Review: So, why bother remaking a story that feels Japan through and through in a same old brand new American setting? Or, why bother retelling a story that might venture well in nowadays internet-advanced world in a world which feels no different to early internet day? Why bother remaking Death Note in an all-American high school drama?
Those questions keep linger in my head while I watched Adam Wingard’s Death Note, an Americanized version of Japanese manga series written by Tsugumi Oba and Takeshi Obata. In presenting this story, Wingard (The Guest, You’re Next) keeps trying to impress audiences with his eye for stylish visual violence. Without ever losing his touch, there’s practically nothing wrong with the directorial effort; but, judging from the director’s adamant persistence in making the film and the end-results, there lies a much bigger question: is this all Adam Wingard’s vision to Death Note?
The only good thing about this Death Note is the ultra-violence, which comes highly in style, in a way that resembles Final Destination. The film does not hesitate to spill blood or crunch bones or slice bodies open to create horror effect. Watch the first murder—that comes after 10 mins—and you’ll know how the death is orchestrated in Wingard’s vision.
But, first, you’ll need to know how Death Note works (in case, you’re virgin to the manga or Japanese live actions). It’s a supernatural notebook guarded by a shinigami (death god) that lets the holder kills people only by writing the name on it and recalling the face. In this film, the book falls into Light Turner’s (Nat Wolff) possession who, after learning about the book’s might from the ghoulish Ryuk (voiced by Willem Dafoe), starts a killing spree to convicts and criminals as a means of justice. He starts creating an alter-ego called Kira (the same as the name invented by his manga counterpart) as a kind of god of justice. His deeds attract huge attention from law enforcers, including his own father (Shea Wigham) and an outlandish detective called L (Lakeith Stanfield).
This Death Note clearly fails to translate the manga’s over-the-top characters to the new environment. Possibly, the characters are envisioned to be more grounded, likable and young-spirited compared to the god-obsessed characters from the manga (and the live actions, as well). Teen angst is induced to the story to give an updated background to Light; yet, the character, instead of appearing more troubled, looks comical and silly at best. Wolff’s Light might leave audiences embarrassed (for those who have known the originals) or cringed (for those who never knew the story) with his nature and motivation. Even his modus operandi is super questionable, judging from how Light makes use of the internet in a world where internet is literally everything.
Problems escalate as Light’s sorta girlfriend, Mia (Margaret Qualley) joins the game and gets suddenly obsessed with killing bad guys for no apparent reason. There’s an indication that these two lovebirds becoming the center of Death Note, before L crashes the party. However, their romance never really blossoms. It prematurely grows and withers away as everything muddled up.
Even, Stanfield’s L, who turns out to be the film’s most presentable character, cannot bring balance to the story. Coming as a fresh injection of representation, L cannot really tune in into the game, which makes the original Death Note chess of life and death. L is simply above the clouds, too valuable to handle shenanigans caused by Light. Resulting in no duels of wits between the two characters, which basically is the major part of why Death Note is such a phenomenon.
The series’ trademark, Ryuk, is completely underused. And, his existence in Wingard’s Death Note only shows that the filmmaker doesn’t understand why the story is a thick Japanese tale, which cannot simply be transliterated into some American action-horror that doesn’t take account to the myth. Adam Wingard may retain his cinematic virtuoso but it’s just not enough to save this remake/adaptation from folly mistake of misunderstanding the core of Death Note.
Death Note (2017)
Adventure, Crime, Drama Directed by: Adam Wingard Written by: Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides, Jeremy Slater based on manga series by Tsugumi Ôba & Takeshi Obata Starred by: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Willem Dafoe Runtime: 101 mins