During last week’s San Diego Comic-Con, Netflix released a clip from their upcoming live-action adaptation of the anime and manga Death Note. The film was written by Charles Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides and Jeremy Slater and directed by Adam Wingard. It stars Nat Wolff as Light Turner, Willem Dafoe as Ryuuk, Keith Stanfield as L and Margaret Qualley as Mia Sutton.
Created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, the manga tells the story of Light Yagami, a highly intelligent high school student who finds the titular notebook. Dropped to earth by a bored shinigami (death god) named Ryuuk, it gives its user the ability to kill anyone whose name is written in it and face the user knows. Light uses the notebook to kill criminals and create a new world free of evil which he rules over as its God. The only hindrance to his plan is an Interpol investigation led by genius detective L who will stop nothing to bring Kira (the Japanese pronunciation of “killer” that is the name given to Light by the public).
This clip was most definitely enthralling.
Willem Dafoe is the perfect Ryuuk and his voice acting here is excellent. Ryuuk seems to play a more active role in encouraging Light to use the Death Note (the pen thing was funny), rather than being more of an observer and instructor. Depending on how the film treats Ryuuk’s reasoning for dropping the Death Note to Earth, his active role in pushing Light to use it could – and kind of already does – make him look evil rather than neutral. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; changing things from the original doesn’t mean this film will be bad. It all depends on how the changes to Ryuuk’s character work with the rest of the film.
Ryuuk’s urging of Light means changes for the latter’s character as well. Light doesn’t seem to be as self-motivated as he is in the anime. In fact, we got a hint to that in the second trailer where it seems that it’s Mia’s idea that he (or rather, they) become the “god(s) of the New World” and not Light’s. She too is pushing Light forward. It’s not just Light’s agenda – if he has one at all and isn’t little more than a puppet, which this adaptation seems to be leading toward a little – that’s at the forefront here.
As fans of the anime should remember, Light’s first use of the Death Note was on a man who had taken hostages at a day care and had previously attacked six others. Using it here for the first time to kill a bully really reinforces the focus on high school in this adaptation (bullies are the biggest and baddest threats in a high school after all). It’s also pretty disturbing. This guy is just a bully. Sure, bullies are a**holes, but killing him is far too severe a punishment. Especially by decapitation. He may be the only person in the entire film who doesn’t “deserve” having their name written in the Death Note, but using the Death Note on someone like that has some moral implications for Light as a character.
One thing that really stood out to me in this clip was Nat Wolff’s acting. It was terrible. His acting was painful to watch the first time I viewed the clip. The subsequent times, not so much. But that was perhaps because I’d seen it before. To me, it looked like he was overacting to a large degree and trying too hard to come off as disturbed.
The scream and the exaggerated way with which he looked around after Ryuuk dropped the apple were cringey. His delivery of the line “Okay. Relax Light. You’re asleep. You’re asleep and you’re dreaming of some eight foot tall demon looking mother f**ker” didn’t convey the fear he was supposed feeling and just came off as awkward. And slapping himself in the face was just a little much, although understandable since he was telling himself he was sleeping and people often inflict pain on themselves as evidence of their state of consciousness.
All in all, those were my only real complaints about the clip and at this stage I’m still reserving judgement and keeping an open mind until I see the film. Hollywood’s track record with live-action adaptations of anime is deplorable, but Netflix has proven itself to be a producer of quality content many times over. Those two factors make it hard to really form any expectations of what this film will be. In any case, I have faith in Netflix and am hoping that this film will do the source material justice.