Netflix’s “Death Note,” based on a popular Japanese manga and anime series, landed itself in hot water long before its release. It was widely criticized for whitewashing its cast, and given Hollywood’s abysmal track record with anime adaptations, such as Dragon Ball and Ghost in the Shell, it’s no wonder why audiences’ expectations were so low.
Death Note follows a high school student named Light Turner (Nat Wolff), a typical genius and outcast character who wants to stand up for what is right. He stumbles upon the Death Note, a notebook that has the power to kill people whose names are written in it. He is goaded into using it by the book’s owner, Ryuk (Lakeith Stanfield), a death god. After seeing it work, Light embarks on a vigilante mission to kill criminals, trying to shape the world into a better place. However, it devolves into a convoluted game of cat and mouse with the FBI.
This adaptation thoroughly Americanizes the story, resulting in lot of missing cultural context. For example, the concept of death gods, or Shinigami, is common in Japan but it is never fully explained in film. This leaves the entire movie feeling off kilter and it is punctuated with cringeworthy moments. You’re never quite sure if you’re supposed to find the movie scary or funny. It doesn’t matter if you’re a longtime fan or just a casual movie streamer. Skip this movie and watch the original anime instead.