After a mysterious notebook lands at his feet, high school student Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is shocked to learn that every person whose name is written in the book dies and that the notebook was given to him by a god of death known as Ryuk (Willem Dafoe (voice), Jason Liles). He shows the Death Note to his friend Mia (Margaret Qualley), a cheerleader and together they build up the legend of the god known as Kira, a serial killer who slays the bad guys. After several days the detective known only as L (Lakeith Stanfield) figures out the general location of Kira. He’s in Seattle and L goes there to investigate further along with his handler Watari (Paul Nakauchi). Here L and Kira, both symbolizing a different ideology related to law enforcement work to bring each other down. However Light later learns that his allies may not be the friends he thought they were.
So this movie is based off of a classic anime/manga of the same name. I only read the manga so I know at least most of the major discrepancies in the plot and characters. It is nearly impossible to go over what this movie did wrong without pointing those discrepancies out. Because of that I’ll go over how it holds up without it being an anime adaptation. It isn’t a very good movie, but it isn’t the terrible wreck many people are saying it was. The characters were interesting, the animation of Ryuk was pretty good, and the few small callbacks to the original source material such as the apples gave it at least a connection to the anime. However some scenes were shot oddly for seemingly no reason and there were a few scenes that were a bit too gruesome when they didn’t need to be (i.e. Kira’s first and second murders).
Now on to how good it is as an adaptation. I understand the need to alter a few details to make it fit the courtroom environment of the United States. In Japan most people who go to trial get charged with the crime they were accused of and few people get the death sentence because it’s almost exclusive to cases with multiple murders. This is reflected in some video games such as Ace Attorney where prosecutors tend to be the bad guys. In the United States however the judicial system is different. Is this reflected in the plot at all? Not really except for the fact that capital punishment is a topic of discussion in both the United States and in Japan.
Lights character was altered drastically. Same with Mia’s character. Most of these changes did not need to be made to make the plot fit a different culture. In the anime Light is a honour student with some sociopathic tendencies and Mia (Misa) is an airheaded idol who idealizes Kira to the point where she would commit murders with another death note just to get his attention. In the movie Light is smart but he thinks of the morality of what he does and refuses to kill anybody he sees as innocent. Mia on the other hand is the person who is really pulling the strings behind Kira and will do anything to make him seem all powerful and merciless including killing innocent people. L was also altered drastically. In the anime he is a strange introverted genius who would only ever act calm no matter what happens. He actually seems as though he’s enjoying his hunt for Kira. In the movie he’s still introverted, but later on in the movie he loses that cool. Again these are not changes that needed to be made, in fact the movie would have been better if most of these changes weren’t made.
Some iconic scenes that should have been in the movie were left out it seems in order to make this movie an action packed thriller instead of the slow psychological story of the source material. The potato chip scene would have added a bit of humour to the part where Light is under surveillance. The scene where L is first introduced, the one where he uses different broadcast schedules and death row inmates to find Kira’s general location would have made a lot more sense to L’s character than when he stands in front of many people and is broadcast live on television. In the anime L would never reveal himself like this, especially not before he understood Kira’s modus operandi.
Finally the worst part of this movie is the death note itself. The rules were altered in order to again make this movie more action packed than the source material. They removed the part where anyone who even touches the death note can see Ryuk. It’s also the only death note, unlike in the anime/manga where there were many death notes and many gods of death (shinigami). Instead of the book being dropped to earth by a bored shinigami, it seems that in the movie it is just given to random people and Ryuk will make sure it is passed on. Light only wrote the first name after Ryuk urged him to when in the anime/manga he writes many names before Ryuk even shows up. Most of these changes were not necessary.
So I ended up doing exactly what I didn’t want to do. I focused a lot more on how this movie doesn’t hold up to its original source material instead of just looking at how good the movie itself is unconnected to the anime/manga. This is mainly because the original story is a lot better than this movie just because all these changes were made. I understand that it is difficult to fit all that plot into a movie that is less than 2 hours long, but they could have at least tried. When it was decided to make this movie it is as though no one even read a decent summary of the plot. I do recommend this movie to some people, but not to anyone who has either watched the anime, read the manga, or wants to get into Death Note. If you want to get into Death Note I recommend you watch the anime. You will be far more entertained.
Final Rating – 26/50