rhoda_rants: (scarlet witch)
[personal profile] rhoda_rants
So Netflix is adapting Death Note. In Seattle. With lots more sex and violence, apparently.

Cue up "Zetsubou Billy," grab your potato chips, and sit down, because I have Feelings about this.

More accurately: Netflix itself is not actually adapting Death Note, but rather director Adam Wingard is adapting it and grabbed Netflix as a distributor. Whatever. I'm actually gonna bypass a lot of Stuff about whitewashing and cultural appropriation for now not because I don't think it's relevant or important (it is), but because there are other reasons this disturbs me. Firstly, Wingard is highly regarded in the horror community. He's the guy who gave us V/H/S, You're Next, and The Guest, all movies I really love, which suggests this adaptation might be all right. But he also did last year's Blair Witch. I have . . . reservations.

Secondly, there's a problem with adapting a story like this in an American setting. If a disaffected teenage boy suddenly decided to mass murder a bunch of people, we probably wouldn't notice anything had changed. It's still awful and would make the news, but it's also business as usual 'round here. The cultural impact that Light has in his origin story does not translate. I'll go ahead and link this Twitter rant because they said pretty much the same thing I was gonna. Then there's the fact that we don't have Shinigami (Death Gods) here. That's a mythology specific to Japan, and while part of me does really really want to see Willem Dafoe as Ryuk, I have to wonder how they're planning to explain and contextualize it for a Western audience without it getting really hinky.

Thirdly, Death Note is my favorite anime / manga series. It's the first anime I ever watched the whole way through, the only manga I've made an effort to collect every single volume of, and I even bought the live-action movies on DVD.

Behold, my Black Editions! Witness their place of honor alongside Harry Potter and The Hunger Games!

Oh yeah--there's already a live-action adaptation in Japanese. Actually, let's address that hot mess for a minute, as I’ve seen a couple people point to the Japanese movies and note that they kind of sucked. There are four (4) live action movies out in Japan, the most recent being Death Note: Light Up the NEW World that came out last October. I haven’t seen the last one yet, but I’ve seen all the others. The first two, Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name follow the plot of the manga and anime (sort of) up until the point that L (the awkward, sweet-toothed, genius boy detective, and series antagonist) figures out Light (aka Reito, aka Kira, the villain protagonist) is in fact the vigilante serial killer they're looking for. It squishes the entire twelve-volume series into two feature-length films, hacking away at pace, character development, entire characters and subplots, the original ENDING, and y'all, it is a hot mess and I don't even KNOW what people were thinking trying to cram this entire story into two movies.

The biggest misstep (among many) for me was the casting of Light. He's good-looking, popular, and brilliant, but bored. He's also a villain protagonist who does not realize he's evil. Think Patrick Bateman only younger and a lot less self-aware. The deeper he goes into his own God complex, the harder it is for anyone to talk sense to him--assuming they even suspect him. A villain protagonist is a very tricky character type to do well. They have to be charismatic enough for the audience to latch onto their story, but also dark enough that we won't mistake them for one of the good guys. Writer Tsugumi Ohba walks that line beautifully, which is one of the reasons this manga / anime is so widely known and acclaimed.

In the Japanese live-action movies, Light is played by Tatsuya Fujiwara. He is less than compelling. He tries, but he doesn't have the slippery charm and calculating fifteen-steps-ahead-of-everyone-else shrewdness that Light needs. Also I just kept seeing Shuya from Battle Royale and it was distracting. However--and this is a big however--Ken’ichi Matsuyama as L is brilliant, and I can't think of anyone else who could have brought such a distinct, beloved character to life.

GIF of Matsuyama as L hunched in an office chair and eating a cake.
Source: http://kenichimatsuyamaxx.tumblr.com/post/48697011117/im-dying

From his posture to his voice to his aloofness, Matsuyama IS L. He really deserved a better movie. And he got one, in L: Change the World. It's a hyper-violent side quest AU with a flesh-eating virus, a doomsday countdown clock, and the same director as Ringu. It is utterly ridiculous and I LOVE IT. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Character is THE most important aspect of any story to me. If you get my favorite character right, I'll overlook a lot of crap. The Death Note movies are crap. But L is perfect. So I'm willing to let some of it slide. (Some.)

If an Americanized version of Death Note must exist, I want to see it done well. Given Wingard's track record, there is a chance that we'll have a decent movie. If you’ve seen my favorite movie of his, The Guest, then you already know he can handle a villain protagonist just fine. (And if you haven’t seen The Guest, I suggest you hightail it to your movie provider of choice and FIX THAT because seriously, you don't know what you're missing.) There's also a chance Wingard is much better at original material than adaptations. Because the Blair Witch sort-of sequel was a bloody awful waste of everyone’s time.

The trailer up there doesn't thrill me. Nor does the fact that they're trying to tell this whole story in ONE movie, which is even worse than two. And seeing yet another privileged white boy playing fast and loose with human lives is not something I need in my life right now. But as always, everything comes down to character. Let's see how Lakeith Stanfield does L.

Meanwhile, I'm gonna reread my favorite manga again.
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