So, I finally saw the Netflix’s Death Note movie and well not trying to beat a dead horse here but it was bad. Not Dragonball Evolution bad, but bad enough. Bad enough to say that it did not live up to the expectations of the source material (even though, through the grapevine, the creators loved it); however, if it was an original concept film and not adaptation of another piece of work, it might have been good enough for background noise or Netflix and chill (ugh, can’t believe I went there).
I digress. What I really thought about the adaptation could be summed in the notes that I have written down. Here is a sample (spoilers if you care):
· Why is the music like this?
· Why is Light written the way that he is?
· High school? Why high school?
· Seattle? Why Seattle? (and there is nothing wrong with Seattle as a city. The setting could be different.)
· So, it about getting the drawers? Please don’t let this be about getting the drawers?
· It is about getting the drawers (hits desk multiple times).
· He is just not the smartest light bulb in the pack, is he (puns!).
Keep in mind, this is all within the first act of the movie. The jury in my mind is this: the two things that saved this movie from being complete trash was Willem DaFoe as Ryuk and Keith Stanfield as L. That’s it, that’s all. The pacing was bad. The actor who played Light was boring and lifeless. Even describing him as “one note” is a complement. The music that was chosen was almost like the director and the producers just wanted to re-live their times in high school listening to soft rock. It did not fit tonally. You could barely tell which time period that this was actually supposed to be set in. It just did not make sense. See, dead horse thoroughly beaten. There are many more questions and observations that I had, but it triggered more deeper thought about the way Hollywood does adaptations of Japanese source material.
I find that when anything is adapted from one medium to another, it has to have to serve two purposes: to draw new people in and to appease those who are familiar with the source material. More often than not, it is the “appease those who are familiar with the source material” part of the equation that the “Powers that Be” in Hollywood seem to fall short on every time. It is the fanbase that gains the attention of those who have money. The only thing that the studios see or think is that fans are willing to pay for things that they love, no matter how good or bad. It is with this mentality that fans are often exploited and baited into something they hope will be something that they have seen, thought of, or played out in their minds over years. This ideal, when it comes to adaptations and how they are handled, could either go one of two ways: be decent or be trash. With anime and manga adaptations for a western audience, they are often trash.
Movies that are developed or adapted from anime/manga for western audiences are often filled with troupes and other “stereotypes” that are forced because the studios and the test audiences believe that they need to be there for the story to fit. There are very few times that they are seamless and unnoticeable. Other times, they are obvious and annoying ruining the either the suspension of disbelief or the viewer’s ability to find relatability. Take for instance the setting of the movie being in high school. The way that western audiences see high school and the way that Japanese audiences see high school are completely different. (By the way, the original Death Note series did not take place in high school nor was the main character was in high school.) Western audiences do not see high school as a time for growth or as a stop gap between childhood and adulthood but often a place where they feel that the world is ran by hormonal urges and angst. Hence, why I was disappointed when motivation for Light to use the Death Note was to impress the girl. It was never to impress any girl but to change society. This thought process of how writers adapting from anime often fall short.
Let’s examine the character of Light more and how he fails as a protagonist, likable or otherwise. In movie, you are first introduced to Light as a student who, the writers and director wants to assume as “smart” by doing other students’ homework. This is not really a good way to show that he is smart. At least not in the way that you want him to be smart. Also, it does not foreshadow properly that Light and L are actually one in the same when it comes to levels of intelligence. Light’s intelligence should have been the source of his hubris. That hubris would have been the big payoff. Light is the likable villain. If anyone was in his shoes or had that opportunity, they may have done the same thing.
The Light in the movie is not likable at all. Maybe it is the teenage angst that prevents his character from being interesting. The motivations that he has (it is presented to us that he is only trying to impress the girl) do not workout in a way that would make the story of him being the holder of the death note good. It is so superficial that it is takes the viewer out of the story all together. As the guy from Cinema Sins would say, Light is literally running on the “power of boners”. The writers, and I know that I am saying the writer a lot; however, it is the writers that are writing the character this way, took a great character and bastardized him to “fit” how a western viewer would want someone, let’s just say 17-21, would act with this power. If he was as smart as he makes him out to be, then allow his decision making to be logical (just how it was in the anime) instead of hormonal. When we finally get that glimpse of “intelligence” it is at the end and the movie did not deserve the payoff that is was trying to present to us, the viewer. Or maybe that the writers are banking on a sequel. However, Hollywood should really stop banking on sequels and just tell cohesive stories with compelling characters.
Why is it that Hollywood producers think that bastardizing anime/manga adaptations is a good idea? Do they believe that Americans love boring and predictable protagonist? Or is it that they believe that anime fans, Otaku, whatever terminology that you would like to use, will be like Fry from Futurama and want creators to take their money. No, it is not like that at all. Fans of all media have a certain level of expectation when it comes to beloved characters. Missteps when it comes to those characters and the fanbase will rise against it. The powers that be needs to understand that shows have followings for reasons: the characters are beloved; the plot is interesting and the characters and compelling and relatable.