Death Note is based on the manga, and subsequent anime, that in my opinion, is a fantastic exploration of the nature of good and evil, morality and ethics. However you want to put it. For those of you who haven't read the manga or seen the anime, I would highly recommend it. The plot follows Light (Tatsuya Fujiwara) as he finds a "Death Note" that allows him to kill anyone he wants to by writing their name down in the book. After dozens and dozens of criminals all start dying of heart attacks, a reclusive detective that goes by the alias of L (Kenichi Matsuyama) determines that there's a serial killer on the loose and sets out to capture the man who's come to be known as "Kira".
Traditionally manga/anime adaptions have had a hard time successfully transferring to a different medium. Going from ink to live action has proven tricky, some would even say impossible, but I do think that Death Note is a good choice for a live action adaption. There's very little need for cgi. The source material is great. It's relatively provincial and small in scope, but it's big on depth. There's no big, costly, and labor intensive cgi fights. It's not like Dragon Ball or Naruto where the visual needs would be far, far greater than it is here. There are obviously some supernatural elements to Death Note, but they're kept to a minimum most of the time. Death Note is a much more personal and grounded manga that I think would suit a live action adaption better than most others would. But... the production values, acting, and pacing all felt like it was at a TV standard. The cgi Ryuk looked out of place more often than not, though his voice work was spot on. We also get no background on Ryuk or the Death Note. Maybe they're saving that for the sequel, which I think was shot at the same time as this one.
I didn't like the characterizations of Light or L, but especially Light. I purposefully watched the anime before the movie so I could have a better idea of what the source material was like, and to see how close they came to adapting it faithfully. I thought the actor playing Light was far too average, in every way. Light is a genius level intellect, he's like Lex Luthor. Unrivaled and bored by everyone around him, but still well-intentioned. However this Light always felt like an average teenager, nothing particularly exceptional about him. Not only that, but Light always had a righteous streak in him. That's what drove him to try and rid the world of crime and make a safer world, but this version of Light feels too wicked, too quickly. I didn't get a strong sense of him wanting to deliver justice to the world. There were a couple of scenes that showed us how the lenient justice system, and a world full of criminals who know how to perverse the course of justice encouraged Light to take action. They were good scenes too, but also brief. I wanted to be shown how brilliant Light is, like hearing his inner monologues and thoughts, or even see how he hid the Death Note, but all of that is left out. Light ingenuously hid the Death Note in the source material, but here he just carries it around with him like it's a textbook. That's not like Light at all. The mannerisms of L were good, but felt like his fondness for sugar was too exaggerated that it became silly. I would have loved to have heard the Death Note soundtrack, but again, that was left out, and the movie was all the blander for it.
When I think of the Death Note manga/anime, I think of intelligence, suspense, and an amazing sense of tension that was maintained throughout, but the movie lacked all of the aforementioned. It wasn't entirely bereft of those elements, to be fair, but it never really came close to the intensity, immersion, and excitement of the manga. The same narrative structure is taken, and many of the same plot points are hit, but quickly, and rather superficially I thought. I see that it's not only Hollywood that has the curious predilection with taking wonderful source material that's proven to be successful (that is why they make movies out of these properties after all) and then change many of the plot points for the worse. The changes weren't small ones either, they were major. I guess they felt like people had already read the manga, so they wanted to surprise people, but in doing so they fundamentally changed at least one leading character, and robbed us of quite a few iconic and powerful scenes and moments as well. And is no one going to mention the Asian-washing? No? They weren't big parts, but it helped give the manga and anime an international feel. Kira is a worldwide problem, and an international cast could have helped convey that. I can tell they were trying to be faithful to the material while putting a fresh spin on the story, but it didn't elevate the material, and the amateurish feel and execution of the movie didn't help either.
Written by - The Sentry - 02/07/2017