As soon as it was announced that Netflix would be adapting the Japanese Manga/Anime Death Note, most people reacted with skepticism because we knew some whitewashing nonsense was about to happen. Then came the bullshit from Masi Oka defending the whitewashing of the story, confirming our fears. But the movie is finally out now so let’s talk about the Netflix Original Remake of Death Note.
First we have to talk about the main character Light Turner (played by Nat Wolff) and his entire backstory. Now in the original, Light Yagami came from a two-parent family (whose father was a very respected cop) and had a little sister who he regularly helped with math homework as he was a bit of a prodigy. In the new version, Light Turner’s mother was killed in a hit and run where the driver got off. His father is still a cop and is well known on the force and there is a lot of contention between the father and son because of the murder of Mrs. Turner.
In the original, Light comes from a homogenous society (Japan) and is seen as a model student who is proficient in several languages and is generally liked by everyone, which is why it initially seemed so left-field that a kid with such a perfect life would have a dark sociopathic side that was willing to practically sell his soul in order to become a warrior for ‘justice’. Like in the book/movie ‘No Country For Old Men’ it soon becomes very apparent that Light Yagami operates using a very unique moral code that only benefits himself, making it incredibly hard to predict his next move and motives.
In the Netflix remake, Light Turner is a white American edgelord who isn’t very well liked in school, sells math papers on the side and pines for a girl who initially barely notices him. He also has a distorted sense of justice because of the murder of his mother and the fact that her killer wasn’t convicted (despite his father being a cop) so he wants to be the new judge and jury of all crime. There are subtle hints to suggest that Light Turner wasn’t so contemptuous before his mother died but as the story is set in the present, that arc is never explored.
Light Turner gets access to the Death Note (same as the Anime/Manga) as it falls from the sky, meets Ryuk, quickly learns the rules (which are completely different from the Manga) and uses it to sentence bullies and criminals to various forms of death.
In the original, Ryuk is a Shinigami (Death God) that is bored and has more than one Death Note journal, so he decides to put one on earth for his own entertainment. As a result of that, Ryuk and Light in the original have a strange relationship where Ryuk goads and schools him on the Death Note but realizes that in order to get entertainment (and more apples) he must appease Light to an extent. Light Yagami is an interesting character because he’s barely fazed at the concept of being followed around daily by Ryuk. Yagami is often rude and crosses the line many times because he is fully aware that Ryuk needs him.
In the remake, Ryuk is more of a demon and involves himself in the Death Note way more than a traditional Shinigami and also has the ability to touch things in the human world (aside from apples) but still somehow manages to remain invisible. He writes in the Death Note and acts more like a poltergeist at times.
The remake also had a nasty way of changing the rules of Death Note on the fly, for example in the original, if any person touches the note itself or its pages, they’ll be able to see Ryuk. In the new version it seems that only Light can see Ryuk, which removed a lot of potential dramatic conflict between the lead characters.
The casting of Willem Dafoe as Ryuk was amazing, I enjoyed his performance regardless of how limited it was and I wanted more screentime with his Ryuk and Light more in the style of the original, as their banter was very funny at times.
I read an article where Dafoe talked about preparing for the role:
IGN: Did you get a chance to check out the source material before you committed to the film?
Willem Dafoe: Not so much. I didn’t feel the need. Sometimes you feel like you have to do research to make something, other times you know you don’t feel it so much. I felt it was purer if I just responded to the story, the images, and what Adam told me he envisioned. It’s not a rejection of preexisting material. It’s just we like to keep true to your impulses. I kind of let the integrity of the source rest with Adam.
If this is completely true, Dafoe might be one of the underrated GOATS because he pretty much nailed Ryuk in this particular incarnation. I feel like if he were given more to work with and it was closer to the original that he would’ve been able to give us the funny, sarcastic and sadistically playful Ryuk instead of plot-driven Ryuk who uses the Death Note as a McGuffin.
Lakeith Stanfield as ‘L’ was actually a refreshing take on the original Japanese character, however it led to some scenes that were visually uncomfortable. L is basically the real life version of ‘Anonymous’ in the Death Note universe, but instead of being an online vigilante, L has worked with the police to help solve a myriad of heinous crimes and as a result has a very esteemed reputation within the force despite being a socially awkward weirdo.
L becomes determined to find the mysterious killer who can commit murder from afar and his investigation leads him to Light Turner, who alongside his girlfriend (We’ll get to her in a moment) is doling out ‘justice’ under the name ‘Kira’.
When L enters the Turner house and proclaims that he knows Light is Kira, Light’s cop father proceeds to put L in a headlock and threatens to kill him.
Seeing a black man, who walked in with a search warrant (and police outside ready to arrest Light) with all that ‘respect’ put in a headlock where anything could happen to him was very unnerving and a bit too on the nose in this current climate of Black people dying from overt police brutality with no repercussions.
Now let’s talk about Light’s girlfriend Mia Sutton. If Light Turner is an edgelord then Mia is his edgelady in waiting. One opening scene shows Mia as a reluctant cheerleader smoking during drills and she has this general look of disdain for everyone and everything plastered on her face throughout most of the movie.
There’s a particular scene I found quite disturbing: When Light finally gets Mia up to his room and asks to kiss her and she responds with, ‘You’re not supposed to ask’. Then they proceed to make-out furiously.
Movie are you serious? YES you’re supposed to ask. It’s called consent and it’s a good thing. But that line sets up the movie to absolve Light Turner of all conscious wrong-doing and instead makes the story about the Jezebel that led him astray.
In the original, Light Yagami had his own sense of justice and wanted to right wrongs in the world by putting fear in potential criminals. Over time, Light becomes tangled in the world of Death Gods, starts smelling himself and eventually loses his humanity. But the point is that the onus is on entirely on him. This was an independent choice made by a very intelligent person who knew the rules throughout and still chose to go down a path that would eventually lead to ruin.
The Netflix edition has Light immediately reveal the existence of the Death Note to Mia and together they kiss, and fuck their way while eliminating a long list of killers.
It quickly becomes quite sadistic as they drink and eat popcorn while researching people to kill using their deluded sense of ‘justice’. At one point its clear that Light no longer wants to continue using the Death Note once his father gets involved, but Mia is obsessed with the idea of being able to be judge and jury and goads him into killing more criminals and people that are close to solving the case of ‘Kira’.
So basically, Light in this edition of Death Note is just a motherless dude with an agenda to get some pussy. After that, he loses all direction and lets Mia take over and ‘manipulate’ him, which is some bullshit because a grown ass dude who has the balls to get a school bully decapitated should be able to stand up in the fact he’s a sociopath.
Another thing that makes this version fall flat is the idea of Light Turner being a serial killer. Is it really that far-fetched that an outcast white kid whose father is a cop would go on a supernatural killing spree?
At least in the original it was set in Japan (which has a very low crime rate compared to the States) and once again, Light Yagami was a character who everyone liked, had friends and a complete family-he was just completely messed up in the head and incredibly manipulative, maybe as a result of his hyper intelligence, who knows? But Light Yagami was definitely an unlikely suspect where as Light Turner is the OBVIOUS SUSPECT despite how far fetched it may seem.
Overall I found this adaption lazy and misguided. The real story was, is and always will be the conflict between Light, L and Light’s dwindling humanity. The Netflix version is just a supernatural version of Heathers that missed the emo and scene kid wave ten years ago. Also what was with that weird 80’s soundtrack?
Catch the movie right now streaming on Netflix.
(scenes captured by me but owned entirely by Netflix)
-Girl Davis, 2017