Aside from Ryuk, the iconic Shinigami brought to life with great menace by the equally great Willem Dafoe, Netflix and writer-director Adam Wingard have overhauled Death Note to such an extent that the story, one initially conceived by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata all the way back in 2003, has been relocated to Seattle, Washington.
Not only that, but Light Yagami, the student who first encounters the all-powerful Death Note and begins targeting Tokyo’s criminal underbelly, now goes by the name of Light Turner (AKA Kira), and will be played by Nat Wolff (The Fault in Our Stars). And therein lies the source of controversy.
Similar to Ghost in the Shell, Iron Fist, and even Matt Damon’s place in The Great Wall, thrusting a white, American actor into the midst of a Japanese story has irked longtime fans of the Death Note series, but during a recent interview with IGN, Adam Wingard leapt to the defense of his upcoming adaptation, stating that, “the harder I tried to stay 100 percent true to the source material, the more it just kind of fell apart.”
In the early stages of the film I was rereading all of the manga, really just looking at how does any of this translate to the United States. Ultimately, Death Note is such a Japanese thing. You can’t just say let’s port this over and it’s going to all add up. They’re two different worlds completely.
Ultimately, whenever I say it’s about America, I’m looking at it like, what are the main kind of core issues going on in America. What are the things that people chalk up to conspiracy theories? What kind of weird underground programs does the government have? How do those work in the world of Death Note?
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This rather drastic overhaul has greatly influenced the story and characters underpinning Netflix’s Death Note; as Wingard tells IGN, Light Turner and Light Yagami may share a name, but he considers them to be two different people. By and large, and with the exception of Ryuk, the same logic applies for L (Keith Stanfield), Watari (Paul Nakauchi), and Mia (Margaret Qualley).
Here’s what Wingard had to say about his tinkering:
It’s one of those things where the harder I tried to stay 100 percent true to the source material, the more it just kind of fell apart… You’re in a different country, you’re in a different kind of environment, and you’re trying to also summarize a sprawling series into a two-hour-long film. For me, it became about what do these themes mean to modern day America, and how does that affect how we tell the story. Ultimately, the cat and mouse chase between Light and L, the themes of good, evil, and what’s in between the gray area. Those are the core things of Death Note, and that’s really what we went for.
Death Note premieres via Netflix on August 25th. Beyond that, Adam Wingard also has Godzilla Vs. Kong simmering on the back-burner, which is expected to light up theaters in 2020.