Netflix’s “Death Note” and Why it was Dead on Arrival

The Netflix adaptation of “Death Note” is the only movie that has ever actually made me want to die. I kept hitting pause and getting up because I was too livid to watch it all in one sitting. It is the epitome of a bad adaptation; the kind that mangles both plot and characters, as well as the theme and setting.

Originally a Japanese manga story, it has been adapted many times in multiple forms. However, Netflix’s version is the first time it has ever been Americanized. Before watching it, I had very low hopes for the movie. The anime is one of my favorites, and anyone who liked the source material was screaming bloody murder at everyone involved.

The director for the movie, Adam Wingard, deleted his twitter account after receiving death threats from fans of the original manga and anime series. He also came out and said that he had begun receiving these threats before he had cast anyone or finished writing the script. One would think that this would have made him more cautious in his approach, or at least keep the fears of fans in mind while moving forward with the project. He did not. But despite the terrible reviews, I couldn’t stop myself from watching it. I had to know. I made a mistake.

The basic premise of “Death Note” is that one day a Shinigami, or a god of death, gets bored in his world and decides to drop his supernatural notebook down to earth. A similarly bored teenage boy picks it up and finds that anyone whose name is written in the book will die. It can even control the cause of death. For various reason, this boy decides to use it to kill off all the world’s criminals. This premise is the same throughout all the adaptations of “Death Note.” And with the Netflix version, this is where the similarities stop.

In the anime, Light Yagami had already written multiple pages of names in the death note before he even met the Shinigami Ryuk. He knew what he was doing, and was on a mission to rid the world of criminals and become god of the new world.

In the movie, Light Turner was first prompted to kill someone by Ryuk, and wrote about three names in the death note before he went and started bragging about it to the girl he liked. Then he proceeded to demonstrate how the book can kill when she didn’t believe him. Because nothing says romance like “Hey, come watch me supernaturally murder some criminals.” And the fact that this immediately worked is ridiculous, even if she turned out to be even more power-hungry than him. At least anime Light had some class. (“With me you’re going to become the goddess of the new world.”)

The fact that in these two storylines, Ryuk chose Turner, but Yagami got the notebook completely by chance irks me to no end. Yagami, a model student, and Turner who gets punched in the face and then caught doing other people’s homework for money.

Before the movie even came out, fans knew it was going to be completely whitewashed. While this version takes place in America, the story was originally set in Japan, and there is one named role that is played by an Asian-America actor. Edward Zo claims that he was refused an audition for this movie specifically because they were not looking for any Asians for the lead role.

The one notable non-white character in the show was the only character I would have completely accepted being played by a white actor. He is the palest character in the anime; confirmed to be only a quarter Japanese and at least a quarter English.

They cast a black actor. I can almost see that being a sort of attempt on making the lead character a majority and opposing character a minority in a different setting, but it really just plays at including a token black character while the rest of the cast is white, which doesn’t realistically reflect America at all.

Maybe the worst part about this movie is that, other than the whitewashing, I can see it as completely accurate. If the death note fell to earth here in America and got into the hands of some random troubled high school white boy this killing spree is exactly what would happen. That premise isn’t original in the least.

There are, however, better adaptations of this story. Each of them may have a few of their own problems, but I promise you they are all objectively better than this. There are the Japanese live-action films, the first of which came out in 2006. The 2015 live-action drama. It even has a musical, which actually stays true to the source material more than the Netflix one does. It’s in Japanese, but most of the songs were written in English so there are demos you can find out there if you want to hear it in this language.

As far as I’m concerned this movie has nothing to do with the rest of the “Death Note” universe. They share a name, the end, and any of us who were fans before this are welcome to never think about or acknowledge it again. As for the new fans who were introduced to it through the Netflix movie, I’m sorry. You’re not actually part of the “Death Note” fandom. You just watched a bad movie and liked it.

And after the awful reception this movie got from fans, Netflix has made a decision. I didn’t think this could get any worse, but Netflix has announced that there is going to be a sequel. This is the kind of news that keeps me up at night. What could have possibly prompted them to think that this was a good idea? There was nothing redeeming about this movie. At all. Here’s to hoping the new movie goes down in flames.