortune to see. It’s bad enough that I never understood why they “loved” each other when they literally became a couple the very same day they met each other, making out and fucking each other as they wrote names in the notebook. Yes, they literally have sex the night they meet each other, while also writing names down. Even though we saw their “love” they had an incredible toxic relationship where they argued almost all the time, such as who they’re going to kill, killing Light’s father, not being “crazy enough”, whatever. The characters have already been changed so much that adding a romance between them was ridiculous.
In the anime, Light is a handsome, charming, and charismatic guy whose popular with guys and girls. He has a load of friends while also has girls into him and in the anime he dates many girls as a cover up. He also feigns love towards Misa and pretends to be her boyfriend in order to manipulate her. Yes, Misa was always in love with Light, but Light was never in love with Misa. He saw her as another tool he could use for his own benefit. That’s not a romance. There was never romance. It was a one-sided love full of naivete and selfish manipulation.
Netflix gave us a typical high school angsty romance between two morons. At this point, I wondered which audience the movie was trying to pull in. Certainly not kids because of the cussing and violents, and probably not adults because of the childish romance. And certainly not the fans because…haha, yeah right. And please don’t get me started on the 80’s romance music that played during inappropriate moments. I don’t know which one was worse, Chicago’s “I Wanna Believe in Your Love” when the characters fell to their deaths, or Air Supply’s “Power of Love” during the final moments of the movie. Not that the songs are bad, but when they were incorporated was hilariously awful.
- MIA SUTTON (THE NOT MISA AMANE)
I don’t exactly know what Mia’s purpose was, other than being Light’s girlfriend. I just never understood her in general. She was the malicious one of the duo, and I guess smarter one, who sometimes called the shots when it came to the killing. She had the ruthlessness of the Light in the anime, but was still an idiot. The problem with her is that I don’t know what motivated her to kill people with Light. She just did it…because? Actually, I think she actually got off from killing others, and she was honestly so boring and irritating to watch. The Misa in the anime wasn’t the brightest, but she had motivation to follow Light. This Mia does not and I hated her guts. I would understand it if this cheerleader was being harassed by guys from her school and Light killed them to save her, to play on her motivation from the anime of Kira killing the murderer that killed her parents, and that would cause her love towards him but we never got a scene like that so it just ended up being empty and she became the Edge Queen. But she actually wasn’t the worst character.
- LIGHT TURNER (THE DEFINITELY NOT LIGHT YAGAMI)
I can’t not talk about Light in this review. The Light Yagami we all know and love/hate is not here. This isn’t him. This Light is a complete dumbass. Light’s portrayal in the first couple minutes, doing homework for other students, already told us that this wasn’t the same guy. The Light that we know is intelligent, handsome, popular, while also cunning, malicious, with a god complex. He has friends and girlfriends and is well-liked among all, but uses that as a facade to hide who he truly is. Light Turner is a complete loner, a pushover trying to impress his girlfriend, makes the absolute stupidest decisions, and is an awkward idiot. It doesn’t help that Nat Wolff’s acting was horrendous. This video here perfectly sums up how I felt about Light’s character and the movie in general. Also, this is just an example of what they reduced Light to.
It was really hard to take Light seriously as he made it painfully obvious that he was Kira, especially the scene when he spoke to L in the diner. He gives himself the alias Kira and made criminals write out that Kira killed them on the walls, which is stupid because he’s outing himself and Light never gave himself the name Kira in the first place in the anime. And the reasoning he gave as to naming himself Kira was laughable. He mentioned Mia hiding a page in her calculus book to L, he actually let Mia know about the Death Note without hesitation, read the notebook rules in public which caught Mia’s attention, it just…how fucking stupid are you? Nat Wolff’s delivery of his lines were so bad, that sometimes it was hard to tell whether I should take him seriously or laugh. I mostly laughed. I don’t think that was the intention. And with the romance and the personality change, I feel like the director wanted us to sympathize with Light when WE’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO. Light is supposed to be awful! He’s a terrible person who only cares about himself, we’re not supposed to like him. Sure, we can admire how intelligent he is and how elaborate he was with hiding a TV in a chip bag, how he made an explosive safe in his drawer if anyone would discover the Death Note. But hate him because of his actions and his egotistical and manipulative nature. Light Turner is a complete joke. The ONLY time Light Turner acts like Light Yagami is the very end, but even then I have issues with that but I won’t mention due to spoilers.
Light’s motivation to using the Death Note was okay, I guess? In this version he has no sister and his mother was killed by a mobster. He uses the evil of the mobster that killed his mom as his motivation to kill, but something about it didn’t feel right. I understood it, but the lack of Light’s other traits probably made his reasoning lack for me.
These are the biggest issues, but to save this review from getting any longer.I won’t go into detail about the other awful parts such as:
- The large plot holes
- The changes to the Death Note rules
- The chase scene
It’s surprising to say that there were actually good things about the movie, because there were good things! Just…a couple things. Looking around at other reviews and people’s general opinions of the movie, I was able to find two things everyone could agree on being good.
- WILLEM DAFOE AS RYUK
Going into this movie the one thing I knew was a perfect match was Dafoe as Ryuk. Unfortunately, Ryuk had such a tiny role and his character was changed as well, but the times he was in the movie created this creepy and eerie atmosphere. Ryuk himself looked amazing so they didn’t cheap out on the CG, but what really brought him to life was Dafoe’s raspy voice. His line delivery were spot on, and dear god Ryuk’s laughter was amazing. I honestly can’t say more than Dafoe nails the role, which continues to prove that this man is still the creepiest motherfucker on this planet.
- KEITH STANFIELD AS L
While the movie had mostly bad acting, the acting from both Dafoe and Stanfield were a treat to watch. L is strange and he’s definitely a character that’s not easy to portray, however Stanfield did such a terrific job with his speech patterns and odd mannerisms and sweet tooth. I was happily surprised to see his acting to be so well done. However, just like everyone else, L’s character was changed dramatically halfway through, from the L we know, to an impulsive man driven by his emotions, which led to yelling, a chase scene, and violence, that it was disappointing. However, that doesn’t mean Stanfield did a poor job. Even with this different L, his acting was still fantastic and I enjoyed watching him…even though the moron that wrote the script completely destroyed L’s character. I think my favorite scene with him was when he confronted Light in the cafe. Even though that scene was dumb, his lines referring to Icarus gave me goosebumps. This L doesn’t fuck around.
Without these two men, I don’t think this movie would have a saving grace. However, these two actors can’t save how trashy this movie is.
Before closing off this review, I have to talk about the whitewashing controversy. The movie takes place is Seattle, Washington, The United States. Not Japan. Light and Mia are white, and L is black. Now, you can’t say it’s total whitewashing because of L, but yes this story was completely Americanized in so many ways. Cheesy teen romances, gore, chase scenes, are all so very American that all of those things were implemented into the movie as well. Mia is a cheerleader, Light is a loner. Typical of movies set in a high school. This movie is extremely American. I understand what this movie was trying to do. Americans are not used to stories like Death Note, and since this movie was supposed to appeal to a general audience, people that watch little anime, or people that don’t watch anime at all, and so they gave these people things they’re familiar with while also incorporating things from Death Note. So, in the end we got a dumber version of Death Note because Americans…are kinda dumb. They have to appeal to the lowest common denominator to make money.
When it comes to the casting choice, would it really have been hard to cast an Asian-American as Light? Was it really that hard? There are Asians in Seattle you know! Having an Asian actor, preferably of Japanese origin, could have saved them from changing Light’s name. Did they have to make Light a loner? To incorporate a Japanese honor student to American standards, Light could have very well have kept the same personality while also excelling in his studies and sports, as sports are a huge thing over here. He can still be handsome, be popular with girls, have lots of friends, be smart, and still hide his god complex. So why the drastic change to Light? It makes no sense.
And with how the story is set up, as Light, a white boy, is shown as a killer but also someone to sympathize with, and L, a black man, who turns violent and in the end gets arrested uncomfortably hits close to home with how America treats these two ethnicities. Light’s character is too synonymous with most young white criminals in America, who shoot up schools and theaters and are deemed by people as “a loner” and “misunderstood”, and is usually forgiven. But when it comes to black people in America, they’re seen as criminals if they slightly step out of line. And the portrayal of Light and L is so much like that it’s disheartening.
Am I being too political? Am I reading too much into this? You tell me, but that’s just how I think.
However, if an Asian actor was cast as Light and was made to act out the same script, the movie would still be bad. So either way, no matter the ethnicity of the actor, it wouldn’t matter because the movie would still be shit. But it’s still worth noting that Asians don’t have enough representation in media.
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I went into this movie with an open mind. I tried to enjoy it but it kept disappointing me with every minute. I didn’t want to nitpick too much but with how much they deviated from the source material, I gave up. As an adaptation, this is a failure. But if you look at this movie for what it is, without looking at it like an adaptation like many non-anime fans are, is this movie still good?
Even then, this movie was very confusing and made no sense sometimes, the acting was awful, the romance was embarrassing, and it just was not a pleasant experience. I’ve seen many non-Death Note/anime people say they hated it, so it’s not just the fans that think this way.
Was this the worst American live-action anime movie I’ve seen? No, that still goes to Dragonball Evolution. But don’t get me wrong, Netflix’s Death Note is complete schlock and I recommend that you stay away from it. But funny enough, that good thing this movie has done has made many fans rewatch Death Note (like me) and introduced new fans to the series and made them realize how bad the movie was and how great the anime is.
With the recent Ghost in the Shell, and with this Death Note, how many more live-actions will we see in the future? I wonder and fear, but also hope that one day America can make a good live-action anime movie at least once.