What would happen if you had the chance to anonymously designate the victims of deaths scythe? Would you follow through with the act of executioner? Are your intentions so pure that the act of killing would not affect you or mark your soul with the blood of others? What happens when you become the target of the world you are striving to clean up?
Death Note, originally a manga series in Japan, was picked up by Netflix and released this past year under a curtain of controversy. The controversy was not over the content, but the whitewashed Americanization of the content. It was not this controversy that drew me into this movie, but the lack of knowledge of the original rendering that won me over to finally watch it. I fully expected a mediocre retelling of the original stories, as is often the case with Americanized renderings of beloved foreign properties. Instead, I was treated to a visceral, energized story that was told with beautiful camera work, tight editing, and compelling actors.
The story of deaths corruption of innocence is told through the nail-biting narrative of a detective mystery based in Seattle WA. The audience is treated to some tight, if not obscure, characters as Light (the owner of the Death Note/serial killer with a purpose), and L (the preternaturally intuitive detective set on Light to end the killings) cat and mouse their way through the rainy streets of Seattle.
I was surprised by this movie. Partially due to my lack of enthusiasm to watch it when it first came out, and also from how well done the movie ended up being. Also, the concept brings up some very interesting ethical questions, as illustrated by my introduction. What I found most intriguing about the premise of the movie was how quickly the main character was pushed into becoming a serial killer. In fact, both the main character and his girlfriend took up the executioners blade quite quickly and easily. Should we take this as a commentary on the disconnected youth of today and how desensitization has bread a generation of dispassionate and unaffected humans? Has the act of soaking in the pool of social media and online content trained us to view the extinguishing of life with an apathetic distance?
I would rather believe that a movie like this takes an already tarnished character, and presents them with a light at the end of the tunnel. Problem is, that the main character soon finds that there is no end to the line of bad people in the world. Eventually the good and the bad blur together and even when the act of killing is done in the name of the “greater good”, it is still the extinguishing of another life and our lives have connections that create ripples in the world around us.
In the end, Light is left wondering if all the loose ends have finally been tied up, and even the audience is wondering if our stalwart detective has been pushed too far.
With the stylized direction and editing, flashy visuals and compelling performances, I was drawn in and sold from the first scene. It is rare that I find myself appreciating an Americanized version, but I feel the brains behind this particular production did a great job of envisioning this story in a compelling and entertaining way. That is the job of adaptation. I will be curious to see if this spins into a continuation or if they are willing to let it stand as a solid entry into the stand-alone universe of storytelling.