Originating as a Japanese manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata Death Note has already been adapted into an anime series, four live action films, a TV drama, a musical and various video games.
Considering how huge a phenomenon it’s proven in Japan it’s no wonder an American adaptation has come around premiering at FrightFest then appearing on Netflix exclusively and horror director Adam Wingard best known for You’re Next, The Guest and last year’s Blair Witch remake is the man in charge.
The story is deceivingly simple at first as one day high school outsider Light Turner (The Fault in Our Stars Nat Wolff) finds an ancient looking book titled Death Note which says inside that if the owner writes a name on its pages while thinking of the persons face that person will then die.
Things take a turn for the strange when devious Death God Ryuk (voiced by Willem Dafoe) an 8 foot tall demon with glowing red eyes and covered in black porcupine spines appears explaining a few more of the Death Note’s powers and tempting him to use it on a bully who previously punched Light’s lights out.
Writing the nasty teen’s name and death by decapitation Light is shocked and terrified when a series of unfortunate events unfold before his eyes resulting in the meat head losing his cranium when a ladder from an out of control van separates it from his buffed up body.
Persuaded by the manuscripts magnificent power but concerned of Ryuk’s intentions Light decides to let his high school crush Mia (Margaret Qualley from The Leftovers) in on his spooky secret and after some mortality ending convincing involving a live stream of a hostage event the duo decide to use the book to change society for ever more.
Causing masses of death row inmates to commit suicide citing the pairs alter ego Kira as the cause they create a real life God that punishes the wicked of the world reducing crime and forcing hundreds of frightened wrong doers to turn themselves in before the vengeful Kira takes their lives.
Although the majority of the populace rejoice and start to worship Kira certain individuals including Light’s own father who is a cop and the mysterious super detective known only as L (Straight Outta Compton’s Lakeith Stanfield) see this unseen death bringing super being as a mass murderer who must be stopped.
So begins a dangerous game of cat and mouse where Light and Mia must decide how far they will go to protect the Death Note and their dream all the while pursued by the authorities and trying to ascertain the malicious machinations of Ryuk.
Entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable Death Note is such a great story it grabs you from the start and doesn’t let go till it’s over and although some of his soundtrack choices seemed strange Adam Wingard does a great job adapting the superb source material remaining reasonably respectful and retaining many of the distinctly Japanese elements rather than Americanizing them.
Racing along at a punchy pace if anything I found myself wishing afterwards that Netflix had made this into a series rather than a feature considering the heavy philosophical concepts of good and evil and right and wrong it tackles. Equally some parts warranted far deeper coverage than the running time allowed especially Light and Mia’s creation of the Kira legend and its global spread which is skimmed through in a montage that is believable yet bereft of the truly engaging exploration it deserves.
That said Death Note is full of excellent effects, great gore and deft drama introducing a whole new set of viewers to a fascinating and fantastic foreign franchise and like any good adaptation hopefully it will inspire its audience to seek out the original, something I am most definitely going to do.
Death Note Clip: L Confronts Light: