This Week in Anime
Can Anime Fans Enjoy Netflix's Death Note Movie?

by Nicholas Dupree and Steve Jones,

On August 25th, Netflix's live-action Death Note film debuted to wildly contentious reviews. This week in anime, we discuss whether fans of the original material can get anything out of the experience, and if the movie is a positive or negative sign for Hollywood adaptations of anime going forward.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the movie ahead.

You can read ANN's review of Netflix's Death Note here!

Steve
Hey Nick! Seen any good movies lately?

Nick D
Nope.

Seen any super serious film adaptions of beloved anime/manga hits of the mid 2000s?

Nah, I was never a fan of Ghost in the Shell to begin with, so I figured it wasn't worth watching ScarJo cosplay for two hours.

No, I mean...seen Netflix's Death Note?

...yeah....

It uh. It was something.

AND HOW

I'll give the filmmakers this much: It was a ballsy move to eschew making a Death Note adaptation and instead make a movie about what would happen if a Death Note fan brought their fanfiction to life.

Some might call such a decision avante garde.
Which I assume is French for "fucking why"

You are 100% correct and I. LOVED. THIS. MOVIE. This was the most fun I've had watching something maybe all year? It's up there.

It certainly made me laugh more than just about anything in recent memory! I'm still not sure if that was intentional or not.

That is going to be as hotly debated as the great The Lost Village question from last year. By which I mean only debated in super small social media circles on the internet while everyone else is gonna move on because they just don't care. BUT, for the record, I do believe a ton of the movie's appeal is a result of intentional choices from the people who made it. And those choices can be summed up by them saying "actually, fuck Death Note".

Hmmm, okay. I can see that. It may be a good idea to sort of establish where we each stand on Death Note the anime/manga then.

that is super important yes

Personally I was never in love with DN - for all its paeans about Capital J Justice and the nature of humanity et al, I never felt like it had much to say about the topic. But after revisiting the anime last year, I was struck by how carefully constructed its first 2/3rds was. It's a ludicrous plot as unbelievable as anything else in Shonen Jump, but there's a lot of care put into keeping the characters consistent and believable as uber-prepared Hyper-Geniuses playing 8th-dimensional chess against their opponent's imaginary shadow. It's not something I consider great, but it's solid entertainment for a good long while.

I watched/read Death Note about ten years ago, maybe more, and haven't revisited it since, so my memory's gonna be fuzzier than yours, but I thought about the same. At its best, it's a wildly entertaining cat-and-mouse thriller, and Tetsuro Araki's over-the-top direction hyped that up to absurdly fun degrees in the anime. But it's also way too serious about itself and goes on longer than it should.

And as wildly different as this adaptation is from the source, I do believe that your opinion on the original will inform how you're likely to feel about this movie. If you thought Death Note was smart and good, you're not gonna like this movie. If you already thought Death Note was dumb and bad, nothing in this movie is gonna convince you otherwise. HOWEVER, if you thought Death Note could be super dumb AND very entertaining, I think you're gonna love this movie.

I'm sort of in that last camp.

I have dug my boots into that last camp.

I guess my main struggle is that I can't decide if I find the genuinely terrible script endearing or not.

Like, that's a terrible line for a movie. Absolutely awful. But it's the exact kind of lame, profanity-dependent one-liner that my dumb ass would have made in high school.

So much snarky teen dialogue, yes! It's not good, and I don't even know that it's true to life, but the whole film moves at such a lightning pace that I physically couldn't dwell on just one line of the script before something else came along to distract me.

It is definitely a more down-to-earth take on Light than any of the Japanese versions. Dude is about as far from a super genius as you can get and practically stumbles into being Kira by accident.

Light is a very believably bratty teen boy. Anime Light started murdering dudes right away. Light Turner needs to be coaxed into it by a giant death god and lots of makeout sessions with a cheerleader.

That's actually my sticking point. Maybe it's because a decade of "but did Light have a point?" arguments have made me allergic to the idea of interpreting him as anything but a villain, but this movie goes to great lengths to paint Light as a sympathetic guy in over his head, being seduced to the dark side by his horny-for-murder girlfriend.

See now I thought Light was depicted as anything but sympathetic. He's a dweeby teen boy who gets in over his head for sure, but he's such a pathetic figure who lacks even his own convictions that I never felt a lick of pity for him. He's the ultimate angry teen taking out his rage on the world without any hint of gumption or ideology. He sucks. My beef with anime Light is that he WAS depicted as kind of cool, and there are people to this day who read that story and believe he was right. That he was a hero.

i don't think there's any danger of that happening with this movie. absolutely nobody wants to be Light Turner.

For sure, but I think the movie still tries to make an argument for him. At least with the "lesser of two evils" thing that gets dropped into the third act with a squittering thud. Light's still portrayed as having a strict moral line that neither Ryuk or Mia have, and his motivation for fighting L is about keeping the Death Note out of the hands of somebody potentially worse, rather than to deify himself like in the anime.

It's still such a hollow argument that I can't imagine you're supposed to take it as anything but Light feebly trying to justify himself. He doesn't have a moral line. He just wants to believe he does.

I guess I just don't have enough faith that the movie isn't trying to sell that argument, hollow though it may be. Part of that comes down to how little opposition there is to his perspective. Death Note is supposed to be a battle between Light and L, but this movie's L is practically a non-factor in the story at large.

Which is a shame, because Lakeith Stanfield absolutely kills it as L.

Totally. Best part of the movie, hands down.

Gives 150% to that character and steals every scene he's in.
He's a godsend.

L's a notoriously difficult character to get right, and he nails it effortlessly. He genuinely feels like the sort of reclusive genius who's always thinking four steps ahead of anyone around him. Which is good because the script gives him Jack Shit to do.

He evens pronounces Japanese correctly! He's canonically a weeaboo! But yeah, the original story is built on the mind games played between Light and L. In this 100 minute feature film, that's reduced to a few dinner scenes and a parkour battle (which I love).

It's astounding how fast the movie skips through the most iconic part of its own franchise, really. L shows up 30 minutes in and confronts Light face-to-face at the 52-minute mark.

And if this movie were trying to be a psychological thriller, that would be very disappointing. But thankfully it's a campy teen horror-esque movie with absurd Final Destination-style deaths. CAN'T SAY I WAS EXPECTING THAT THO.

It's funny as hell, but it's also disappointing to see such on-point casting used for a Cat & Mouse game where the cat is overdosing on painkillers and the mouse is already dead.

oh i had way too much fun to be disappointed

I just can't stop imagining Lakeith walking a task force through his convoluted mental gymnastics as the camera spins around them like an episode of Sherlock. Instead, L acts as the second act antagonist, then disappears so the real villain of the story can make herself known.

okay i'm gonna reveal my biases here but i am SO GLAD this is NOTHING like an episode of Sherlock

Okay yeah, Sherlock's a bad show, but its cinematic style would be a great fit for Death Note's super-genius battle of the monologues. Like imagine this, but it's Nat Wolff trying to figure out how L's name.

And honestly I kinda liked that Mia ended up the most Light-like figure in this movie, even though she's out-smarted by actual Light in the dumbest way possible.

I'll say I'm at least glad they made Mi(s)a an actual character in her own right.

not very difficult to improve on Misa, but it was appreciated

But that brings us to the topic of the third act which, well

(chef's kiss)

Credit where it's due, Adam Wingard made a good-looking film.

Oh absolutely. Part of what makes this thing so watchable is just how fantastically he can construct a frame.

Lots of good lighting, neat sets, cheesy Dutch angles, and an even more ridiculous ferris wheel scene than the one from Terror in Resonance.

To be fair, Terror in Resonance probably didn't have the budget to license Chicago.

Choice music cues all around in this film, including the award for Best Use of Air Supply in Cinematic History.

I firmly believe there's no such thing as a good use of Air Supply, but it did make the blooper reel in the credits kind of transcendent. The final 10 minutes of the film go whole hog insane and abandon any pretenses about being a Death Note story, for better or worse.

It's the perfectly absurd bow on the entire experience.
I was grinning throughout.

It's a gut buster for sure! Only topped by Light's Kaiser Soze scene directly after, which is where the movie goes from Is This Really Death Note? to The Most Death Note Bullshit.

Ugggghhhhh SO GOOD. Like actually I'll take back what I said earlier. I don't think the filmmakers thought "fuck Death Note." They read the source material and concluded "hmm, this is actually really silly and campy, so let's make a silly and campy movie" and thus, here we are. There's footage from the cult horror classic Phantasm on TV in the middle of the film. They knew what they were going for.

It ends up missing out on some of the genuinely neat stuff Death Note did, but they took one of the most notoriously grim anime/manga of all time and turned it into a carnival. I love and respect the hell outta that.

So I guess the question at hand is would you recommend it to anyone?

I have already recommended it in person to one of my friends. So. Yes.

Fair. I'm still on the fence over how I feel about it, but I do think it's worth checking out regardless of how you feel about Death Note. I've watched a metric fuck-ton of bad movies for leisure, and this one has the benefit of not being boring or outstaying its welcome. So if you like Death Note, it's a breezy watch that'll probably make you laugh even if you hate it. And if you hate Death Note, you can watch any and all pretense around its legacy stripped naked and tossed into a river!

WAIT. Have we NOT mentioned Willem Dafoe yet?

Oh shit, you're right. The second best thing in the movie.


Perfect casting. My one complaint is that they should not have used any CGI or makeup for Ryuk. Just shoulda had Willem Dafoe standing there in the background. Would have been more scary.


I just love that he's doing his Green Goblin voice the whole damn time.

He's loving every minute, and it shows.

Took me right back to being scared shitless seeing Spider-man at age eight. There's honestly a lot of solid performances here - Nat Wolff sells Light Turner's nebbish pissant persona with the authenticity of a real asshole teenager.

It's a genuinely well put together flick! They didn't phone this one in.

That's as solid a sum-up as any. Whether you think it's good or not, this definitely isn't a Dragonball: Evolution situation where you can taste the apathy dripping from every line. There's a lot of effort present that isn't usually the case with anime adaptations.

People might not want to call it Death Note, but if you're looking for a fun cheesy modern-day B-movie, it doesn't get much better than this. When I was compiling notes for this column, every scene had something I wanted to talk about, so what was your favorite (non-Chicago) scene?

It's a hard choice - there's a lot of gloriously over the top deaths and bizarre tonal whiplashes, but my favorite may be a tiny moment right near the beginning.

It's a little thing, but the moment Officer Light's Dad said "Karma's a Bitch" was when I knew I was in for a ride.

What was even his job??? A police investigator??? But somehow L picked him of all people to talk to???? Just some random Seattle cop.

Like a lot of things, I think the movie just loses his thread. But either way, that one line told me that regardless of whether or not I liked it, this was not going to be what I expected.

true that

So how about you? What was your favorite?

One of my favorite little moments was when Watari introduced himself as Watari and handed Light's dad a business card that only read "Watari". So perfectly anime.

So that's Death Note 2017. It was certainly a thing. Which again is more than I can say about plenty of other anime adaptations, so it's still an improvement for me.

Best anime adaptation since Speed Racer. Yeah I said it.

Well I'm sure we have plenty to look forward to in the future of live-action anime movies like...uh...

*googles* ...oh

GOODBYE


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