Live-action adaptations of anime isn’t a new concept. Dragonball Evolution and, most recently, Ghost in the Shell come to mind. Even though those movies didn’t capture the hearts of the fans, many thought that perhaps the Netflix live adaptation of Death Note would lead to a better outcome. Does it live up to the anime and manga?
Let’s start off with the good points of the movie. The voice actor of Ryuk, Willem Defoe, played the part very well. It gave me the feeling of a true demigod controlling and manipulating humans for his own enjoyment. Margaret Qualley, the actress who played Misa Amane, was the shining star of the movie. If it wasn’t for her, this movie would have been a complete and udder dud. She single-handedly saved this movie from being a complete disaster.
Unfortunately, the film had many problems. For starters, there were way too many changes to the story that made me cringe every minute as I was watching. For instance, when Light finds the Death Note for the first time, Ryuk has to show him how to use it. In the anime, Light is a prodigy, always at the top of his class, and his amazing deductive skills are showcased. The live action film portrays Light in a very different way, so much that it could be a different story altogether.
Light in the film is no where near the cunning and ruthless teenager we all know and love. After he makes his first kill, Misa sees him sitting on the bleachers reading the rules of the Death Note and asks him about it. Light immediately declines to mention anything about it, but the second Misa begins to walk away Light gives in and tells her everything and they instantly fall in love. Really? Two teenagers fall in love after just meeting earlier that day for the first time, after one of them finds a mystical book that can kill people. They fall head over heels for each other, no questions asked. Yeah, right! That makes total sense.
Light’s mom and sister are written out, though this doesn’t make or break the film in any way. It does, however, take away the essence of Light being in a stable home, which added to his cover-up of being Kira.
On top of that, L was pretty much nonexistent in the film. The major thing that has propelled Death Note to being a classic series was the suspenseful cat and mouse game between Light and L. Fans love L for being extremely intelligent, a recluse that never showed any emotion and always kept his cool. This was not seen in the film. L constantly lost his cool, often sought for revenge, and was completely out-of-character most of the time. The cat and mouse tactics with Light was a complete afterthought. Watching the cat and mouse with Misa and Light was preferable, though that’s not saying much.
Another problem was how L came to the conclusion that Light was Kira. His basis on the matter was that the murders were happening in Seattle, and that because the chief officer had a son that it had to be him. That’s it! nothing else was taken into account. In the anime L goes through a series of investigations and uses his exceptional deductive skills to figure out that Light is Kira. In contrast to the live-action film, the anime provides more evidence to Kira’s identity. Some examples include Kira being in and out of school and displaying a child-like sense of justice, in addition to having access to police files and data.
In the film, Light’s father asks L why he suspects his son to be Kira. L then responds by saying it’s because he has access to police files, and that he was brilliant. It was never alluded in the movie that Light was brilliant in any way. The only intelligence Light showed in the film was doing math homework for kids in the school and getting paid for it.
Furthermore, Light showed zero backbone when faced with tough decisions, which ultimately left Misa with handling the dirty work. Lucky for Light, Misa displayed the true nature of Kira by being crafty, intelligent, and always staying a step ahead of everyone else, leaving Light to figure out what was going on.
This adaptation was a instant failure due to the writers trying to cram everything into a 100-minute long movie. The writers changed characters’ personalities and left out key scenes that made the anime what it was. There was no time to flesh out plots or to make the audience care about the characters in any way. I felt this adaptation would have been better served as a live-action series, as opposed to a movie. The thought of them contemplating making a cash-grab sequel after this is a huge turn-off.
The Death Note live action movie is ultimately another failure, just like all of the other Hollywood adaptations. In my opinion, Hollywood should give up on making anime live action films and stick with what they know best. If you aren’t familiar with Death Note at all, I strongly suggest watching the anime and staying away from this film.