Death Note is making the jump to live-action again, this time under the direction of cult horror/thriller filmmaker Adam Wingard of You’re Next, The Guest and Blair Witch fame. The Death Note anime/manga property (written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata) has been adapted for live-action before, as a series of Japanese movies back in the mid-2000s. By comparison, Netflix and Wingard’s own film adaptation “Americanizes” the setting and most of the characters from the original source material.
Wingard’s Death Note stars Nat Wolff (Paper Towns) as Light Turner, a brilliant young man who finds a notebook that allows the user to kill anyone by writing their name down in it. Light thereafter fashions a vigilante identity for himself as “Kira”, a being who smites whomever Light deems as being wicked and/or evil. Naturally, Light/Kira soon finds himself being pursued by the police, including an enigmatic-but-brilliant young detective who is known as simply “L” (played by Get Out‘s Lakeith Stanfield in Wingard’s adaptation). For a small taste of the cat and mouse game that then ensues, you should watch the Death Note teaser trailer, embedded above.
The “Death Note” itself is the property of Ryuk, a Shinigami or “God of Death” played by Willem Dafoe in Wingard’s live-action version of the story. Although the Death Note teaser trailer offers but a fleeting glimpse at Ryuk in the film, his general appearance (or, at the very least, his glowing eyes) seems mostly faithful to the character’s previous appearance in both comic book and animated form.
In addition to Ryuk, the Death Note teaser trailer provides a quick glimpse of The Leftovers‘ Margaret Qualley as Mia Sutton, the film’s version of the character Misa Amane – who, in the original Death Note manga and property, becomes an extremely faithful supporter of Kira’s campaign to rid the world of evil. Other key players in the story include Paul Nakauchi (Alpha and Omega) as Watari and Shea Whigham (Kong: Skull Island) as James Turner, Light’s father and an unwitting pawn in his son’s scheme to always stay one step ahead of the authorities.
Live-action anime/manga film adaptations have often struggled to adapt their source material’s sensibilities for American audiences in the past (see Dragonball Evolution and Speed Racer for two such examples), but having a capable filmmaker in Wingard at the helm – coupled with some excellent casting choices (namely, Dafoe as Ryuk) – should help Death Note‘s cause. Death Note also has an advantage over this month’s release Ghost in the Shell, in that the latter “white-washes” its primary characters but retains its source material’s Hong Kong setting; whereas the world and most of the central players of Death Note are all clearly marked as being American, for better or for worse.
Death Note premieres on Netflix on August 25th, 2017.