US Death Note film gets director, let's prepare ourselves


Unlike 99% of US anime adaptations, it seems that the Death Note project is actually moving forwards. Our cinema-enthusiast sister site Flixist reports that director Shane Black has been signed to Warner Brothers' upcoming version of the wildly popular manga. Black broke into Hollywood writing spec scripts for movies such as Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. In 2005, he made the jump to directing with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, which helped revive Robert Downey, Jr.'s career. Currently, Black is working on an adaptation of Doc Savage for Sony, with a screenplay written by Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry. Both writers are also providing the script for Death Note. Needless to say, this isn't some hack cash-in from Uwe Boll or Paul W. S. Anderson.

Says Black on the project:

It's my favorite manga, I was just struck by its unique and brilliant sensibility. What we want to do is take it back to that manga, and make it closer to what is so complex and truthful about the spirituality of the story, versus taking the concept and trying to copy it as an American thriller.

This is sounding like good news compared to the last high-profile anime/manga adaptation, Dragonball: Evolution, which I think we can all agree was absolutely wretched. Death Note has always struck me as a story that would do just as well transposed to a live-action American setting, unlike the in-development Akira film. However, I think we're going to all have to adjust our expectations a little bit. Join me after the break for a little idle speculation.

As I see it, the American Death Note will happen in America, with an American protagonist who will not be named Light Yagami. This idea could be your first step in accepting changes, and I know some of you will already be gnashing your teeth at the tiniest potential change, so it's best to just push you into the deep end. Why do I think this? Because it will make no difference in terms of setting. The story is about a genius high school (later college student) obsessed with perfection and working towards goals - studying hard to graduate and get into a good college - Americans can relate to just as well with our hereditary Puritan work ethic. This part of the story is not defined by its Japanese setting. And "Light Yagami?" Sure, you have the "Light/Write/Right" symbolism in there, but it's a silly name that has always seemed unusual.

The one potential conflict would be with the Japanese concept of shinigami, death gods. Americans may not have shinigami legends, but we do have the Grim Reaper, so a society of Grim Reaper-like beings isn't too far of a stretch for our unimaginative minds. It's fantastical enough for us to accept as something supernatural, sidestepping any Shinto relations. Besides, the Japanese have been perverting the traditional shinigami legends in anime for a while now, so the whole concept of the Death Note is already a fanciful construct. I think it's straightforward enough - reapers have a notebook that kills people - that even the American public won't need things spelled out for them.

Otherwise, this change in setting means almost nothing to the story. Misa Amane's character might be a Disney Channel star instead of an idol, I suppose, but the net result is the same. The bigger change I forsee people having trouble with is going to be this other main prediction: the story is going to be changed. Almost drastically.

I can hear some of you howling in pain at the very suggestion that dirty gaijin would dare alter the events of the original manga, but consider this: Warner Brothers is already taking a chance on some random Japanese comic. They are not making some giant franchise here, they are trying to put out one film. Things are going to need to be altered, compressed, and cut; otherwise, you have a story moving at a breakneck pace like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Besides, I think we're all in agreement that the second half of the story is undeniably weaker compared to the first half, right? Near and Mello never lived up to how well Light and L played off of one another. (The anime smartly compressed some of the more bloated sections of the second half.) Hell, even the Yotsuba Group part of the story could use a little clean-up. As strong as the concept of the manga was - and I do so love the concept - there's a lot structurally that could use some work.

And that's not to say that the meaning, high points, or general plot of the story has to change. I'm just talking about changing the actual specifics here - well, and the second half. I still envision an American Death Note as a psychological thriller showcasing the mind games between Light and L, culminating in similar fates for both characters, only perhaps closer chronologically.

Where I'm going with this is that Warner Brothers' Death Note film is going to be different, but beneath those changes, it's still going to possess the same themes of the original story. It will still examine the nature of justice, what is evil, a code of ethics, and the death penalty. (At least, I can hope, otherwise it's not Death Note in my mind. Shane Black seems to be a fan though, so hopefully he's providing good input to the screenwriters.) What we need to do as fans is realize that no one is taking away the original work and that any adaptation is going to bring changes. It is something new that we can still enjoy, despite plot and setting differences. So before you go complaining about Light having a different name or different events happening that lead to the same thematic result, remember that even film classics like A Clockwork Orange, The Godfather, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Wizard of Oz differ from their original novels.

Disclaimer: Anything after the initial Shane Black news is written on pure speculation based on my knowledge of film and how I would adapt Death Note for Hollywood, which may not be indicative of the actual film. Also, stop asking for Zac Efron to play Light, looking like someone isn't a prerequisite for playing a part. Also also, stop whining about Erika Toda not being in this version, she can't hear your cries.

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Bob Muir
Bob MuirContributor   gamer profile

Bob has been hanging around ModernMethod for years and and somehow writes almost everywhere, including Destructoid and Flixist. He was once lit on fire, but it's not as cool as you'd think. more + disclosures



Filed under... #death note #Japanator Original #manga #top stories #TV and Film



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