I was a big fan of the Death Note anime series, until the wheels fell off in the final episodes… but I did finish it. So when I heard Netflix was releasing a live-action version I was pretty excited.
I was originally under the impression this was going to be a series but unfortunately it is a single movie with an hour and 40 minute run time. And in my opinion that is one of its weakest points. The series ran for 37 episodes so trying to cram even a portion of that into a single movie is impossible. We originally had multiple episodes of Light & L trying to one-up each other in a cat-and-mouse game. This is all gone and with that goes a lot of the great moments of the original show.
The cast range from passable to pretty great, with Willem Dafoe killing it as Ryuk (pun intended). Lakeith Stanfield does a good job as L as he captures both his childish habits and his brilliance. Nat Wolff as Light is the weakest character in my opinion. In the anime he is cold and calculating with a constantly running internal monologue. This version still comes off as exceptionally smart in a few moments but not nearly as clever and smooth as the original. Maybe that’s a result of the compressed time frame or maybe that’s the result of making this movie for a Western audience, I’m not sure.
There is race swapping for the majority of the cast but I dont think it really detracts from the story. Although the original story does take place in Japan I don’t feel that it MUST take place in Japan. Ryuk being a Shinigami (Japanese God of Death) is one of the only things inherently Japanese about the story and in this version he is never referred to as such.
All in all its an enjoyable movie that mainly suffers from not having enough time to explore its own theme. I give it a 6 out of 10. But considering the lack of good anime to live action movies, that’s a pretty decent score.