A high school boy named Light Turner finds a mysterious notebook on the ground during a rain storm. When he discovers that it’s a magic notebook that allows him to kill people by writing down their names, he uses it to wipe crime and injustice off the face of the earth. However, killing by magical means is still murder, and his actions spark an international manhunt. Can Light stay ahead of the police — and out of jail?
This is Death Note, a Netflix original movie adapted from a 2003 manga by the duo of Takeshi Obata and Tsugumi Ohba. Unfortunately, this adaptation falls far short of its source material, even accounting for its short length.
Of course, I didn’t expect this movie to be the same as the manga, the anime, or the Japanese live-action films; the producers did their own take on it without mirroring any plotlines from the manga or any prior adaptation. It’s an understandable course of action, so I found no fault with the movie on those grounds.
However, what we did get was rather disappointing.
In the beginning, Light’s character is revealed mostly through clunky exposition — already a bad start. While the scene where he learns of the Death Note’s power and meets the death god Ryuk is done well, that quality doesn’t last, for he ends up in a relationship with the attractive Mia Sutton out of the blue — right after he showed her the power of the Note. To make matters worse, she suddenly decides that she wants to join him in his crusade as well — and no reason is given for this quick acceptance of Light’s abilities.
Indeed, Light and Mia are the main reason this movie is so bad. Their relationship has nothing holding it together, and Mia’s increasingly hostile behavior just comes out of nowhere. She was more plot device than person. And let’s not even go into how all this began — with Light casually confessing a murder to her when he barely knew her, then demonstrating the murder weapon in front of her. Much as I don’t want to compare this to the anime, it bears saying: Light in the anime moved heaven and Earth to keep the Death Note a secret. He didn’t casually blab about it to a classmate.
There were some good moments, however. The detective L, sent to help the police sniff out Light, was done pretty well, presenting us with an awkward yet intelligent man dedicated to his job. Ryuk, the god of death, behaves in a manner both silly and sinister, lending the movie a bit of jokiness while keeping the dark tone intact. Both characters are a joy to watch, especially L who plays a large role in the film’s second half. L and Ryuk, however, are not enough to salvage the film’s quality. Had the main characters been up to speed, this movie would’ve been good and gripping.
In conclusion, I suggest skipping this movie and watching the Death Note anime instead. There, you’ll see real characterization and real psychological drama. Another live-action anime movie bites the dust.