Why can’t you just leave things alone?
I mean, I get it. Japan is cool (A stereotype sadly quashed within a few weeks of acclimatisation…). Their movies and cartoons are superior, and yes, as such, you should quake with fear. Or, at least, do what you’ve been doing for the last few decades and simply recreate their masterworks in lacklustre facsimiles that have none of the heart and soul of the original. You’ve managed to do it with every great Japanese horror franchise, so Christ, why not have a go at some beloved anime series next?
I’ll admit, when the American remake of Death Note was first announced, I figured I’d give it a chance. After all, it had Willem Dafoe as dastardly god of death Ryuk. That’s gotta count for something, right?
So, Friday August 25th rolled round. I finished work, ordered Thai food, poured a large glass of wine and settled down, open-minded as a massive fan of the manga could be, for what I hoped would be an at least half-decent take on one of the greatest stories Japan has produced in the last twenty years.
Death Note, for the uninitiated, tells the tale of Light Yagami (Turner in America-land), a high school student who discovers a notebook with which he holds dominion over life and death. Guided by Ryuk, a Shinigami (death god), he vows to rid the world of sinners, quickly garnering the attention of authorities in his deadly mission. What ensues is a tense battle of wits between Light and the mysterious “L” (and later his protégés) in a twisting and turning narrative that keeps readers on the edge of their seats until its explosive conclusion.
So what the hell did I just watch?
Adam Wingard, director of modern classic You’re Next, as well as the recent Blair Witch reimagining, seems to have taken the Tim Burton “reading the title and the blurb is enough to adapt a book” approach with his take on Death Note, transferring the action to an American high school in a tale that does, at least, feature a Death Note, and does, at least (?) keep the title of its namesake…
Wingard’s Death Note lacks any of the likability or nuance of its predecessor. Indeed, what we are presented with is a Death Note for the Final Destination generation. It’s bloody, it’s sweary, and what would a high school horror movie be without a pointlessly crowbarred-in romance that does nothing but grate on the viewer?
Admittedly, to begin with, Nat Wolff (The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns) does his best to give Light a little more gumption than the script dictates, and indeed, he doesn’t do a terrible job. It’s just a shame that when coupled with the insipid Margaret Qualley (The Nice Guys, The Leftovers), what could have been an interesting new take on the story becomes little more than a broody teen drama.
Willem Dafoe’s Ryuk looks a heck of a lot more believable than the cartoony incarnation in Shusuke Kaneko’s 2006 live action version, and his Green Goblin rasping suits the character well, but he simply isn’t given enough to do amidst the humdrum to make the character in any way menacing or memorable.
The one redeeming factor is L, portrayed by Get Out and Straight Outta Compton’s Lakeith Stanfield, who, despite the clunky script, gives a great performance as the unhinged detective mastermind.
I wanted to like Death Note. I really did. But, alas, Netflix tried their darnedest to make an utterly insipid adaptation of a deep and engaging story, leaving nothing more than a wasted opportunity.
Cue an uninspired reimagining of 20th Century Boys…
Death Note is available on now on Netflix.
Dir: Adam Wingard
Scr: Charles Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides, Jeremy Slater
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Nat Wolff, Shea Whigham
Prd: Jason Hoffs, Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Masi Oka
DOP: David Tattershall
Music: Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross
Run time: 101mins