Netflix’s 2017 movie Death Note has a bad reputation. Fans of the manga and anime resented the story being Americanized, character motivations and arcs being altered, and the subtle changes to the cosmology of the universe. Despite this, the film did very well, with producer Ted Sarandos revealing that it had been a “sizeable” success for the streaming platform.
Now, with a sequel currently in development, screenwriters Charley and Vlas Parlapanides have discussed their intentions and how they reacted to the hate the movie received from fans. Apparently, one reason the criticism stung so fiercely was that they too loved the original material. As Charley says:
“[T]he one thing I would say is that we were in on Death Note back in 2006, reading bootleg copies of the PDFs online that had the American translation and our original drafts were more true to what the story is.”
The pair also went on to detail their original plan, which sounds much more faithful to the tone of the manga.
“One thing that we always pitched for Death Note is that when you start reading Death Note, you believe Light is the hero. And you think like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m with this guy.’ And then what I believe you fundamentally find out is that really L is the hero.” But this was only the beginning of a foundation for something later.
What we always wanted to bring to that is that you set it up almost like a Western Marvel movie where you see this incident where…one of the things we added was that Light’s mom is killed. So you feel he’s justified in doing what he’s going to do.” The changes begin from this different perspective, “But then, what we had in our version was that his girlfriend finds out that he has the book and she tells him, ‘If you don’t stop, I’m going to turn you in.'”
One thing they’re keen to explain is that the long development period meant that the finished product was very different from how they first envisaged it. According to them, the script was substantially rewritten by Jeremy Slater, and then director Adam Wingard made his own additions.
“After we worked on it, a lot of other writers worked on it. And it was much more of Slater’s draft that became the final film and again, it’s a choice of the director to steer the story the way he wants to steer it. And that’s a great property.”
“There was a Japanese film. There was…the anime. So, that story had been told. So that’s why the director said, ‘Hey, we’ve seen this story, let’s try to do something different.’ But again, sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you give people something they want, sometimes you don’t…”
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It seems that the biggest change that was made, though, came with Light’s relationship with his girlfriend Mia. In their script, he eventually kills her, cementing his position as the villain. Things proceed quite differently in the pic, though, as they explain:
“You think [Light] going to be the heroic guy and do the right thing. But instead, what he does is he kills her to silence her so he can continue on. Now what they did in later drafts, and what they ended up changing was that they made her, it’s almost like what we call the ‘Richie of Preol.’ They made her even more of a bad guy than the protagonist to make him seem more heroic.”
Vlas also said that they were hurt by fan reaction as they’d both set out to write a movie that readers of the manga would approve of.
“We’re saddened that the fans didn’t like it. We want them to be happy. We want them to like it. All writers want that. And I think that Jeremy Slater did a good job, but, he had a very specific mandate and we’re disappointed by the reception because we wanted to, again, give the fans something that they would like, but we also understand where they were coming from.”
Personally, I quite liked Death Note, though at the time of its release, I was coming into it with absolutely no knowledge of the manga, anime or previous live-action Japanese films. Now that I know a little more about it, though, I can appreciate that it’s quite far in tone and mood from the original.
The sequel is reportedly still in the works at Netflix, with famed comics writer Greg Russo on script duties. Here’s hoping it pleases fans more than the first one did.