A lot of people have had a lot to say about the Netflix adaptation of the classic Japanese manga Death Note. Most of it comes down to its casting and less about the location, but director Adam Wingard talked to IGN about how the location and character will differ greatly from the source material:
“In the early stages of the film I was rereading all of the manga, really just looking at how does any of this translate to the United States. Ultimately, Death Note is such a Japanese thing. You can’t just say let’s port this over and it’s going to all add up. They’re two different worlds completely. Ultimately, whenever I say it’s about America, I’m looking at it like, what are the main kind of core issues going on in America. … What are the things that people chalk up to conspiracy theories? What kind of weird underground programs does the government have? How do those work in the world of Death Note?”
Wingard’s approach is less about making a Death Note movie as it taking the core themes from the manga and anime and tweaking them to work in an American setting. The two cultures are vastly different, which is true, and Wingard admits the more he tried to stay completely true to the source material the less it worked:
“It’s one of those things where the harder I tried to stay 100 percent true to the source material, the more it just kind of fell apart… You’re in a different country, you’re in a different kind of environment, and you’re trying to also summarize a sprawling series into a two-hour-long film. For me, it became about what do these themes mean to modern day America, and how does that affect how we tell the story. Ultimately, the cat and mouse chase between Light and L, the themes of good, evil, and what’s in between the gray area. Those are the core things of Death Note, and that’s really what we went for.”
The location isn’t the only major change that was made in this adaptation. While the names of the characters are the same that doesn’t mean they are the same characters:
“At its core, it’s taking the themes of who the characters are but it’s exploring them in a new context. Ultimately the personalities of the characters a quite a bit different… L isn’t the same. There are a lot of similarities — he likes candy, sometimes he romps around with his shoes off. Those kinds of things, but at the end of the day the take on L and the escalation of his character is very different. … He’s still a weirdo. It’s the same for almost all the characters across the board. Probably the only character that comes off as the same way as he does in the anime is Ryuk.”
Light, in the movie played by Nat Wolff, isn’t the only one who got a major change. The other one is master detective L, played by Lakeith Stanfield, who also got an entirely new backstory for the movie:
“One of the most exciting things for me is to take L’s backstory and flesh that out in the context of underground, clandestine American operations, programs, and things of that nature. … In a way, it’s sort of like taking the world that The Guest – my other film which kind of goes into super soldier creation programs and things like that – it’s kind of taking those type of concepts and expanding it and saying what does that mean in the context of this film.”
This all begs the question: Why use these character names at all? If they wanted to do something that really only gets the bare bones basics of the idea, why not take Ryuk, the Death Note, and make a new story?
This might be good news to fans of the anime or manga, because it sounds like this movie isn’t going to even be an adaptation of the story you love. It’s something vaguely similar with similar names. Aside from the concept of Ryuk and the Death Note itself, it might as well be a wholly original property. Whether that was done to help separate the movie from the manga so any accusations about the casting can be hand-waved away still remains to be seen.
Summary: Light Turner, a bright student who stumbles across a mystical notebook that has the power to kill any person whose name he writes in it. Light decides to launch a secret crusade to rid the streets of criminals. Soon, the student-turned-vigilante finds himself pursued by a famous detective known only by the alias L.
Death Note, directed by Adam Wingard, stars Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, and Shea Whigham. It will stream to Netflix on August 25th.