How Do You Like Them Apples: Reviewing Netflix’s Death Note Movie

Unpopular opinion: I actually enjoyed the Netflix Death Note movie.

Netflix

This is coming from someone who’s gone through the original material: manga, anime, and even the Japanese movies with Tatsuya Fujiwara (Battle Royale, Rurouni Kenshin). I watched the Netflix version and found it enjoyable. I liked it.

Before you start lighting torches and marching on over with pitchforks, let me tell you exactly WHY.

The Netflix Death Note movie is an American adaptation of the great manga series by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. It follows Light Turner after he discovers a black notebook mysteriously labeled “Death Note.” It is NOT a “run-of-the-mill American horror flick” as Polygon says it is, but more of a “high-concept thriller,” in Forbes’ words.

Let me reiterate: it is an AMERICAN ADAPTATION.

A D A P T A T I O N

Got it? Good.

Because it is an adaptation, I seriously believe that it doesn’t merit the SJW cries of whitewashing. The Netflix Death Note movie is set in Seattle; the original, in Japan. Of course they’re going to have an American cast to portray a now-American character. And it’s not entirely whitewashed– they cast Lakeith Stanfield (Straight Outta Compton, Get Out) as L. See, here’s the thing: when you want to adapt foreign material to a local setting, there are things you need to change. That’s why it’s called localization. You don’t need to be completely 100% true to the source material. You just get the core of its plot and its character, and then adapt them for your audience, which in this case, is mostly white, Caucasian people.

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I digress. Let’s get back to the movie.

Nat Wolff (Paper Towns, Stuck in Love) portrays a very good American version of Light. He’s a smart high schooler who just wants to do things on his own terms. He likes looking at the bigger picture than sweating over the details, as demonstrated in one of the first few scenes of the movie that eventually drops him into detention and finally using the Death Note.

Netflix

In this adaptation, Ryuk (Willem Dafoe) is more of a mischievous death god, egging on Light’s curiosity on the notebook’s abilities and generally being an ominous presence, instead of the bored yet still neutral death god that he was in the anime and manga. Even so, I think we can all agree that Dafoe as Ryuk was perfect and brilliant.

The film adaptation is as American as it can get. You have a quick teenage romance based on absolutely nothing (unless you count demonstrating how the Note works while watching live news feeds on an online stream). An action-packed chase between L and Light towards the end. As well as a complicated voice over explanation on how Light escaped death. It’s all done with creative cinematography (that phone conversation between Light and Wataru (Paul Nakauchi) was absolutely brilliant) and bright neon lights on dull backgrounds. Alright, it sounds BAD, but in an American context? It’s actually pretty good, and that’s probably why I enjoyed it.

See, I watched this film with zero expectations (other than Dafoe would be a really amazing Ryuk, and he did not disappoint ladies and gents). I came expecting to dislike the movie as much as Twitter and other critics, but in fact, it was completely the opposite. Perhaps it’s because I convinced myself that it’s not going to be any worse than, say, The Last Airbender movie (which is a bad comparison tbh), or the Dragonball adaptation (which is a terrible adaptation and also a terrible movie), and that’s why I liked the film and can genuinely say it’s enjoyable. Kind of like how I enjoyed the American adaptation of All You Need is Kill. (Edge of Tomorrow was a brilliant adaptation. Fite me.)

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Netflix

I do admit, however, that the film isn’t perfect. I’ve only said that I enjoyed the film and that it’s a great adaptation from the source material. I never said it was a great movie. By reducing the plot to 101 minutes, there is a huge chunk of plot from the original that’s missing. It dilutes the original plot of an intelligent high schooler with a God Complex trying to rid the world of crime, to a mere “good vs evil” morality issue– which actually works for the adaptation.

It’s very American, if you asked me, and maybe knowing that is what actually makes it enjoyable.

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Rika Sioson
Rika Sioson
Just a frog and a mage who happens to play tabletop roleplaying games and video games. She also loves reading books, comics, manga, graphic novels, and watching American and Japanese TV series. Eating is her favorite hobby, after sleeping.
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