Death Note is a Japanese manga (comic book) series that experienced extreme popularity throughout the world. Not long after the Japanese release of Death Note, it was turned into an animated television show. That was where I started my Death Note journey. I was hooked because it was such a novel story with peculiar characters. I will never forget the scene where the main character Light accomplishes a major outmaneuver and has the most maniacal laugh scene I’ve ever witnessed.
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I have a thing for maniacal laughs, and Light definitely nails it. What that scene also highlighted is one of the biggest allures to the show. That is, the complex chess-like “game” the two main characters play with one another. Two brilliant, obsessed people who must outsmart the other. It’s the main driving force of the series’ plot.
Let me take a step back and explain what Death Note is about. The story follows a high school boy named Light, who comes upon a supernatural book. The book is called a Death Note, and whoever’s name is written in it will die. The book was originally owned by a Death God called Ryuk, who follows Light around. Shortly after acquiring the book, Light decides to cleanse the world from what he considers bad and evil people while the detective known as L tries to stop him.
The two main forces of the story–Light and L–are both considered geniuses. What also complicates the story is all the little rules of the Death Note that make it a more complicated situation. Things like how you can only kill someone in the book if you can also picture their face. Another thing of note in the series is a girl named Misa, a famous model who also has her own Death Note. She loves Light and wishes to help him and gain his love.
Okay, so Netflix decided to get a piece of this pie and make a live-action movie–with real people and everything. This isn’t the first live-action movie for Death Note though. Back in 2006, Japan made the first live-action movie of Death Note. I remember when this came out because I traveled to the city over to watch it. It wasn’t too bad either. Later that same year Japan made a sequel to the first movie to finish the story. There were a few other live-action films that have been made as well–spin-offs and a tv mini series.
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Given my history with Death Note, I was excited to hear about Netflix making their own version. I had high hopes after it was revealed that Willem Dafoe would be playing a significant role as the Death God Ryuk, that follows the main character Light around. I knew he would do the role justice and apparently so did the people casting the movie. Which led me to believe they had good taste.
On August 25th Netflix released their Death Note movie, and I watched it the very next day. I have to say, it was a huge letdown. I can respect wanting to make a story your own, but this took the best parts of Death Note away and didn’t offer anything interesting in return. Let me explain to you why.
Actually, let me first let you know I am not the only one who was not happy about Netflix’s Death Note. The ratings are horrible. IMDB shows a 4.7 rating, Rotten Tomatoes is a rotten 41%, RogerEbert.com gave it a one out of four, and only 38% of google users liked the movie. Before I watched the movie, I did a quick google search for the film to see what people were saying. The top voted tags on google were (and still are): “cringe-worthy, bad acting, plot holes, unconvincing, corny, boring, and awkward.” Ouch. I love Netflix and am still very excited about other projects they have done and will be doing. However, this just goes to show not everything they create is great…or even good.
Now let me get to the specific qualms I have with Netflix’s Death Note. Don’t worry, I don’t ruin the ending. The first and biggest thing that upset me was the main character, Light. In the original story, he was a detached individual who was seemingly apathetic about everyone else and the world in general. He was a genius. The Netflix movies offer another version of Light. A misunderstood teen who wishes he didn’t get picked on and wishes a particular cheerleader would talk to him. He’s so terribly cliche, and his motivation for killing people with the Death Note seems to have been about impressing a girl. Which is shocking given that the Japanese Light had a famous model hanging off him and he was mostly concerned with how to get rid of her. The Japanese Light was confident, narcissistic even, and completely committed to his goal of becoming a God who chooses who lives and dies.
The other significant issues range from most of the other characters to the story line itself. There is no cat-and-mouse game between Light and L, or at least it is so watered down that it’s hard to see. That’s right, the main driving force for each anime episode or manga book is gone. Also, the model Misa is transformed into the cheerleader Mia, who swaps spit with Light in between killing bad guys–barf. Overall what I don’t get about all these changes is why. Why did the creator of Netflix’s Death Note make these changes? My only guess is he was trying to create a more stereotypical movie to get a wider viewership.
Anyway, let’s leave this on a better note. Netflix has many other opportunities to impress us. One that I’m really looking forward to is season 2 of Stranger Things–which airs October 27. Right before Halloween!