Since it premiered on Netflix, the live-action English film adaptation of “Death Note” has been garnering mixed reviews from viewers, with some complaining that it doesn’t perfectly mirror the original series.
The premise in Netflix’s version remains faithful to that of the manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. A magical notebook, called the Death Note falls into the hands of Light, a high school student who soon discovers that he can kill at will just by writing the names of the persons he wants dead on the pages of the notebook.
He discovers this information through an encounter with Ryuk, the demon. Light finds a love interest in a girl named Mia, who later learns about the Death Note and what it can do. And then there’s L, the special investigator who is hell bent on capturing Kira, Light’s alterego that claims responsibility for the killings. This is where the similarities stop.
While the main characters are retained, the way these characters develop throughout the story and the manner in which supposedly parallel events are executed differ greatly. Even Light’s initial reaction to Ryuk on their first meeting—and what happens thereafter—is in stark contrast to how he responded to the demon in the animé cartoon.
The reason behind all these disparities is quite simple. Netflix’s live-action film wasn’t meant to be a direct adaptation of the manga or animé source materials. Doing so would have been impossible, considering all those episodes would have to be compressed into a less than two-hour film.
The new “Death Note” is a reimagined version, something that takes its premise and characters from the original but does an entirely different take in producing new material. The film is meant to be an origin story, not a condensed version.
Director Adam Wingard talks about the challenges of reimagining a cult favorite, saying “Looking at where to start, because it’s a huge series, they’re looking at so many peaks and valleys within and for us, what we decided was that this was very much an origin story and we just kind of focused on the first few volumes of the series and kinda took inspiration from there.”
“But the added challenge to that is the fact that we’re not just doing a direct adaptation, we’re taking Death Note and we’re saying, what happens when you put this in a different country, in this case, America, and what kind of sensibilities can we draw that are uniquely American, and put that in this version. Obviously, that’s a challenge.”
“On top of that, like for me as a director, this is the first film I’ve done with the effects—a significant amount of special effects in it. So it was really a process that needs really learning to incorporate really complicated CGI—computer effects and stuff—into the movie,” Wingard said in a recent media conference.
Although Wingard wasn’t as much a fan of “Death Note” in his younger years as much as Masi Oka, one of the film adaptation’s producers and otherwise known as Hiro Nakamura from the television series “Heroes,” directing “Death Note” was the long-awaited realization of a dream project.
Wingard had always wanted to create a film based on manga or animé. “Death Note” was that was highly recommended by his brother, who was a total animé geek. “I checked it out and you know, I read the manga series first, and that’s when I really got into it.”
“It’s one of those funny things, you know. You ask for it and a couple of years later, I was sent the screen play from Warner Brothers which was originally adapting it. It was just super cool because it felt like one of those the universe was aligning things, you know? When my brother first said that, there was no way that I could have just gone to a studio and said, ‘hey I wanna do this.’ But then I just got sent to me, and I jumped on.”
“Death Note” is available for streaming on Netflix.