Netflix has shared the first trailer for its live-action film adaptation of Death Note, starring a dude with frosted tips as the main character Light Turner and Willem Dafoe as his demon “friend.” For those uninitiated to the Japanese manga series, a brief plot description is: a young man finds a supernatural notebook with the power to kill anyone whose name is written in it. The franchise has already inspired an anime series as well as several Japanese-language live-action films, but now Netflix has decided it’s their turn to make some money off of the popular story. With only one trailer out, definitive criticism is jumping the gun. But what the hell, here’s to speculation! These are my top five reasons Netflix’s Death Note remake looks like shit.
1. The main character
While it is too early to say for certain, there’s a “misunderstood, loner, old school emo” vibe coming off of Light in the trailer. Light originally is portrayed as a popular, charismatic, attractive guy who has the chance to shape the world to his design, not a misunderstood loner type. Death Note is a story about a normal person discovering they are a sociopath with a God complex, and going down the darkest possible path with it. This is not a story about a misunderstood teen who finds a way to take out his frustrations on people.
2. The tone
After watching the trailer over and over, it appears Netflix’s adaption is being billed as an action/romance film. Death Note is actually a suspenseful mass murder mystery, that stands out in that it tells the audience who committed the crime immediately. The gripping appeal of Death Note is not finding out who the culprit is, but finding out if he’s even stoppable. It’s a story about minds facing off against one another, it is not some shoot’em up action/romance story.
3. You knew it was coming… the whitewashing
I know it’s a loaded term, but hear me out: American does not equal white. Asians are the most underrepresented group of people in US/Canadian television. The story of Death Note and the characters, especially Light, would’ve given an Asian actor a unique role to break stereotypes. Since he is presented as intelligent, attractive, and ruthless, which contrasts how Asians are typically represented (women are oversexualized while men are desexualized). Also throwing in a token actor of colour to play a character who *spoilers* is killed does not solve the issue of whitewashing.
4. Worse for Westernizing
Building on the last point, the characters’ names have been changed to make it completely Westernized. Light Yagami, who will be played by Nat Wolff, is now Light Turner, and Misa Amane is now Mia Sutton. The only characters whose names have stayed the same are Ryuk, L, and Watari. For Ryuk especially it will be difficult to explain calling him a Shinigami (Japanese death spirit) while the context of the adaptation is in Seattle, Washington. Not to mention, the name given to Light by the people of Japan in the original is “Kira” which means “killer” — a detail which shows up in the trailer as well.
5. There’s plenty of good Death Note out there already
There’s a manga, anime, and several Japanese films of this story already. Plus a new film just came out last year! All of them are great in their own ways, without the awkward whitewashing, name changing, and bad character translation that Netflix has presented in their adaption.