Netflix’s ‘Death Note’ restored my faith in film

By Benjamin Chrollin | October, 2023

While furthering my depth of film knowledge across the Earth’s lands and seas, I stumbled upon an anime titled Death Note for which unbeknownst to me, had a major following thus I promptly hated it. Soon after, during a chance encounter, I discovered an American adaptation on Netflix. As my curiosity was peaked, I tripped and fell on the play button but continued to watch expecting yet another American travesty. It was the best mistake I’ve ever made (outside of our daughter, Suwikominosu). The 2017 Netflix Original movie Death Note is an adaptation of the fetishized 2003 anime series. While the movie has gathered an immense following given its interesting concept, there have been debates about whether the movie is worth watching. This is especially due to its inevitable comparison with the anime series as the film brings new life into the franchise and bolsters the anime’s many weaknesses. Death Note is the story of High School student Light Yagami, who discovers a supernatural notebook with the power to kill anyone whose name is written in it. He then becomes a vigilante justice enforcer, seeking out criminals that society has failed to bring to justice. The movie follows his course as a sort of superhero, but with a twist. The design choices that went into making this movie are quite fascinating, and they do justice to the anime’s art-style with sincere attention to detail. The story of the movie is engaging and well-executed. It is a great mixture of dark themes and moments of comic relief for which even I, a strict adherent to stoicism, even found hilarious. It takes some risks and also keeps certain parts faithful to its source material. Furthermore, it is quite dark, much darker than the tone of the anime. The characters and their motivations are quite intricate and complex, which makes the movie an interesting experience.

The film is far better at drawing out the character’s intentions as the anime just does not hit the mark. The dynamic between Light and his arch-nemesis, Ryuk (the inter-dimensional alien grim reaper) is much more believable as they attempt to usurp each other for high school president while solving crimes with their supernatural intellect. The anime draws extremely bland and redundant plot twists while the film goes straight for the viewer’s jugular with striking intent in its writing. But that’s not to say the film reached highest marks today, however. The film is held back by its social sensibilities from its time. 2017 was not a year held in high regard among we film experts as it is marred by a deafening lack of diversity. Though the film has a single POC in it playing “L,” he/they/them is relegated to the role of an autistic child who was originally white in the source material which is great for equity but it is 2023 and we need more. The character “L” in the source material is more of an ear-mark character to keep the story moving. Essentially just an on-screen narration of the TV show. That said, the acting was solid, especially that of Nat Wolff (best known for his role in The Naked Brothers Band Behaving Badly: The Movie [2005), who plays Light Yagami. His portrayal of the superhero is remarkable and gives a refreshing kiss to the character and really brings out Light’s depth where the anime just fails. The Death Note anime would have benefited much from Adam Wingard’s direction, frankly. But thankfully the film has some amazing fight sequences which are beautifully choreographed and left me mesmerized thus distracted from the glaring differences in quality between the two mediums.

All in all, Netflix’s Death Note is an enjoyable movie that is worth watching for its dark themes, impeccable editing, production, and amazing fight sequences. While it is a brilliant adaptation of the anime series, it is unfortunately a Death Note film. The anime as its source material is what weighs it down due to the overall lack of quality in regards to characters, tension, themes and more importantly, BIPOC/LGBTQIA+ representation. Though it is yet another big Hollywood “Summer Blockbuster,” it is still worth watching and sufficiently entertaining.

Death Note (2017) Review Score

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