An R-Rated Hollywood “Death Note” Prepares for Spring Production

Death Note_cover art manga box set Viz Media
An American Live-Action Adaptation of Death Note? My brain is screaming right now….. (Please don’t suck. Please don’t suck. Please don’t suck! PLEASE DON’T SUCK!!!!!)

And my exclamations of wounded disdain and worriment are completely valid based on Hollywood’s track record for making abysmal adaptations of Japanese anime and manga.

For example, Speed Racer which got a number of face-palms by yours truly:

And Hollywood’s butchery of the classic Fist of the North Star I sincerely doubt could even be close to being remembered let alone forgiven:


So….they’re going ahead with it after all. I heard about the idea of a Hollywood adaptation sometime last summer. But I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen. Supposedly, they are already working on casting and they have several of the key roles in place as of this writing. My gut reaction to the news was based on those two examples from the 90’s,  I’m worried that Hollywood is going to fuck it up, like it has a tendency to do with anything based on a Japanese anime or manga. However, my curiosity is winning me over, if ever so slightly and I feel that if they have some decent people involved with it, to back the project. Because I’m a huge fan of Death Note; both the manga and the anime series and I don’t want to see this great story be destroyed once again by shitty Hollywood filmmakers. My message to them would be: “stick to the core story line and not try to dick around too much with the source material, and I’ll be happy”. By this I mean, the Hollywood producers, scriptwriters, and directors take it upon themselves to Americanize or some other BS thing to make in (in their view) a property more palatable to American audiences. Every time drastic changes are done to an adaptation based on Japanese source material and if it feels like they’ve strayed too far from it to the point that it’s unrecognizable from the original, then it becomes more of an “ego” piece for the director and screenwriter and it neglects the established fan base.  It never bodes well, especially if the property in question is a popular one like Death Note. However, if I knew that it was going to be more of a straight up adaptation, then I’d feel better about it enough to support it by seeing it and promoting the production going forward. In my opinion, they can’t have such a thing, like the Death Note itself, without having the supernatural element included—-the Shinigami, the Japanese Gods of Death. In fact, the Shinigami are central characters both in the manga (of course) and the anime, especially the one tied to Light Yagami’s Death Note, Ryuk.

Ryuk_death-note

Shinigami Ryuk, Death Note; image source: Viz Media

They were able to get a good-looking and dark-haired young man cast in the role of Light Yagami (as these things always go….they are more than likely going to change all the names so that they sound more American). Not sure about you, but I don’t think that’s right. If you’re going to adapt someone else’s story, at the very least stay true to the source material and don’t change the names. Hollywood is too arrogant for its own good when it comes to foreign properties, especially pop literary works from Japan. But I won’t get into my personal politics here…not my place. Then as soon as I saw Nat Wolff’s picture I immediately thought: “Yeah. He’s Light!”

What do you guys think? Do you think he looks like Light?

Spider-Man-Nat-Wolff

Nat Wolff cast as Light Yagami in US Live-Action film adaptation of Death Note

They cast Margaret Qualley as the female lead. The only one I can think of here is Misa Amane, a character I didn’t particular like either in the anime or manga because she was just annoying and I kept waiting for Light to kill her. Either he was going to do it, or I was. [Then I laugh at myself at my attitude towards a fictional character…hey, it happens!] I haven’t heard yet which character she’s playing so there’s no way in telling if they did a good job with casting or not.

Now, I come to L, the other half of the pivotal cat and mouse game—or more aptly (and not exaggerating too far from the character dynamic) the psychological danse cerebrae; if two people mind-fucking each other could be erotic this would be a close approximation. I’m wondering who they’ll get, or who they actually got, to play the enigmatic super-sleuth, L? I’m thinking they cast his role already, but if they did they would have announced it. Since his character is almost as important to make sure they cast the best actor to play such an interesting character, I’m sure, that is I’m hoping, that they are trying to get it right and not rush this one.

L happens to be my favorite character because of how mysterious he is and how idiosyncratic he is. The actor chosen to play him has to be someone who can portray this complex character with depth but he would have to play him with enough restraint so that he doesn’t come off as too campy.  Someone who could be both childish in demeanor as well as brilliant in his thinking and logic as the world’s greatest private detective, reminiscent in many ways to Sherlock Holmes, the detective’s detective.

The way I see it, in order for this film adaptation to work, both Light and L are important characters, so whoever is in charge of casting, needs to make sure the two actors can play off of each other. At its core, Death Note has more in common with an Italian Giallo (pulp suspense thriller from Italy) than a straight up horror film. Nat has a look of innocence about him and that’s perfect for Light’s character. His good looks and intelligence make him someone you would least expect to be KIRA (the name the public has given the murderer. In Japanese, kira====キラ is a play on the English word “killer”, kira would be how killer would be pronounced in Japanese.)  No one is really sure of L’s age. In fact, it’s not mentioned in the anime (I’m about a quarter of the way through the first season.) and I don’t recall if Ohba mentions it in the manga. He seems to be older than Light but his childlike nature makes him seem younger than what the reader/viewer believes him to be. I’m curious as to who will get to play him. There’s a cuteness about L that is very infectious. For example, he has a sweet tooth and either he’s sucking down a huge sundae with all the fixings or he’s eating chocolate, cake or some sort of sweet baked good, and/or other candy. But there’s also a hint of tragedy about L, too.

L-Lawliet_Death Note DVD ad, VIZ Media

Image Source: Viz Media

Adam Wingard directed the critically acclaimed films, “You’re Next” and “The Guest”. Though I haven’t seen these films yet, I have to see how he does with this. [Editor’s Note: According to an updated article, Wingard is still attached to direct Death Note, however, Netflix has now acquired the rights to produce and distribute the film away from Warner Bros when the studio relinquished its rights. According to a statement from Wingard, he said that because of Netflix’s lack of regulations and rules as to content, he would be free to include more adult material and by that he means: more violence, nudity, blood, etc. But will that help or hurt the film?]

But does it really need to be rated-R?

Then when I read this statement from Warner Brothers producer, Roy Lee, I got a bit concerned:

….it’s definitely for adults. It is zero chance it will be below an R-rating”

Now that the film has been acquired by Netflix, I’m even more concerned than I was before.

When someone says that a film or show is “for adults” two things come to mind and in my opinion, neither will work well for Death Note:

  • Upping the violence with blood and gore (the anime has a little bit of blood but if it gets too overblown, it misses the point of the story)
  • Adding a sexual element to it that is completely unnecessary

Both of the above are totally gratuitous. Both the anime and manga deal with intense adult themes and the manga is really geared more toward 16-year-olds, it’s making me concerned as to what age group demographic is Wingard shooting for here. In the first episode of the anime, there is a scene near the street where a young woman is sexually assaulted by a group of thugs. However, instead of having it go too far (this is Japanese TV after all), the scene remains very tasteful but still intense. In a story that focuses more on the psychological interplay between Light and L, adding more blood, guts and flesh will only hurt the film and not help it at all. However, as we should know, blood, gore, and sex are not the only things that will get an R rating. The story is intense and its tone will not be suited to a younger teen audience. The manga (which I’m currently reading now) is rated for older teens (16 or older) so it would be the audience for the manga that should be able to attend this film. The anime is rated TV14 (as per the DVD set I just received). To exclude this age group (14 years old and over) from the new film I think is wrong, too. Giving it a rating of PG-13 should be fine. You need to show just how terrifying such an instrument of power the Death Note is, at the same time you also have to show how this power can corrupt even the most well-intentioned, mild-mannered of human beings. Both the manga and anime walk this very fine line about addressing the idea of morality. However, it doesn’t suggest any sort of judgment, such as, if Light is right or wrong for using this tool. In my opinion, the refusal of the creators of the original source to impart the story with a definite right or wrong opinion or mortality and placing all that on the minds of the audience, speaks to the genius of the storytelling—of Ohba’s epic and gripping story and Obata’s beautiful artwork. And that became another piece of concern for me: bog down the film too much with the filmmakers’ moral judgments and the original intent of the story changes and that’s not what I would like to see.  But as long as the show-runners keep to the tone of the original source material (the manga) and not try to add a bunch of unnecessary titillating garbage to it, well, then I hope that I can have my opinion changed…..even if only a little bit.

We’ll have to see. Perhaps my thoughts will change after a trailer has been released.

Until then, my chants remain:

“Please don’t suck, Please don’t suck, PLEASE DON’T SUCK!!!!”

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Elspeth Chagall

A biologist by education, Elspeth has always possessed an artist's soul. Her time is mostly spent learning all the tricks of the content marketing trade. Not only that, when she's not learning, she works tirelessly as web admin for her self-hosted blog network of Wordpress sites and manages all the editorial duties of all the sites she's developed. She's often said that ideas for new sites keep coming to her. She was an affiliate marketer for a number of years but had to drop that title so she could spend more time working on her own projects. When she's not busy growing her blog empire, she's working on her published writing endeavors. She resides in the Philadelphia Metro area with her partner. In her spare time, she's an avid anime and manga fan, a lover of M/M romance as she both reads and writes stories, a techno-geek, card-carrying member of the Cult of Mac/Apple, book worm and movie buff. It's safe to say, that she doesn't get out much.