Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders is currently in-production on his live-action film adaptation of the cult anime/manga property Ghost in the Shell – a movie that took several years to get properly off the ground (there are reports about the project dating back to 2008). The Death Note film adaptation is another Hollywood adaptation of a popular anime/manga franchise that’s been in the works for some time – at least since 2011, with filmmakers Shane Black (The Nice Guys) and Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) having been reported as the potential directors over that time.
Death Note is instead being overseen by Adam Wingard, the filmmaker who has earned a cult following thanks to his work on the horror/thriller throwbacks You’re Next and The Guest (he has another horror genre throwback, The Woods, due to arrive this fall too). Although the previously-planned 2016 production start on Wingard’s Death Note was thrown into doubt after the film was passed from Warner Bros. Pictures to Netflix, it’s now confirmed that principal photography on the movie is underway and moving forward as scheduled.
The original Death Note manga debuted in 2003 and was written by Tsugumi Obha, with Takeshi Obata providing the illustrations. Although Wigard’s film adaptation will “American-ize” the original story’s Japanese characters and setting (as well as those featured in the previously-released Japanese live-action film adaptations), it still revolve around the same basic premise – as illustrated by this official plot summary for the movie:
Death Note follows a high school student who comes across a supernatural notebook, realizing it holds within it a great power; if the owner inscribes someone’s name into it while picturing their face, he or she will die. Intoxicated with his new godlike abilities, the young man begins to kill those he deems unworthy of life.
It seems safe to assume that Wingard’s Death Note will tweak select elements of the original manga/anime that are culturally specific to Japan (namely, that the actual “Death Note” belongs to a Shinigami or “death spirit” named Ryuk in the source material), in addition to “westernizing” the names of the main characters in the story. As such, star Nat Wolff (Paper Towns) is playing Light Turner instead of Light Yagami, while Margaret Qualley (The Leftovers) is playing Mia Sutton instead of Misa Amane. In addition, Keith Stanfield (Straight Outta Compton) is now confirmed to be playing the brilliant detective “L” who faces off in a battle of wits with Light (as we suspected he would be) and the remainder of the cast includes Paul Nakauchi (Alpha and Omega) as Watari and Shea Whigham (Agent Carter) as James Turner.
Death Note producers Roy Lee (The Ring) and Dan Lin (Sherlock Holmes) also issued the following statement – one that partially addresses concerns about Death Note being “American-ized” – to go with the announcement about the start of filming on the project:
“Our vision for Death Note has always been to bring this captivating story to the screen for its longtime manga fans and to introduce the world to this dark and mysterious masterpiece. The talent and diversity represented in our cast, writing, and producing teams reflect our belief in staying true to the story’s concept of moral relevance — a universal theme that knows no racial boundaries.”
Whereas Ghost in the Shell has been criticized for “white-washing” its lead characters but still carrying over the source material’s Japanese setting and supporting characters, Death Note appears to be a full-blown “Americanized” take on the original property – one that features a relatively diverse cast, by Hollywood’s standards anyway. Similarly, much of the resistance to WB’s in-development Akira live-action remake can be attributed to the concerns that the Akira source material is too deeply rooted in Japanese cultural themes and history for an “American-ized” Hollywood adaptation to be acceptable – whereas the core story of Death Note (as the film’s producers note) arguably explores more culturally-universal themes and ideas that can be acceptably “American-ized”.
With Wingard at the helm, Death Note also has the potential to be a pretty tense cat-and-mouse psycho-thriller – in addition to (fingers crossed) a better film that most Hollywood anime/mana adaptations past (see Dragonball: Evolution and, to a lesser degree, Speed Racer).
Death Note premieres on Netflix sometime in 2017.