Netflix changed one thing and it completely changed Death Note
(For the sake of simplicity this article is covering the Netflix live action version of Death Note, not the Japanese version. That version has a whole other set of problems.)
I’m not going to lie to you and say I had high hopes for the Netflix Death Note movie. That just wasn’t me. Anime series usually just don’t translate into live action well.
Remember the movie Dragonball Evolution?
Sorry to bring that up….
Remember the live action Attack on Titan?
Sorry again, sorry I’ll stop…..
Remember the 2013 American adaptation of Oldboy?
(This one isn’t fair because this was really a reboot of a live action masterpiece- the 2003 Korean film Oldboy which to this day is still one of the best films ever made and it’s iconic hallway fight scene has been the inspiration for other great scenes like the hallway fight scene in Daredevil.)
You get my point. Anime to live action is hard and usually doesn’t work. Anime is just so zany and weird and whacky. That doesn’t work so well if you’re doing live action.
Unless you’re Baz Luhrmann. Then you’re good.
(Can you imagine if Baz Luhrmann had been chosen to direct the most recent Batman trilogy? That would’ve been amazing.)
Anyway back to Death Note.
What killed it happened toward the very beginning. It’s when Light picks up the Death Note and is mulling over whether to use it or not. In both the anime and the Netflix live action, Light takes tentative steps using the book. His first kill is very spur of the moment.
In the anime, Light kills an armed man who’s taken hostages being reported on the news.
In the live action, Light kills his high school bully.
Neither choice is wrong, both have merits. The live action movie has the benefit of making the first victim someone that we, the audience, also hate. So it puts us in the drivers seat a bit and it’s actually satisfying to see the guy lose his noggin.
The anime killing is less personal, but Light takes his time deliberating whether or not to write the guys name down. Because the idea of a Death Note is silly. Even after it works, Light isn’t convinced. It takes a few tries to convince anime Light that the Death Note works as prescribed.
Live action Light doesn’t need this. Live action Light gets coerced into using the Death Note by W̶i̶l̶l̶i̶a̶m̶ ̶D̶a̶f̶o̶e̶ Ryuk.
And this is where you lose me.
In the anime, Light was bored. He tries the Death Note out of sheer boredom. It’s established early that Light and Ryuk share a common theme: they’re both bored and looking for an outlet.
In the live action adaptation, Ryuk coerces Light to use the Death Note and it removes all the agency Light had.
Now this story isn’t about a super smart whiz kid who’s too intelligent for his own good and philosophizes himself to an early grave on a bender for “justice.” When Ryuk coerces Light to use the Death Note, the story becomes about a smart whiz kid who was tricked into using something beyond his control and he’s suddenly a victim.
Light is not a victim. He’s a monster. The whole appeal of Death Note is about how any one of us could become the monster that Light becomes if we were given the power that he has. The villain is us. But in the live action adaptation, they go through great pains to make Ryuk the villain of this story, even having previous Death Note owners scrawl notes in the margins saying “Ryuk is not your friend.” “Don’t trust him.”
When you make Light a victim instead of an anti-hero, you change the whole story. All of a sudden, Light isn’t the one making things happen. Things are just happening to him. And that’s never what you want your lead protagonist to be.
And if that’s not enough for you: THEY REMOVED THE POTATO CHIP SCENE.
René Castro is an amateur professional writer and a recreational charlatan. He takes a potato chip, and EATS IT! Yell at him on Twitter: @Rene4591